Women’s History Month: Bridging the Wage Gap for Trans Women & Femmes

Women’s History Month: Bridging the Wage Gap for Trans Women & Femmes

By: Mo Viviane (they/them), Program Manager for Trans Employment Project

As we come together to celebrate Women’s History Month, we must recognize and uplift the contributions and badassery of Trans Women and Femmes in all employment sectors!

Let’s explore the importance of bridging the wage gap, fostering equity, and taking action to create a more equitable reality for us all.

The Wage Gap: A Barrier Yet to be Overcome
The wage gap experienced by Trans Women and Femmes presents a significant barrier to financial and professional success. Studies have shown that Trans Women and Femmes have consistently earned less than their cisgender counterparts, and the disparities are even GREATER for BIPOC Trans Women and Femmes.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, Trans Women and Femmes earn an average annual income of $10,000 less than cisgender women. The HRC notates more profound pay inequities; whereas cisgender white men earn $1.00, an average of all women earn $0.84, and Trans Women earn $0.61. 

The Power of Visibility & Inclusion
Increasing visibility and fostering an inclusive environment are critical steps in combatting the wage gap and building a better future. By acknowledging and uplifting the experiences and achievements of Trans Women and Femmes, we challenge stereotypes and biases while celebrating all of the contributions they bring. 

Visibility also plays a crucial role in validating the experiences of Trans folks in the employment sector. Representation in the workplace benefits the individual and has a positive impact on society, breaking down barriers and inspiring others to pursue their passions and goals. Or, as wonderfully as Raquel Willis stated at the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, “As we commit to each other to build this movement of resistance and liberation, NO ONE can be an afterthought. We have a chance to be stronger and better than we ever have before – and that starts with having hard conversations and being held accountable.”

Taking Action Towards an Equitable Future
While awareness is essential, it is through action that we actively mitigate the inequities faced by Trans Women and femmes.

Let’s explore some steps we can take!
1. Implement Equitable Pay Policies: Establishing equitable pay structures that ensure Trans Women and Femmes receive appropriate compensation for their work is vital in bridging the wage gap.

2. Strengthen Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Initiatives: By prioritizing DEIB in all aspects of your organizations, you can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for ALL employees. It is important to ensure that BIPOC Trans Women and Femmes are at the forefront of conversations and policy changes.

3. Providing Support and Resources: Offering resources, mentorship programs, and career advancement opportunities designed to address the unique challenges faced by Trans Women and Femmes is a crucial part of action in the workplace! 

  1. Joining Trans Employment Project: By joining Trans Employment Project as a partner or a member, you are on your way to bridging the wage gap of the Trans Women in our community. As a member, you’ll have access to tips, tricks, and skills training to up your skillset. As a partner, you can sign up to stay plugged into our work or even sponsor our work so that we can continue to move Trans Women out of crisis and into empowerment.

    Addressing Anti-Trans and Anti-DEI Bills
    Unfortunately, the fight for inclusivity and equity faces ongoing challenges in the form of anti-trans and anti-DEI bills. These bills seek to roll back the progress made in creating a safe and affirming place for Trans people. It’s essential to recognize and address these issues head-on and actively advocate for Trans rights. 

By partnering with local advocacy organizations, engaging in educational initiatives, and voicing concerns to policymakers, we can work towards dismantling the barriers these discriminatory bills create that affect every aspect of our community.

As we dedicate Women’s History Month to honoring the achievements of women throughout history, it is time to ACT and INCLUDE Trans Women and Femmes. Together, we can bridge the wage gap, foster inclusion, and create more equitable and empowered workplaces for everyone!

To learn more about Trans Employment Project, visit our programs page: https://transempowerment.org/tep-projects/trans-employment-project/

If you are interested in receiving training from Trans Empowerment Project to level up for the Trans community, follow our training page: https://transempowerment.org/trainings/

Shannon and Me: How Seeing a Local Trans Icon Opened Up My Own Journey Into Visibility

By Jacquii Cooke| Multimedia Specialist

I began my transition journey before even knowing what Transgender was. This was not a widely used word circa 1992-1993, my senior year of high school. Even though we all seemingly straddle the spectrum of identities and orientations, it was then (and still is to a great extent now) a hush-hush society as far as anything related to sex is concerned. It was a world in which I had no visible representation of what it is to be a Trans woman. It was a lonely and bewildering time of questioning my mere existence. Why am I so different? How is it that everyone else is so normal and I am not? What kind of freak am I?

