“I’m honored to be able to speak to you all tonight at this building dedication for Miss Major and jay Toole. It’s been a tremendous privilege having Major at the center of my life for the past 8 years, first as her partner and later as her political comrade and best friend. Last year was a particularly hard year for her healthwise and I feel so grateful that she is here with us today, and that we have the opportunity to honor her together in her lifetime.
To Miss Major, having a building named after her in nyc is one of the greatest achievements of her life—the city she came of age in—the city where she worked the streets, found community, did time at dannemora, sing sing, Attica, greenhaven, Comstock, and where she helped bring a beautiful child into the world.
I think that the true gift of this building dedication is that not only her name, but also Miss Major’s spirit and legacy will forever permeate the work of the 5 organizations housed here.
For over 40 years, Miss Major has worked tirelessly for the rights of her community of lower-income, primarily African-American, transgender women. She has personally trained and mentored most of the transgender leaders in the Bay Area, and has consistently encouraged people to chart their own path whatever that means for them.
Miss Major’s reputation in her community is unparalleled and that is in part because she is truly there for people and is so many people’s only safety net. When I first met her there was literally not an inch of carpet, sofa, or bed space in her home that wasn’t taken by someone staying with her. She endlessly takes people in, gives people money, counsels people on the phone. She may not make you too comfortable, she doesn’t want you to stay forever, but she’ll take you in, nonetheless.
Major will rush out in the middle of the night to be with you during your last moments, as she has done hundreds of other times, because she believes no one should have to die alone.
She has adopted, fostered, and raised countless children whose parents have been affected by prison, domestic violence, or drug use. She is a holder of so many of our darkest secrets, shame, and joy and she will never gossip or betray us. When life feels unbearable, when we hear of another transgender woman attacked and murdered like the young woman in Harlem last week, she’ll take you into her arms, let you cry and then give you the words you need to go on.
Major took TGI Justice, an organization that was comprised mostly of allies in its early days, and showed us that if you build a space where people in struggles’ strengths are highlighted and recognized, where people are appreciated for all that they have to offer and supported in their individual and collective fabulousness, a space where people are truly in their power, that our base membership would swell. And it didn’t take long before TGI Justice’s entire membership was comprised of transgender women who’ve been targeted by the state, been in prison, been on the streets.
I wish that every transgender person struggling to survive and express themselves, especially people transitioning in prison, people like Chelsea Manning, could hang out around Major and be inspired and encouraged by how she navigates the world she lives in. Whether its parking attendants at her local hospital, telephone call center employees, her neighbors—everywhere Major goes people are changed by her. When she was getting dialysis she used to walk through that clinic like a beacon of light, doing that walk, waving to all the nurses, flirting with all the older men and giving her straight female doctor lessons on walking in high heels.
Major’s who she is. She’s got an incredible sense of humor. She’s confident and knows she’s beautiful whether she goes out clean-shaven or with stubble, in hair or bald, with or without teeth. When cops pulled her over on our first date and told her there was a mistake on the gender on her ID because it said “male”, she told them, honey look just a little bit closer. I’ve watched her walk out of jail, strutting her stuff in skinny jeans, 3 inch red pumps, and a smirk on her face looking like she owned that place.
I hope that this naming of the “Major-Toole” building be the start and continuation of so much of what Major has brought to us. Let us now be the collective safety net for this elder who has been that for so many that have come before. Let us shape our work through her example of rejecting non-profit structure and insisting on organizations grounded in mutual-aid and community networks of support. And let us all draw on Major’s strength and courage and find ways to live our lives and become more free.”
*Photo by Syd London*