Transgender Actress & Activist Mj Rodriguez Calls for Action

Actress & Activist MJ Rodriguez
File:MJ Rodriguez.png - Wikimedia Commons

By Halie Ramirez

After seeing the video of George Floyd’s death, Afro-LatinX singer, transgender actress and activist, Mj Rodriguez also felt she couldn’t breathe. She didn’t understand how the video of George Floyd’s arrest and untimely death could be distributed and shown on national news. So, she took to the only place she knows she could reach the masses: social media. The message is about breaking her silence and encouraging others to speak up.

“We’ve had enough,” Rodriguez said March 27, on her first Instagram Live–two days after George Floyd’s death. “I’m speaking from a perspective of a person who is of melanin. Who is Trans. Who is Puerto Rican–that is also a melanin culture.”

Three days later, she moved to the streets through a peaceful protest in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey, a town with nonprogressive lawmakers. Rodriguez, put herself out there because “[her] life is always in jeopardy, mentally and physically, no matter [her] celebrity status,” according to Twitter.

Rodriguez is one of the leaders gaining momentum in the Black Trans Lives movement and her advocacy is branching out beyond the LGBTQIA community at this moment. In celebrating Pride month, Rodriguez has spoken in conversations and panels about the importance of the LGBTQIA community; especially among the Black Trans lives. In her social media posts, she calls on people to vote and take action in support of justice and equality for people of melanin.

“I think I’ve grown from being tired to being amped to speak out more,” Rodriguez said. “We are in the midst of a pandemic, yet and still [police] can lock up individuals of melanin complexion…this is a reality check for the people who want to be our Allies. Even though you may never understand our circumstances as far as our pain, please empathize and start speaking out because this is going to constantly keep happening.”

In 2016 Rodriguez’s evolution began while emerging from the limelight to the spotlight. Playing Angel Dumott Schunard in the off-broadway revival of Rent, she realized this transition was what she needed. Rodriguez tells Playbill, she has always felt like one person but needed to mentally prepare for the physical transformation.

“I [had] to think about all of this stuff,” Rodriguez said. What is it going to entail? What am I going to go through? What are the chemical changes I’m going to go through? It’s a lot of stuff that you have to think about and I took that time for myself to do my research to know what I wanted to do, and then I just [started] my journey.”

Through her journey, Rodriguez’s support system ranged from family to agent. In turn, she is the support that many need. Between her activism, acting and singing career, Rodriguez finds time to respond to social media messages, especially to LGBTQIA youth having a difficult time. Rodriguez has become an idol as she grows a list of firsts: acting in the first tv show to host the largest cast of transgender actresses in leading roles, Pose; being the first openly trans woman awarded Best Television Actress at the Imagen Awards; being the first transgender woman of color to play a role in a major production in the Little Shop of Horrors; and entering a partnership with a company, Olay, as the first Latina trans woman. Rodriguez uses these firsts as a platform to advocate for the LGBTQIA community.

“I want to be that actress that is fighting for all rights,” Rodriguez said in an interview with Variety. “I’m obviously fighting for my community simply because I’m trans, and I have to do that, and I do it because that’s my existence. I wake up in the morning, and that is my activism.”

Before her transition, Mj Rodriguez didn’t always have support. She has been excluded from many parts of her community. In an interview with NPR she talks about how she’s used this as motivation.“There were moments where I was called many derogatory names,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve gotten into a couple of fights. People have jumped me. You know, I’ve had a lot of things happen to me, but I look past those things now and now I’m moving forward. I always believe that the experiences that you go through are what make you stronger and what help you push forward through life.”

At the age of 14, Rodriguez found her community in the ballroom scene learning vogue. Being a part of ballroom culture helped her in developing her character Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista on Pose. Rodriguez also worked with several cast members like Indya Moore, Billy Porter, Ryan Jamaal Swain and Angel Bismark to ensure their stories were a great representation of their community—one that is a refuge for people of color in the LGBTQIA community to find support. The number one takeaway for Rodriguez’s work is seeing the acceptance from people of many walks of life, she tells Zendaya in an interview with Variety.

“Whether they be a part of the LGBTQIA community, whether they be a part of the African American, you know the people of Melanin community—whether they be just a part of any kind of community—they’ve been so accepting and loving of the story and of the true message which is family.”

She credits her mother for all the support she’s received of moving into her womanhood and career. Rodriguez uses her mother and other women in the entertainment industry, especially those of color, as guidance to finding worth and proving that diversity shows change.

In accepting the Imagen Award, Rodriguez said, “you’d never think in a million years you’d get an award like this, being a woman like me. Obviously, this is not just for me. This is for the little kids like me…I’m just trying to speak as much as I can for my community and that goes for my Latino community.”

