Sharron Cooks is visible.
It’s not just her tall, slender stature. When the proud transgender woman from Philadelphia walks onto the royal blue floor of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, the entire party sees her and her community.
"I think visibility is very important. People need to see themselves reflected,” she said Thursday, hours before Hillary Clinton was set to accept the party’s nomination for president and the first openly trans person, Sarah McBride, addressed the convention.
Cooks, 38, is the only black trans woman delegate at the convention. There are 27 other transgender delegates serving this year — the most in the party’s history.
"I think it is important that people are given a voice to share the issues and grievances that affect trans women of color."
The increased strength provides an opportunity, Cooks said, to break down stereotypes so that acceptance in society is expanded.
"I urge other members of the trans community to get involved," she said. "It will help lift a lot of misconceptions that people have about our community."
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Cooks transitioned when she was 17 and considers herself lucky to be alive. The average life expectancy for trans women is 35 years old, due to poor access to health care, unemployment and violence, she said. Even with increased awareness about hardships and more social services, she said enough is not being done.
"If we had programs based on education, we could develop leaders who are executives and in roles of leadership," Cooks said. "It is up to us as trans people to create a better quality of life."
So when Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims called her one day this May asking her to serve as a delegate, the longtime advocate felt compelled to oblige.
Cooks cast her ballot for Clinton on Tuesday. She believes the first woman president will bring a unique perspective to government and the Oval Office.
"All leadership is important and a lot of the resources are dominated by white cis-males," she said, using a term that describes a person who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. "It is refreshing to give opportunities to other people they see striving for excellence."