Prime Timers: A New Age for Activism
BY Advocate.com Editors
August 27 2013 7:00 AM ET
Miss Major, 70, Activist
Miss Major is a sassy, beloved activist, speaker, and executive director of TGI Justice Project, a San Francisco–based advocacy organization that fights for the rights of transgender, intersex, and gender-variant people who are in prison or have served jail time. Her early days as an activist included joining the high-kicking drag queens and gender-nonconforming patrons who launched the Stonewall Riots in 1969, and today she still walks with the same kind of pep in her step.
At TGI Justice, Major takes great pride in working with “her girls,” as she calls her clients, to help secure paths back into civilian life after incarceration, which remains a daunting struggle, especially for transgender women, who are often economically disadvantaged to the point that they turn to sex work as a means of survival. That also means many of her clients are HIV-positive, and Major is dedicated to helping these women find the resources they need to live a full and healthy life. But even more than connecting other trans women with resources, Miss Major serves as a compassionate point of contact for women who often feel that society has forgotten them.
"When we do get involved with the facilities of care, in hospitals, they just treat us like rag dolls," Major said. "Some of the girls who I know are passing away [in those hospitals] just asked [the nurses] to let her get some lipstick and brush her hair, and they wouldn't let her do it. So me and a couple girls went there, and we brushed her hair, let her put her little face on, and she was so happy."
"But [mainstream health care systems] go out of their way to crush us so that we feel ignored, and rejected," Major lamented. "And that no one wants to pay attention to us. And that our wishes and desires don't count. How could they possibly do something like that, not include us?"
As a former sex worker and welfare recipient who’s spent time behind bars herself, Major is all too aware of the stigma and criminalization that transgender women of color face at astoundingly high rates. She’s also keenly aware of how intersectional issues of race, gender, class, sex, sexual orientation, and disability affect one’s social mobility and welfare. In 2008, Major spoke before the United Nations about how trans people are mistreated in the United States. For her outspoken and dogged advocacy, Major was recently awarded the Social Justice Sabbatical Award from the Vanguard Public Health Foundation.
David Norris, 69, Irish Senator
The independent senator from Dublin came very close in 2011 to becoming Ireland's president, which would have been a first for that country and a first for any gay man globally. Polls showed David Norris outpacing competitors — until attacks painted him as sympathetic to pedophiles. At his lowest point, the longtime LGBT rights activist withdrew from the race. When support persisted, Norris made a failed comeback bid. "One of my colleagues said you’re mad to go back in because it’s going to be a crucifixion," Norris recalled during an interview with The Advocate in 2012. "I’m a religious person, and one thing they forget is that after Good Friday comes Easter, after the crucifixion is the resurrection. I do not intend to stay silent." Norris has easily kept that promise and continues to generate headlines with his candor.