Contributing beyond her community, Rodriguez also advocates for sustainability as she is involved with organizations or speaks on behalf of these issues.

“The biggest thing that has hit me is noticing the fires and brush fires around the world – that really hurt my spirit…the only way we can live is if she thrives,” Rodriguez said.

Updated December 29, 2020.

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Women in Texas at the National Women's March, rallying against deadly abortion restrictions.
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The landscape of abortion rights in the United States has become more restrictive than ever in recent history, particularly in Arizona and Florida, where recent developments represent a major setback for women’s reproductive rights. On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in a 4-to-2 decision to uphold an 1864 law banning abortion from the moment of conception. The only exception is saving the mother’s life, but there are no exceptions for rape or incest under this law.

Just a few days earlier, on April 1, the Florida Supreme Court also ruled in favor of upholding a 6-week abortion ban, which will take effect on May 1. This further reduced the legal threshold for abortions in Florida, which used to be 24 weeks of pregnancy before Republicans passed a law in 2022 banning abortions after 15 weeks. Both of these rulings have sparked intense debate and outrage about their impact on women’s rights.

Overview of the Near-Total Abortion Ban in Arizona

The Arizona Supreme Court voted to uphold an 1864 law, a law passed even before the state officially was a part of the United States of America, that makes all types of abortion illegal, including medication abortion, from the moment of conception. Though there are exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, the ban makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest and imposes severe penalties, including imprisonment, on medical professionals performing abortions.

Medical professionals have spoken out about how dire the situation will become for women with this near-total abortion ban. Dr. Jill Gibson, chief medical director of Planned Parenthood in Arizona, told CNN that this ruling will have “absolutely unbelievable consequences for the patients in our community.” She continued by saying, “Providers need to be able to take care of their patients without fear of legal repercussions and criminalization.”

Representatives from Arizona and other states across the country have also spoken up against this near-total abortion ban.

Video by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramVideo by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Image by Rub\u00e9n Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Until this Arizona Supreme Court decision, abortion had been legal in the state up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. The right to abortion via Roe v. Wade prevented the enforcement of the near-total abortion ban, but since a majority vote in the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe, those opposed to abortion rights had been fighting to enforce the 160-year-old 1864 law.

This new abortion ban in Arizona is not effective immediately as the court has paused its ruling for 14 days until additional arguments are heard in a lower court about how constitutional the law is. However, the law will likely come into effect in May, a few weeks from now. Planned Parenthood Arizona, the largest abortion provider in the state, will continue serving the community until the ban is enforced.

An Overview of Florida's Six-Week Abortion Ban

The landscape of abortion in Florida has also undergone a significant change with the enforcement of a 6-week abortion ban, replacing the previous 15-week limit. This ban, similar to Arizona's, severely restricts access to abortion care and poses a significant challenge to reproductive rights in the state. Providers are bracing for a public health crisis due to the increased demand for abortion and limited options for patients.

Practically speaking, a 6-week abortion ban is a near-total abortion ban because pregnant people often don’t even realize they could be pregnant by this early stage. Combined with Florida’s strict abortion requirements, which include mandatory in-person doctor visits with a 24-hour waiting period, it’s nearly impossible for those who may want an abortion to be able to access it before 6 weeks. Not to mention that fulfilling the requirements is particularly challenging for low-income individuals.

Video by theluncheonlawyer on InstagramVideo by theluncheonlawyer on Instagram

Moreover, this Florida law also restricts telemedicine for abortion and requires that medication be provided in person, effectively eliminating mail-order options for abortion pills. While exceptions for rape and incest exist in Florida, the requirements are also strict, asking victims to provide police records or medical records. For victims who don’t always report sexual violence for many different reasons, these exceptions don’t make a difference.

The consequences of Florida’s ban extend to neighboring states with more restrictive abortion laws. For instance, residents of Alabama, facing a total ban on abortion, and Georgia, with its own 6-week abortion ban, have relied on Florida for abortion services. That will no longer be an option, further limiting care alternatives.

The Road Ahead

These recent abortion bans in Arizona and Florida are a major setback for women's rights, particularly impacting Latina women who already face barriers to accessing quality healthcare. These bans not only restrict women’s reproductive freedom but also endanger their lives.

Efforts to challenge these bans through legal means and ballot measures are ongoing, but the road ahead is uncertain. While there’s hope for overturning these abortion bans, the challenges of conservative laws and legal battles are formidable. The November ballot in both states will be crucial in determining the future of abortion rights and access for all.