Raquel Willis Keynote Speaker
- Author of The Risk It Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation
- Executive producer with iHeartMedia’s first-ever LGBTQ+ podcast network, Outspoken, and the host of Afterlives podcast
- GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Online Journalism, Video or Multimedia for Logo’s Trans Youth Town Hall (2023)
Raquel Willis's Biography
Raquel Willis is an award-winning activist, journalist, and media strategist dedicated to collective liberation, especially for Black trans folks. She is the author of The Risk It Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation. She is also an executive producer with iHeartMedia’s first-ever LGBTQ+ podcast network, Outspoken, and the host of Afterlives, a podcast centering the lives and legacies of trans folks lost too soon to violence.
Raquel has held groundbreaking posts, including director of communications for Ms. Foundation for Women, executive editor of Out magazine, and national organizer for Transgender Law Center. She co-founded Transgender Week of Visibility and Action with civil rights attorney Chase Strangio. She is the president of the Solutions Not Punishments Collaborative’s executive board and serves on the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art board.
She published the GLAAD Media Award-winning “Trans Obituaries Project,” in 2022, she executive-produced and hosted “The Trans Youth Town Hall” with Logo. The work was nominated for the GLAAD Awards and won Gold distinction in the Shorty Awards. She was also honored as a 2023 ADCOLOR Advocate.
Her writing has been published in Black Futures by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham, Bulgari Magnifica: The Power Women Hold edited by Tina Leung, The Echoing Ida Collection edited by Kemi Alabi, Cynthia R. Greenlee, and Janna A. Zinzi, and Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha Blain. She has also written for Essence, Bitch, VICE, Buzzfeed, The Cut, and Vogue.
Raquel is a thought leader on gender, race, and intersectionality. She’s experienced in online publications, organizing marginalized communities for social change, non-profit media strategy, and public speaking while using digital activism as a major tool of resistance and liberation.
Raquel Willis's Speaking Topics
The Risk It Takes to Bloom - Life, Transformation, and Collective Liberation
How can moments of struggle help us free ourselves to bloom? In this captivating talk, Black trans activist Raquel Willis brings audiences through the themes of her debut memoir, The Risk It Takes to Bloom. She shares her personal story, starting with her upbringing in Georgia in a Black Catholic family and how she discovered the LGBTQ+ community and found her identity. She speaks with deep compassion and vulnerability about how the unexpected death of her father pushed her to examine her relationship with herself and those she loved, and how the epidemic of violence against trans women of color inspired her to come out publicly.
A passionate and dynamic speaker, Raquel shares the path that brought her to pursuing social justice and shows us how complex moments of activation can push us all to take necessary risks and fight for collective liberation. She explains why solidarity is like a “painter’s palette”: we can all use our diverse backgrounds, interests, and talents to participate in the work that needs to be done. Audiences will walk away inspired to seize their own moments of activation and create real change in their communities.
From Visibility + Vitality: Investing in Transgender Communities and Those on the Margins
“The trans community is more visible than ever before,” says Raquel Willis, “but we are also under immense political attack across the United States.” In this talk, Raquel unravels the complexity of visibility and what it has meant for the transgender community. She combines personal perspective and critical analysis, using her own story to illustrate the complicated relationship that trans communities have with the concept of visibility and representation.
Raquel argues that those of us who believe in liberation and freedom of expression can’t stop at mere visibility—we must be as much or more invested in the vitality of people on the margins. She calls for us to center the experiences and well-being of our most vulnerable communities, and challenges audiences to commit to social justice, dismantle systems of oppression, and free us all to thrive.
I Believe in Our Power: Lessons of Resilience and Action from Black Transgender Trailblazers
Black transgender activists and organizers have historically played crucial roles in our fight for diversity and inclusion, but their pivotal contributions are often overlooked. In this talk, Raquel Willis navigates this rich yet forgotten history.
She draws from the stories of historical figures like Mary Jones, one of the first openly transgender people in New York history, Marsha P. Johnson, one of the prominent figures of the Stonewall Uprising, and iconic drag queen and activist Crystal LaBeija. Raquel also shares her own experiences in contemporary community organizing, drawing on the many groundbreaking posts she’s held. She weaves history and the present together to illuminate the enduring resilience of Black transgender activists in the face of systemic racism and transphobia, and challenges us all to invest in Black trans liberation and freedom for all.