Since the advent of phone cameras, viral videos have become a part of daily life, resonating for a moment and then quickly forgotten in the maelstrom of images on social media. Ashlee Marie Preston had her own viral moment three years ago, when she memorably confronted Caitlyn Jenner for supporting Donald Trump. Instead of simply being known as a thorn in a reality star’s side, Preston has only expanded on her bold advocacy since then.
Preston was later named editor in chief of the intersectional feminist magazine Wear Your Voice, becoming one of the first out transgender people to run a publication. Preston would also take on roles at the Human Rights Campaign and the organization that produces Los Angeles Pride.
Last year, Preston used her 34th birthday to draw attention to the average life expectancy of Black trans women in the U.S., which is 35. On her birthday cake, she featured images of 77 Black trans women who didn’t make it to that milestone, and popularized the hashtag #ThriveOver35. Around this time, Preston helped lead a boycott of radio host Charlamagne tha God after he allowed transphobic hate speech on his show. As the 2020 election neared, Preston became a surrogate for presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, highlighting her longtime commitment to racial justice and trans equality.
Preston, born in Kentucky, has long spoken up for the most marginalized people, shaped by her previous experiences as a young homeless sex worker in Los Angeles.
“We can’t just keep targeting only the communities that have enough money to give, because your fiercest warriors are always going to be the ones who have nothing to lose but life itself,” she says.
Knowing firsthand the sting of racism, transphobia, and poverty, it’s not surprising intersectionality is at the forefront of her work.
“Recently, when the Supreme Court made the decision to include LGBTQ workplace protections as an extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, nobody talked about the fact that they refused to hear arguments and cases on qualified immunity, which would actually hold law enforcement accountable for the egregious atrocities that we’ve continued to see happen in Black communities all across the country,” Preston points out.
With COVID-19 ravaging Black communities, Preston recently launched You Are Essential, which works to fund grassroots organizations that serve vulnerable communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.