Activist Spotlight: Elle Hill
Elle Hill is an activist dedicated to LGBTQ+ inclusion and health education equity in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is currently a Public Allies Milwaukee Fellow, an Inclusion Health Program Specialist for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, and on the Board Directors of the organization Diverse and Resilient. Last year, Hill was nominated for and received a Pridefest Milwaukee Individual of the Year Award. She is also a singer, songwriter, writer, and poet.
Hill told Supermajority News about how she came to this work, the challenges she has faced, and her plans for the future.
Supermajority News: Tell us about your activist journey.
Elle Hill: About two years ago, trans inclusion activist and friend Livvia Rowell Ortiz asked me to participate as a facilitator for a Public Allies Milwaukee inclusion learning day. I had first gotten involved in activism four years before, after experiencing my own HIV/STI prevention journey through Diverse and Resilient, an organization that provides sexual health and anti-violence education, as well as public health services, to LGBTQ+ populations in Milwaukee. But my experience at Public Allies was a big moment.
At the inclusion learning day, I helped to present a session on the erasure of the Stonewall era as the basis for our modern-day Pride Movement and talked about the lives and legacies of Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. I then led small group discussions about my transition journey and the public perception of trans communities, particularly Black trans women, for that year’s “Allies” cohort — a team of emerging local leaders immersed in a ten-month non-profit leadership development program.
I realized that session was the actualization of the type of activist and educator I wanted to be. I had known about Public Allies since I graduated from high school but had been too intimidated to apply in the past. But after that experience, I applied to and was accepted for the Class of 2019 cohort.
Being part of this cohort changed my life. Through the program, I was placed with Health Connections Inc., a clinic specializing in serving marginalized communities with HIV/STI testing/treatment, trans-affirming healthcare, and harm reduction, and became their Health Outreach Navigator. I’ve been encouraged and supported to incorporate all the parts of who I am into this work. The clinic is owned and operated by an all-woman staff, led by Ericka Sinclair and Dr. Linda Wesp, and I got to be a part of a legacy of trans people working there. I even began my own medical transition with a provider at this clinic.
The same year, I applied for a fellowship to The Black AIDS Institute’s Ambassadorship of Biomedical Prevention and became part of the inaugural cohort of black cis and trans women members. Each of us is beautiful, brave, resilient, and come from communities impacted by the legacy of HIV/AIDS.
This year I am a Public Allies MKE Class of 2020 Fellow, placed at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin as the Inclusion Health Program Specialist. Here I am an internal staff trainer and community resource organizer. I will be leading a special workshop for this year’s Milwaukee-based Safe Healthy Strong Conference, called “Public Allyship: My Journey to Advocacy” this March.
How has your identity as a trans woman of color shaped your activism?
I struggled with my sexuality early on for many years, and even up to when I began my transition five years ago. But I started my transition because I felt like I couldn’t go on living like a ghost in my own life.
I found that transitioning is not just a medical or physical journey — it is also a mental, emotional, and spiritual journey. Transitioning is a process of unlearning and relearning, resocialization, awakening, and risk management. It affects both binary-presenting and gender-nonconforming trans individuals.
Some of the greatest struggles I face are transmisogyny, misogyny, sexism, and elitism. I am often oversexualized, made to feel vulnerable in intimate situations, and struggle with work access and educational support. I have been ridiculed and felt like I was on display in my own home, ostracized, outed, and harassed. Throughout my life, I have experienced physical and sexual assault, stalking, cyber-stalking, bullying, and identity-based harassment. My community of black women of trans experience are no strangers to this kind of violence.
But trans people exist in every culture in every part of the world we cannot be erased. Black womyn and queer and trans people of color have been a part of every great social movement. A movement can only be equitable or just if we all have a seat at every table where decisions are being made for us.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I also feel a unique call and duty to work towards making sure that HIV treatment care access and sexual education are equitable and inclusive. HIV has claimed so many lives, and I work among some of the bravest people I know.
Where do you find support?
My community keeps me going — my chosen family, my biological family, my faith family, and my mentors and colleagues. I am also part of a black trans women’s support program — SHEBA: Sisters Helping Each Other Battle Adversity at Diverse and Resilient — and that has been a source of strength, wisdom, and constant inspiration for me as a young woman in transition. SHEBA is the only support group for Black trans women in the Midwest, and it is so special to me. Here I have grown into the young woman I’m becoming. I have also been blessed with incredibly strong mentors: Ronnie Grace and Kofi Short. Diverse and Resilient has also uplifted me and become a regular support system.
Tell us about a woman who has inspired your life and/or work.
My mom is a minister, and she raised me to believe in honoring who I am and where I come from. My mother sacrificed for me and gave me everything I ever needed, even when she faced struggles with her health. We faced those struggles together. She has always loved me and shown that love without faltering.
Despite growing up in an environment in which it was common for young black women to discontinue formal education after primary school, my mom instilled the importance of education in me. She also instilled in me the principle that community service and healing is necessary for one to lead a good life. She did this by modeling service for me: she worked with underprivileged/homeless populations, organizing food pantry donations, and was a foster parent as a single black woman in Milwaukee for nearly ten years.
She taught me that black womyn are more than what is said about us, either behind our backs or to our faces. We are strong, passionate, brilliant, talented Queens. We should be celebrated, loved, protected, and mentored as we go about the daily work of dealing with a sexist heteronormative patriarchy while upholding whole communities.
What do you think is next for you on your activist journey?
I’m currently involved with the Inclusive Restroom Working Group Equal Rights Commission of Milwaukee. We are working to establish a new policy to have all city-owned, binary labeled bathrooms made into gender-neutral facilities and to establish a new building standard for future city-owned buildings.
I also want to bring my arts background together with my advocacy. I’ve always wanted to record music that reflects who I am, and I want to focus more on using my writing skills for my work and publishing original work. I also want to return to education and pursue a bachelor’s degree.
The thing that is closest to my heart, however, is making sure that black trans women in Milwaukee get a chance to attend this year’s Black Trans Advocacy Conference. I was able to go for the last two years, and have never felt so seen, safe, loved, and respected as I do in that space. I was awarded $1,850 towards this year’s trip as a Bobbie Jean Baker Transfaith Award Recipient, for my trans-centered faith work and advocacy in collaboration with ZAO MKE, and am also a GENDER REVEAL PODCAST grantee. I am currently running a Facebook Fundraiser towards helping pay for other deserving women to attend: SEND BLACK WOMEN OF TRANS EXPERIENCE TO BTAC2020
Ultimately, my journey has been hard, but the things I have chosen to do are so special to me. I am exactly the woman God has laid the path for me to become. I am a Black woman of trans experience, and I have the right to an inclusive feminism. I have fought hard for my womanhood. I have fought to stand here. To write these words.
We all have to keep fighting. We are women, and there is nothing we can’t do on a level playing field.