These and many other questions pervaded my thought process, compelling me to seek answers. I needed someone to show me that I was not alone in the questioning, as it were. I craved an example–other than RuPaul strutting to “Supermodel (You Better Work)”–that there could be the possibility of me: a proud member of our Two-spirit, Trans, Intersex, Gender-expansive Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (2TIGE BIPOC) community. And I needed to see visible evidence with my own eyes. Gratefully, that happened.

My very first “aha!” moment was when I saw the beautiful Shannon DeVaughn, known then as The Million Dollar Look,” a Trans woman drag performer from Knoxville, Tennessee. I was seventeen: young and naive, a curious pre-blossoming caterpillar whose cocoon had not yet formed, using a fake ID to get through the crowded line and into The Carousel II club.

Shannon was beautiful. She was in the wind. She was flitting all about the stage: spinning, twirling, giving life, sensual smiles, and gracious nods of acknowledgement. She was glamouring the house down BOOTS! She was the room’s sole butterfly, instantly becoming my inspiration as I and everyone else in the club that hot summer night was captivated and in awe.

I saw not only Shannon’s pastied breasts, her flowing golden locks as metaphorical wings, but literally felt in that moment an extremely new, impossible (yet obviously possible) example of who and what I could be. I saw confidence and courage. I saw a reflection of what I AM. I saw a woman of the Trans experience!

By simply being proudly and unashamedly visible in her authenticity, Shannon gave me the encouragement I so desperately needed as a loner teen. Her mere visibility inspired me to perform at the Carousel’s Wednesday talent night show a few weeks later. 

Before then, I was the introverted techie in my high school drama club. I installed various lighting in the school auditorium, ran the light board, shone the spotlight on the play cast, along with a slew of other busy-work production tasks. I was excited to be part of our school productions in whatever capacity I could be: there was a semblance of inclusion behind the scenes. My inclination was to not have that spotlight on myself. And then I met Shannon, who, as the first Trans woman I’d ever seen, was the definition of an icon: a person who influences your life for the better, inspiring the liberation and motivation required to be your best self.

Performing drag on a stage of absolute acceptance was my introduction to a life of creation and a catalyst for my metamorphosis into Jacquii Chenyneh Kween Cooke. At the end of the day, though, through Shannon’s unapologetic visibility, I came to realize that this is no costume I wear. I couldn’t really take the drag off. I didn’t want to take it off. The experience allowed me the honesty to say, “I’m not a man. And I don’t want to be a man. I cannot be a man.”

I had begun to blossom into myself as a proud Black Trans woman. I only wish for my fellow Trans siblings to blossom comfortably and feel at home in their truth and own skin as well.

During this LGBTQIA2S+ History Month, I encourage exactly that. I’m unsure of the turn my journey would have taken had I not seen Shannon demonstrating the possibility of being a Trans woman so many years ago. I’m grateful that she stood firm in her authenticity to be the Trans visibility my seventeen-year-old self needed. She remains iconic in my mind because of this simple refusal to be disappeared into the shadow of secrecy and shame.

As another Trans icon, Lourdes Ashley Hunter, says, “I want to be seen, affirmed and celebrated as a whole damn person… I want to wake up without the threat of violence!” This is what Trans icons bring, having fought for a seat at the roundtable of inclusion for not only themselves but for our entire 2TIGE community. Shannon DeVaughn is white, but her display of pride empowered me to display my own pride as the 48-year-old Black Trans woman I have grown to be today. My aim is to one day be considered an icon myself, as I, on behalf of Trans Empowerment Project, continue my work to champion joy, equity, and thriving into the lives of the most marginalized of us within the greater LGBTQIA2S+ community.


You can support the work we do at TEP by visiting our donation page and making a contribution to the cause. 


J Mase III: A Black Trans Icon for LGBTQIA2S+ History Month

Head Shot of author, Mo VivianeBy: Mo Viviane (they/them/theirs), Associate Director of Workplace Equity & Inclusion

This LGBTQIA2S+ History Month, I want to highlight an individual who has made an impact in my community, as well as in my life. J Mase III is a poet, educator, and advocate. He has left an indelible mark on the Trans and Queer community, challenging norms and amplifying Black and Brown folks. 

Black and white photo of J Mase III

Images courtesy of J Mase III

J Mase III captures various forms of artistic expression, from poetry to photography, capturing the essence of his lived experiences and the stories of those who often go unheard. In his poetry, he delves into themes of identity, gender, race, and Queerness. His words create a powerful and introspective journey, inviting readers and listeners to explore their own perspectives and challenge societal constructs.

