I Am Florida: Delia Melody Dexaeris
Over the decades, the LGBTQ community has been subject to violence and discrimination that has come to a head with the recent massacre at Pulse Nightclub. It is a community that has been united in their oppression, but even more so in their resilience, strength, and hope. Now, more than ever, the stories of people within this community serve as a reminder of our humanity, our diversity, and our collective drive toward positive change. Through sharing stories of inequality and advocacy from people across the state, Equality Florida is elevating ally and community voices to come out and say #IAmFlorida. I am here. And most of all, I matter.
Delia Melody Dexaeris knows that now, more than ever, communities must be coming together to fight not only for their rights, but the rights of all those experiencing oppression and discrimination. As a trans activist and, as she proudly identifies herself in the description on her popular YouTube channel, a “feminist and trans rights awareness blogger”, Delia has an intimate understanding of the importance of the role of community in activism and advocacy. Alongside her independent activism, she is the Social Media Director for the Florida Transgender Alliance and the Volunteer Coordinator for STRIVE, a local transgender advocacy group in her home of Pensacola, Florida.
In reality, she is all that and so much more. Her identity, like anyone’s, is too complex to condense into one small, easy catch-all, but her self-descriptor as a queer Latina trans woman begins to piece together the story she lives on a daily basis. Delia is no stranger to struggle; she came out late in 2014 at the age of 26, and was rejected by her family. She was homeless for a time before finding support from STRIVE, the same organization she now works with.
Far from letting her past hold her back, she now uses her experience to fuel her passion to fight against issues of inequality that disproportionately affect transgender women of color, and to share her story with people going through similar experiences via her YouTube channel. “It allows me to get the viewpoint of trans people of color out there, and it lets me be a face that people are familiar with and feel comfortable coming to. I want to make myself available to trans youth, so I can provide links to the help they need.” Delia continued, “That’s where my independent activist work intersects with my work with STRIVE and the Florida Transgender Alliance.”
An apt reflection of Delia’s own life and philosophy, STRIVE does pretty much everything: helping with transitions and getting people in touch with trans-friendly doctors and counselors, finding housing and work for trans people, acting as advocates for discrimination cases and providing trans-friendly legal assistance — “Basically just providing for all the needs of the trans community,” Delia said matter of factly. “We also place a strong emphasis on on-the-ground activism, which means being present at city hall when any human rights ordinance is discussed, and at LGBT-centered events such as Pride — really, wherever we can be to push for inclusion and acceptance.”
Delia’s primary message regarding activism is about the importance of intersectionality. In the wake of the recent tragedy at Pulse Nightclub, Delia’s message to stand together and unite as one community rings true now more than ever. “They way I look at it is that the oppression of my sisters and brothers and siblings is my oppression; if we want to advance the rights of any group of people, it requires fighting for the rights of all people,” she said passionately. “If I want to fight for the rights of trans people, I can’t just fight for white trans people.” And she’s right; the intersection of marginalized gender identity and race is where the most violence is happening, and transgender women of color are in desperate need of protection unparalleled to any other marginalized community in the country. According to the 2013 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 90% of all LGBT homicide victims were people of color, and 72% of homicide victims were transgender women.
Delia stressed that it’s also a matter of balance between speaking up and standing in solidarity with other marginalized groups. “When there are those places where we are not the ones who are oppressed, we need to let the voices of those who are oppressed speak for themselves and not speak over them,” she said. The transgender community is one that urgently needs their voice heard, but Delia said that she’s been told in the past to wait her turn to fight for her own rights within the LGBTQ community. “People have said, ‘she needs to be quiet, she’s whining too much, let someone else get their rights first’ — but the trans fight it just as important as any other fight. By fighting for our rights, we are never trivializing anyone else’s fights. This is what we need to overcome. Nobody should have to get on the back of the bus; we should all be pushing to the front of the bus together.”
Delia does most of her activist work in Pensacola. When asked specifically about how she feels about being a transgender activist in Florida, Delia thought for a moment, then spoke. “The climate of Florida is, in a lot of cases, very conservative and resistant to change — that’s a fact. It's not very friendly to people of color, women, LGBT people, and especially trans people. It’s more important here because it’s where institutionalized violence and bias is being carried out on a daily basis. We need to take a stand here, in one of the worst places in the country where the fight is so difficult and things are so institutionally oppressive. If we do, then we can show people we can do it anywhere.”
Delia’s interview was conducted before the massacre at Pulse Nightclub on June 12th, but she posted an incredibly powerful video on YouTube in the early morning after the shooting, tears still streaming down her face as she tried to process and comprehend the incomprehensible. It seems appropriate to conclude with her statements from that morning:
“Now, more than ever, it’s important for us to be brave, and to stand together in love and support for the lives we’ve lost, and for all of us left behind to deal with that loss and that fear. I want you to know you can still do that, even knowing you’re afraid.” She paused for a moment, trying to collect herself before continuing. “A month or two ago, I read an article posing the question as to whether many of us would know it if we were living through another civil rights movement, and I feel like it can no longer be denied that these are revolutionary times. And unfortunately, revolutionary times are often very violent. We lost so many beautiful souls in Orlando last night, and I’m sure we will lose more here and all over the world before it’s said and done.”
In the 10 minute long video, she emphasized time and again the importance of continuing to fight and of coming together as a community, but she ended with a powerful statement addressed to members of the LGBTQ community — not one of action, but of love and empathy in a time of tragedy and mourning. “I want you to do what you need to do to stay safe and mentally healthy, and I want you to know that our safety is never a currency to be exchanged for progress.”
You can watch Delia’s videos at her YouTube Channel, Delia Melody.
Story By Hannah Powell