Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove
There is a natural connection between art and activism. Someone who knows that inside and out is Mila Jam, a transgender singer, songwriter and performance artist who uses her work to make noise and ignite change.
“I love pop culture and I love mixed mediums, I love art, I love to combine the two visually and sonically,” she tells Yahoo Life. “If I can mesh the two together, that's what happens. That's sort of how my campaign ‘Stop killing us’ came about.”
The 2019 campaign involved a music video for her song “Masquerade,” where Jam stripped down and painted the words “Stop Killing Us” on her body. This summer, when protesters took to the streets to march against police brutality, Jam brought those words back.
"It has been a trans liberation, it has been a Black Lives Matter movement. We have been out here in the streets, marching for our lives because we only have one life to live and not everyone is experiencing what it's like to be marginalized, to be Black, to be trans,” says Jam.
To lift up those voices and acknowledge those who have been lost, November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Started in 1999, the day honors the memory of the transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.
“We need to be remembered for the lives that we strive to achieve and to live, because a lot of the people that are not able to be here to speak for themselves, they just wanted to exist in peace and harmony,” says Jam.
The fight for equality and safety continues. According to GLAAD, 36 trans and gender non-conforming people have been killed, so far, in incidents of anti-transgender violence in 2020. "Most of the victims were Black trans women or women of color who were beloved family members, friends, and valued members of their communities, but their lives were not protected by a culture that continues to target and villainize trans people,” said GLAAD President & CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, in a statement.
Activists and advocates are working tirelessly to raise awareness and change laws to better protect the trans community, but change is slow. Still, there are some milestones that Mila Jam believes are crucial to celebrate.
“There are so many visible Black trans women on TV that are in music that are in the world of media and speaking out and being open,” says Jam. “You know, we are very passionate, very loved and very uplifted women.”
That passion caught the attention of Out Leadership, a global LGBTQ business network that helps out leaders and organizations. Jam was recruited to be its Senior Advisor of Global Trans Initiatives, with a focus on creating content.
“I always love to say we're bridging the gap between brands and sponsors and companies and corporations to make space for our voices,” says Jam.
Taking a seat at the table and lifting up voices in the trans community is personal for Mila Jam, but she she realizes that the fight for equality is so much bigger than her.
“I've been talking to trans elders that are 70 and 80 plus, that is something that I never even thought about — to be an elder where you're still telling your story of times where there was no conversation at all,” says Jam.
“There's joy in being able to have that conversation with trans elders and to be able to just share these moments.”