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.
I Peacfully Protested Today in my Home Town Newark aka Brick City. Why? Because my life is always in jeopardy Mentally and Physically no matter my Celebrity status! FOR CHANGE... teach our babies to LOVE. See my Black, Rican, Melanin, TRANS Life!!!!! THEN WE CAN TALK! pic.twitter.com/hRZB1RBPTt— Michaela Ja\u00e9 (Mj) (@Michaela Ja\u00e9 (Mj)) 1590877977
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.