On June 7, Ashlee Marie Preston turned 34 years old. To celebrate, she ordered a 17″ x 26″ cake featuring the photos of 77 black transgender women under 35 years old who have recently been murdered. “Today, I turned 34,” the cake reads. “Statistically, I won’t live over 35.” In a 2014 report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the average life expectancy of a transgender woman is between 30 and 35 years of age. While it’s a grim statistic to face, Preston is seizing the opportunity to empower herself and the rest of the transgender community. This year, she has launched an initiative called #ThriveOver35.
“I’m HIV negative [with] no criminal record, and more importantly, I’m alive.”
“I want #ThriveOver35 to be about inspiration, hope, resilience, and our aspirations,” Preston told POPSUGAR. “There’s just something about trans people inspiring other trans people that shapes safe spaces many of us don’t have access to within society. We are enough, and when the grave statistics are replaced with great successes we continue fighting for progress where many have surrendered to defeat.” To kick off the campaign, Preston has also made a video. “I feel it’s my social responsibility to speak up for those whose voices are still being crushed by the weight of transphobic oppression. There have been many moments in which I’ve had survivor’s guilt, knowing I’ve been in the trenches with my trans comrades, yet I came out on the other side. I’m HIV negative [with] no criminal record, and more importantly, I’m alive.”
Preston said she can’t wait to turn 35, because, “It’ll be a heavy blow to that statistic. Each time we beat the odds, we establish new norms that include better access, opportunity, and well-being for all black trans women.” While Preston’s work as a transgender woman is undoubtedly crucial in the fight to eliminate hate and violence against the community, she also wants to make it clear that we, as allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community, can play our own part.
“Don’t stand by; stand up for us. Hear something transphobic? Check it on the spot! Have a job opportunity? Consider hiring a qualified trans person. If they aren’t qualified, consider mentoring them to prepare them to take on opportunities,” Preston said. “At the end of the day, black trans women aren’t asking to be saved. We’re simply asking for the resources to save ourselves.”
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