J Mase III has used his platforms to educate about the experiences and struggles of the Trans community, specifically Black and Brown Trans folks. Through workshops, performances, and public speaking engagements, he has fostered conversations that promote understanding, empathy, and acceptance. He is the author of White Folks Be Trippin’: An Ethnography Through Poetry & Prose. These pieces are inspired by Langston Hughes’s The Ways of White Folks and guide us into accepting what we already know: White Folks Be Trippin’. 

As the Co-Director of The Black Trans Prayer Book, an interfaith, multidimensional, artistic, and theological workthe cover of J Mase III's "White Folks be trippin': an Ethnography Through Poetry and Prose" Cover features several "one line graphic" style Black character on and around a bench set on a dark yellow background that collects stories, poems, prayers, meditation, spells, and incantations of Black Trans & Non-binary folks, he has highlighted the intersections of race, gender, and faith. In this, a space of healing and connection within the community is prominent. In 2019, when 25 anti-Trans bills had been introduced in the United States, he created the campaign #TransphobiaIsASin. That number has since increased to 593 bills. This campaign is ongoing, especially since anti-Trans rhetoric and its connection to religious violence have not stopped

His book And Then I Got Fired: A Transqueer’s Reflections on Grief, Unemployment & Inappropriate Jokes About Death has helped me navigate being a Black Non-binary Queer person who left a pretty messed up workspace, while I was also navigating my grief and the complexities of life as a Transqueer person. J Mase III provides a unique perspective on resilience and growth. 

Cover image for J Mase III's "And then I got Fired" featuring the authors photo in profile in sepia tones Back when I was a student at Northern Kentucky University, I had the opportunity to meet with J Mase III. His presence left a profound impact as he shared an immersive experience through poetry and thought leadership. He also led a writing workshop, where he fostered an environment of learning, empathy, and understanding. J Mase III is my Black Trans icon, deserving of so much recognition and admiration. He has inspired me to embrace myself, especially in a world that continues to erase folks like me.

For more information on J Mase III and to purchase his books, visit his website at https://jmaseiii.com


Black Poetry Day 2023 – Mo Viviane

Happy Black Poetry Day!

This day means so much to me. As a teenager growing up in a small town in Kentucky, I was given the opportunity to attend the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts back in 2011. I was accepted into the Creative Writing program, where most of my focus was on creating prose and poetry. Many of my influences have been Black poets such as Bianca Lynne Spriggs, Alice Walker, and Frank X Walker. This experience changed how I sought out writing and dug deeper into myself as a poet. I studied under many outstanding Black poets, including Cave Canem fellows Kelly Norman Ellis and Mitchell L.H. Douglas. 

In my undergraduate studies at Northern Kentucky University, I was part of a small slam poetry group called S.W.E.R.V.E. (Spoken Weapons Engaged to Revolutionize Viewers Everywhere). I led many workshops and community gatherings for Black writers and allies at the university. Still, poetry has been something I use as a tool related to my spiritual practice in Hoodoo and many other avenues in my life. Poetry has always been about liberation, uplifting community, and making just for the sake of making. 

One of my favorite anthologies is Circe’s Lament: Anthology of Wild Women Poetry, edited by Bianca Lynne Spriggs and Katerina Stoykova-Klemer. There are many other influences on my writing, such as Crystal Wilkinson, Poet Laureate of Kentucky (2021-22) and the award-winning author of Perfect Black. Many of her works have inspired me to lean into my Blackness and be truthful to myself–as a writer and to my community. 


Most of my poems have turned into songs (that I hoard in my recordings app on my phone). Sharing this piece called “Gone” is super personal to me. It is a recording of my voice one year before starting testosterone and at two years on testosterone. This piece represents the memories that I hold with me and to remember that being Black and Non-Binary is not about erasing who I am, but recognizing every facet of my life and wholly leaning into myself in that.

I hope you enjoy it!

Black Poetry Day 2023 – Jacquii Cooke

In 1827, the English poet, literary critic, philosopher, and theologian Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined poetry as “the best words in the best order.”  He further wrote, “When we write, we string words together like beads, ever mindful of color and shape, the powerful nuances of meaning each word conveys.” As a Black Trans poet in the 21st century, I find Coleridge’s assessment to be spot-on. I would add to his definition that poetry is not merely a collection of best words, but it is also personal. I describe it as a soliloquy in reflection: our needs and desires, our wishes, sorrows, and joys written for posterity. It is an emotional testament to our existence.


Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that poetry is “the work of a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.” I’ve experienced a darkness so profound, the only thing I could see was the sweet song I longed to birth into the world. At one time, blocked from indulging my various curiosities, I turned to verse to hear my own voice. I found that I thrive when sharing my life experiences with whoever has a receptive ear. Thus is the transformative power of poetry.


