Updated June 17, 2019
Ames Simmons is a queer, transgender white man who serves as Policy Director at Equality North Carolina, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization. In his historic position, he uses an anti-violence, anti-oppression and transgender justice lens to advocate for transgender North Carolinians with the North Carolina General Assembly, the state’s executive and administrative agencies and local governments. He enjoys exploring North Carolina, learning about the legal dimensions of transgender policy in the U.S., and wowing President Barack Obama with his snazzy footwear.
How long have you been in North Carolina?
I’ve lived in North Carolina for the past two and a half years, but spent lots of time here as a young person growing up in Atlanta. I learned to ski at Sugar Mountain, rafted the Nantahala and spent time with my parents for the three years they lived in Asheville.
Were you are the first-ever director of Trans Policy at Equality North Carolina? How did you get involved with public policy and what piece of advice would you give to trans and trans-supporting folks looking to get into the field?
My policy work began with reproductive justice organizing: when I was in college I was part of the formation of the Georgia Abortion Rights Action League chapter on campus. Fifteen years ago when Georgia adopted a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, I joined an active resistance movement as a volunteer, and the more volunteer organizing I did, the more I learned about policy issues affecting the LGBTQ community. I started attending conferences using vacation time from work, then being asked to speak on panels, then submitting my own workshops and that is something any trans person or ally could do — start with organizing, get in the mix of policy folks and see where it takes you.
Who is one of your trans heroes and why?
This weekend at the National Trans Bar Association mentorship summit, I got to spend time with one of my heroes, Kylar Broadus, who was the first transgender person to testify in congressional hearings about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2012. From being raised in Missouri as a “corn-fed farm boy,” to use his words, to serving as a member of the National Black Justice Coalition Board of Directors and the Trans People of Color Coalition, he is a great possibility model for trans people and really any people.
What is your brightest memory?
In 2011, I had the opportunity to meet President Obama at a fundraising dinner, and I was wearing red patent leather loafers with my tuxedo. I was completely star-struck when I got to shake his hand, and any smart or interesting questions or comments I might’ve had flew right out of my head. In his usual casual style, as I walked away, President Obama called after me, “Oh hey — nice shoes!”
What non-professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I was part of a flamenco dance company in Atlanta called Perla Flamenca. We had our own shows, but a lot of what we did was paid work in the community. I stopped dancing because of a stress fracture that required foot surgery, but I would love to revisit flamenco as a trans man and be dancing again in this tradition based on resistance to oppression.
Lately, the news has been full of some dire information concerning the treatment of trans and gender non-conforming Americans, including hate crimes, emboldened anti-trans speech and of course anti-trans legal maneuvers from the executive branch on down. However, wherever there’s anti-trans oppression, there’s trans folks banding together for support and solidarity. What current activist movement in North Carolina most excites you?
There is such a rich history of activism, civil rights, and resistance in North Carolina, and growing out of that I am especially excited by Rev. Barber’s national work with the Poor People’s Campaign, led here locally by a black trans woman co-chair. I also believe strongly in supporting youth-led movements like Ignite NC.
If I could wave a magic wand and give you an unlimited amount of anything, what would it be and what would you do with it?
If I could have an unlimited amount of anything, it would be hope. I would soak up a good bit of hope for myself, because these days I’m running on fumes, and you’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, but I would also give hope to young people, folks who grew up with love and hope and a black man as president and are now wondering if the world is ending, if there is actually any place for them. If there were a bonus round, I would also like a lifetime supply of Rainier cherries.
What is your ideal alone-in-the-car, tinted-windows-so-no-one-can-see-you lipsync song?
It’s definitely Michael Jackson, but it shifts between “Man in the Mirror” and “Scream” depending on what is going on that day!
What is the most valuable thing that being trans has taught you?
In one word, the most valuable thing that being trans has taught me is resilience — in the words of trans pioneer Miss Major Griffin Gracy, “I’m still f*cking here.” When I first began to understand my transness almost 11 years ago, the first thing I thought was, there is no way I can do this and I cannot tell another living soul. While I was able to navigate many obstacles because of unearned advantage I have as a white person, the number and size of the obstacles was daunting, but over time and with the help of community, I’m figuring it out.
What do you hope to accomplish next?
I would love to pursue an advanced degree like an LLM in gender identity and the law, and possibly teach it someday. It is thrilling that more and more law schools are offering classes about transgender people, but they are usually elective readings courses, and I believe there is enough cutting-edge civil rights jurisprudence in this area for gender identity to be a black-letter, full-credit legal course.