A Conversation with Marisa Richmond

By: Rachel Bubis

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Marisa Richmond is a transgender politician, activist, member of The National Center for Transgender Equality Board of Directors, the Trans Advocacy Network, and a lobbyist for the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition. She is also an active leader in the Democratic Party.

Hi Marisa. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into politics?

My background is in academia. Both of my parents were college professors teaching Organic Chemistry and German.  My career is in history.  Both of my parents believed in social justice and equality, and exposed me to important ideas and people.  My mother took my sister and I out to see President Kennedy when he came to Nashville. When I waved at him, he smiled and waved back.  I became a political junkie at that moment.  A few years later, we hosted a fundraiser for the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee with Stokely Carmichael.  I didn’t know who he was at the time, but again, my parents exposed me to important people who were working to change the world.

As we approach the mid-term elections, what bills and/or candidates should we be looking out for?

In Tennessee, we have open seats for Governor, U.S. Senate, and in three U.S. House districts (2, 6, and 7).  I urge everyone to look at the candidates in those districts.  In addition, we have several state legislative seats open, and incumbents who need to be challenged and removed all across the state.  The filing deadline is April 5, and I know that outside of Nashville and Memphis, many progressives are looking for good candidates to run in those races.

There’s a lot of recent controversy surrounding our Nashville Mayor, Megan Barry. What do you say to people concerned about this recent news?

The only thing I have told others is that there should not be a double standard for women, and that I hope as these investigations go forward, that she will be exonerated.  I believe that, overall, she has been good for Nashville, especially the LGBTQ community, and has been a positive role model for young women and girls.

You’re participating in an upcoming  LGBT College Conference at MTSU with the theme, All Identities—Bridging the Divide, a dialogue on how to bridge divides based on identity. The conversation will be centered on how access and opportunity intersect with identity to influence our interactions with education, commerce, community, government, and, most importantly, each other. What do you hope people will take away from the event?

In the past, I have been concerned with making sure trans voices were included.  One year, I was the ONLY trans speaker, and I was a last minute addition to the schedule.  Furthermore, I hope to see more workshops on advocacy.  College students have made their mark over the years and have proven they can make a difference.  We should use the conference to help train future community leaders to take the reins.

Our country is clearly divided. Do you see anything really working to help bridge this divide or where do you see hope for this changing in the future?

I see hope coming from good people working to address real problems. Part of the division is exacerbated by politicians who focus on faux issues to scare people.  If our leaders were focused on making life safe and secure for all, we would all be better off.  More and more Americans are increasingly frustrated with the lack of response to gun violence, and are increasingly supportive of access to affordable health care.  The political leaders must listen or prepare to be replaced.

What do you think is the most important issue facing women in Nashville today?

Economic.  There is a real economic boom taking place here.  We need to ensure that it is equitable and that the benefits of that boom are shared by all.  Ironically, we are more successful in politics than ever before, but the business community is still woefully underrepresented by women.  The General Assembly has already shut down the Economic Council for Women, and it now targeting the Tennessee Human Rights Commission for an early sunset.  They just don’t care about equality.  While they are statewide agencies, they have an impact on women in Nashville.

What’s the biggest misconception about the transgender community? What do you think the biggest issue transgender Tennesseans are interested in today?

The biggest misconception is that trans people are dangerous.  That is why we keep seeing these crazy bathroom bills pop up around the country, including Tennessee, year after year. The biggest concerns of transgender Tennesseans are job opportunity and access to health care. Many simply want to work with dignity and take care of themselves, and have access to fully inclusive health care.  They also want to be free from fear of physical violence.  This is especially problematic for trans people of color, where hate crimes are most prevalent.

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I follow you on social media and have seen two photos I would like to ask you about: 1) A picture of you looking very cool wearing olympic rings sunglasses and a puka shell necklace. Where and when was this taken? What is your favorite Winter Olympic sport?

I bought the necklace at Nashville’s African Street Festival many years ago. It is one of my favorite cultural events each year.  I bought the sunglasses in Los Angeles at the 1984 Olympics.  The photo was taken during Nashville Pride in 2000, which coincided with the Opening of the Sydney, Australia Games that summer.  I prefer the Summer Games over the Winter Games because I have played a lot of the events in the Summer Games.  I have played soccer & basketball competitively.  Softball, which will be back in 2020 in Tokyo, is another sport I have played.  I was on my High School Track Team too, and I have done a lot of swimming, dating back to when I was 5 years old.  In the Winter Games, the only team sport is hockey, and the US women are one of the best teams along with Canada.  The men don’t have any NHL (namely Predators…)  this year, which I think is a mistake by the NHL owners and commissioner.  I also like the racing events: skiing, skating, and sledding.  I have done all three for recreation, but I am not good at any of them.  I prefer warm weather sports.

2) A picture of you shaking hands with Obama. What was that like? Was he wearing cologne?

That was taken at the White House LGBT Pride Reception in June 2011.  I also met Vice President Biden about an hour after the photo-op with the President.  The President was very pleasant and he listened as I spoke on behalf of the transgender community since I was the only trans person getting a one-on-one with the President that day.  When I realized that, I said to myself, “I am representing the whole (expletive deleted) country!”  And I was so starstruck by the moment, I have no idea if he was wearing any cologne.  I just remember my excitement when he put his arm around me, so I thought, “well, Michelle’s not here,” so I put my arm around him. That photo is probably in the White House archives.  I should try to get a copy.