Sassy But Never Shady: Trans Drag Icon Peppermint Gets Real

Iconic performer and transgender activist Peppermint on the impact of Sarah McBride and why she believes the Biden administration will be better for trans rights in America.

Four years may have passed since Peppermint first mesmerized viewers of Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race with her gag-worthy lip syncs, drop-dead gorgeous lewks and effortless eleganza, but this New York-based singer, actor and performer is currently more relevant than ever. Apart from being the first trans woman ever to originate a lead role on Broadway in the musical “Head Over Heels,” Peppermint has also made appearances on TV shows such as “Deputy,” “God Friended Me,” and Ryan Murphy’s hit ballroom drama, “Pose.”

 

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“Sassy but never shady” Peppermint has never shied away from using her platform to share her experiences as a Black trans woman. Last year, she emerged as one of the most powerful voices in the Black Trans Lives Matter movement, which seeks to raise awareness of the violence to which Black trans people — and Black transgender women in particular — are exposed. According to Human Rights Watch (HRC), at least 37 trans and gender-nonconforming people were killed in the U.S. in 2020 in what the HRC called “an epidemic of violence.” The majority of the victims were Black, Latinx, or both.

The Trump administration has been especially detrimental to transgender rights. From its efforts to write transgender people out of sex discrimination protections in health care to its withdrawal of regulatory protections for transgender children in schools, its banning of transgender people from serving in the military, and its goal to undermine recognition of transgender people under federal employment laws, the Trump administration left the trans community in no doubt as to his agenda. 

GO Magazine caught up with Peppermint to hear her thoughts on what the Biden administration will mean for transgender rights and why she is proud to share a home state with Sarah McBride, the first openly trans state senator in the U.S. 

GO Magazine: You grew up in Delaware. What was that like for a Black, queer kid?

Peppermint: I was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Delaware. I was there throughout my school years. Growing up there as a queer Black kid, my experience was pleasant. I mean, it wasn’t great, but the adversity I faced, like bullies in the playground, I would have faced anywhere. I didn’t feel like I lived in a place that was hostile.

I actually met Joe Biden as my senator when my grandmother, who was very politically active, took me to D.C. to see the cherry blossoms. We bumped into Joe Biden, who complimented my cowboy boots. I was eight or nine at the time. That’s a happy memory.

GO: Are you surprised to see Delaware emerging as a progressive trailblazer?

P: Delaware tends to be the butt of jokes because it’s a small state that’s not necessarily known for much of anything. I’m happy to say that has now changed! Sitting right next to Maryland on the Mason-Dixon Line, it’s nearly in the South but yet not. And I’m thankful for that because it has a distinctly northeast feel to it in the sense that it’s always been progressive at least in my lifetime. 

The Biden administration looks set to be one of the more diverse administrations we’ve had in terms of his cabinet and who he’s appointing, and it was great to see it working out of Delaware in the run-up to the inauguration. And, of course, our state senator Sarah McBride is the first openly transgender state senator ever to be elected in the U.S.

GO: What can you tell us about Sarah McBride?

P: Sarah McBride being elected is wonderful news! I know Sarah, and I believe having her working on important matters is going to serve the folks of Delaware so well. She’s knowledgeable about the issues that impact not only her community but other communities too, and that’s key for any elected official. She’s not just some transgender person who only focuses on trans issues; she thinks about everyone, and I believe her scope of vision is wider than that of most state representatives we’ve had in the past.

GO: What does her election win mean to the trans community?

P: Whenever I’ve spoken with Sarah, I’ve always been so impressed. Knowing that she’s now a senator sends such a strong message to people in Delaware and elsewhere that Delaware is a place to take note of. And it sends a message to transgender people that there are options for us. For young LGBTQ people, seeing a transgender person like Sarah in a position of power demonstrates a level of public acceptance that is both rare and inspirational. 

 

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GO: Why has the Trump administration been problematic for trans people?

P: The fact that we live in a misogynistic, patriarchal, racist society doesn’t bode well for trans people to begin with. While I won’t suggest that every other presidency has been a wonder and a dream, the Trump administration has been especially bad for the trans community, the broader LGBTQ community, and any other minority group. The only times I ever heard Trump or his administration mention the word ‘transgender’ were in relation to rescinding rights and protections put in place under Obama. 

GO: What changes do you foresee under Joe Biden?

P: The Biden administration clearly has similarities to the Obama administration, which was the most progressive and supportive of the LGBTQ community — including transgender people — in modern times. This was true specifically when it came to issues such as opening the door for transgender people to serve in the military, allowing protections for transgender people in healthcare, and supporting marriage equality, of course. It seemed we were moving in a direction of being more supportive and accepting of trans identities, and then Trump came through, intent on removing all those things. So now, the Biden administration can, at best, restore what we had four years ago.

GO: What is Joe Biden’s approach to the transgender community?

P: It’s encouraging that Joe Biden named transgender people in his acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination; that was a first for a presidential candidate. I’ve been involved in supporting the Biden campaign, and it’s clear to me that his team knows we’re watching when it comes to upholding diversity and inclusion. I get the impression they want to listen to all types of people and that it’s important to them to have an understanding of what the Black trans community needs and is going through.

GO: Are you optimistic that things will change?

P: Joe Biden does represent a certain brand of traditionalism, and, while that alone doesn’t mean we’re on the road to a progressive utopia, his team has at least signaled its intent. Joe Biden has acknowledged many of the issues that affect the trans community, from the murder rate of trans women of color to the lack of access to housing and employment due to discrimination. He has shown a deeper understanding of the issues that need to be addressed, and he has demonstrated his plan to include us in key issues such as housing, jobs, and healthcare – unlike the Trump administration, which specifically excluded us from them. I believe what Biden has done is tell us that, when he does get the keys to the castle, he will do the right things.


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