In celebration of Black Poetry Day, I encourage all to unleash the symphony of our collective voices–to sing and allow joy to thrive in both the seen and unseen spaces of our existence. Shout (if you must) your experience using your best words in their best order, unlocking your profound wisdom, enabling a journey to self-discovery, and uplifting your community through testimony of how it was, how it is, and how it can be. 


Several Black poets have shaped me in my own journey. Langston Hughes was the poet, philosopher, and essayist extraordinaire whose genius shone through in his character Jesse B. Semple. Zora Neale Hurston, though not primarily a poet, wrote verse after verse on how to attain self-respect when the door has been slammed in your face. She schooled me on how to get that door answered and open. Black poets have always been philosophers. Their need to share wisdoms gleaned from their experiences gives many–including me–the courage to share their own. 


I discovered the tenacious Ntozake Shange and knew instantly that it’s okay to embrace my natural self, even when it comes to having “nappy edges” and an attitude just as unkempt. Then I found the rebellious words of Ai Ogawa, a Black poet and educator who won the 1999 National Book Award for Poetry for Vice: New and Selected Poems. Ai talked unashamedly and courageously about rape, not shying away from the dark and controversial stuff of humanity. She was known for her mastery of the dramatic monologue as a poetic form, “I want to take the narrative ‘persona’ poem as far as I can, and I’ve never been one to do things in halves. All the way or nothing. I won’t abandon that desire,” she said. It’s like she wanted to give a voice to the marginalized, impoverished, and abused, just as we do in our work at Trans Empowerment Project.


On this Black Poetry Day, we at Trans Empowerment Project challenge you to channel your inner poet, recognizing that you are seen and appreciated, and that your value is priceless. Take some time to read some poetry. Write or sing some of your own. There is value and empowerment in your words, not only for yourself, but others. We are committed to supporting and championing you to use your voice in order to foster equity, joy, happiness, peace, and love into your life. Moreover, we dare you to do the same for others.


I Am Not Tragically Coloured 

(about Zora) 

So the Moon shined in April, a half quarter gleam at your backside Zora. He was as dust tracks on your road, caressing you with His natural endowment 

for falsetto grace-hope. 

You knew that Ol’ Man Moon – He kept you lit when you were scoring the most beautiful Neale Hurston masterpieces. 

Well that Ol’ Man Moon steady hides behind, beyond thee like an unseen strata of cumulous clouds. 

He’s demure with songs of lust, his wind still yearning your silver-linings and your unkempt starry nights. Like tornadoes piquing in the eye of ecstasy: 

He wants you, your barefaced façade like an eclipse of God… You wrote to him, “Tell my horse.” 

I laughed that frosted May. Giggled raucously. 

The Moon was full with springtime surprise, but no stars in the garden that night? Where lay those subtle orbs of fire?, their blatant sighs in an atmosphere filled with mocking. Must’ve slyly spied swiss upon my mahogany visage, an unwinked eye? Hooded? 

I smiled with you Zora; I kneeled beside the subtle of your blasphemy… I smiled poetry. 

I winked it actually, my left eye lazy 

and my right shining in jest – I steady smile 

the prose of questing for an entire humanity 

no longer mired in the muck of Jim Crow, no longer as the mule of young virile men. 

From terror to triumph I smile (for we are all vital) And you shine Zora. You shine on. 

Butterflies and orchids. Half-rainbows, stars at noon. Wine and green blades – Daffodils of yellow make you swoon.

And the chil’ren in sand boxes: Naïveté amazed. Overalls specked – Slides and swings rathering spirits gay. Shall you comfort on benches like chaise lounge rooms? And fall in gardens: Honeysuckle, Azalia, Hyacinth blooms? Special aroma awaits you. (In the gourd vine of redemption.) 

Kittens claw seraph wings and dogs paw like loyalty. Eyes of golden green, a hazel teeming with malice. Defense blows in the wind as claws grasp. 

A face in moonlit shadow. A voice beckoning 

as rain drizzles in the pallor of an invisible orb. Stars ablaze; clouds rampantly gray: a great man dead… (dust tracks blown in the wind of perseverance; in the midst: reparation) 

…and her eyes, they laugh, they’re on the silver-lined, for she could never hold a grudge; grudges rot hearts. Plus she’s naïve-smart, loving child at thirty-one. Her eyes be watching God; They’re hungry 

and she’s queer. 

Copyright © 2006 Jacquii Cooke

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