Nomi Ruiz & Ryan Cassata Discuss Visibility & Activism on Transgender Day of Remembrance

On Wednesday (Nov. 20), LGBTQ activists everywhere are observing Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual honoring of those whose lives were lost in acts of hateful violence against the transgender community. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 22 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been violently killed in the U.S. in 2019 alone. 

Billboard Pride sat down with recording artists Nomi Ruiz and Ryan Cassata to discuss the annual observance and the often-difficult reality of living as a trans person in 2019. "How do I live my life knowing that this is the world we live in, that we're just not safe?" Ruiz asks, before Cassata adds, "How can we make this stop?"

Ruiz starts off the conversation by asking what goes through Cassata's mind when he sees another example of a transgender person being violently attacked. "The first thing I feel is anger, usually," he responds. "Helpless, too, like, how do we do something quickly?" Ruiz adds that public visibility for the transgender community is of the utmost importance, but that it also has a dark effect on some. "Along with visibility comes resistance, and there are a lot of trans women out there that are suffering at the hands of that resistance."

During their conversation, Cassata adds that, at the time of his coming out, he wasn't given a choice as to whether or not to be an activist — he simply had to become one. "Either I was going to continue to get bullied and cry in my room every day coming home from school, or I was going to be standing in the hallway with a petition," he says. "I chose to use education as my form of activism to make my school a safer place."

Both Ruiz and Cassata have been working in the music industry for years now, and have established themselves as powerful voices for the transgender community. But as Ruiz tells it, the road to her current level of success was not an easy one to walk down. "I started off in hip-hop and R&B, which is ... not a welcoming world for females in general," she says, adding that social media itself has allowed her voice, and the voices of so many others to be heard. "We have access to information that we normally wouldn't where people can be vocal and not censored."

While social media has certainly allowed for more visibility, Cassata points out that it also has the capacity to create a narrative that is naturally biased. "I know so many trans women of color who are doing incredible things, but all you see in the media is the devastating news," he says. "Which we need to see ... but we also need to see success stories. People need people to look up to."

Plus, as Ruiz says, these conversations can't just happen on November 20. "I think it's important to have these conversations all year round, not just on this specific day."

Watch Nomi Ruiz and Ryan Cassata's full discussion to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance above.