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Conference Emcee

Raquel Willis (she/her)

Activist, Author, and Media Strategist

Raquel Willis is an award-winning activist, author, and media strategist dedicated to Black transgender liberation. She 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 and currently serves as an executive producer for iHeartMedia’s Outspoken, the president of the Solutions Not Punishments Collaborative’s executive board, and is a WNBA Social Justice Council member.

Her debut memoir, The Risk It Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation, was released in November 2023 via St. Martin’s Press.

She published the GLAAD Media Award-winning “Trans Obituaries Project,” and 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. 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.

Jason Rodriguez (he/him)

Dancer and Actor

Jason Anthony Rodriguez is a Dominican-American actor/dancer born and raised from Washington Heights in New York City. He went to SUNY Purchase where he received a BA in Arts Management with a focus in dance. He discovered voguing through Benny Ninja and began his training under him. He was also mentored by Dorit Koppel in ballet and Kevin Wynn in modern/contemporary and choreography. He trained in acting at The Susan Batson Studio.

He was a Series Regular in Ryan Murphy’s Emmy® and Golden Globe®-nominated series Pose as “Lamar” for all 3 seasons. He was also the Movement Coach for all 3 seasons of Pose for visual and print marketing. He choreographed for season 2 as well. He has guest-starred on the Season Finale of The Deuce on HBO as “Enrico”. 

He has been featured in the New York Times 5 times by Siobhan Burke, Gia Kourlas and Illise S. Carter.

“Mr. Rodriguez is a subtle scene stealer as Lamar on the FX show “Pose.”

Gia Kourlas from The New York Times

Jason has taught vogue in various institutions throughout the states. He taught internationally in Dominican Republic, Vienna and Japan.

Closing Plenary Performer

Big Freedia (she/her)

Rapper and Activist

Known as the larger-than-life ambassador of New Orleans Bounce music, Big Freedia is a nationally recognized hip-hop artist, TV personality and cultural influencer. Most recently she made headline news for her feature on Beyoncé’s Grammy-Award winning single, “Break My Soul,” released in 2022. 

In addition to releasing her own critically acclaimed EPs, ‘3rd Ward Bounce’ (2018), ‘Louder’ (2020), and ‘Big Diva Energy’ (2021), Big Freedia, also known as the Queen of New Orleans Bounce, also appeared on numerous high profile projects, including Beyoncé’s Grammy award-winning, “Formation,” and on Drake’s “Nice For What,” where she brings her distinctive voice and signature catchphrases to all her work. Last year, she covered “Judas” on Lady Gaga’s Born this Way The Tenth Anniversary album (2021). 

Big Freedia’s ascension in the music industry was chronicled over six seasons in the highly rated reality show, ‘Big Freedia Bounces Back’ from 2011-2016 on Fuse TV. Currently, she is filming a brand new series, ‘Big Freedia Means Business,’ chronicling Freedia’s triumphs in music, business and life that will debut in the summer of 2023 on Fuse. 

Big Freedia is known for her infectious energy and personality. In 2019, she was the official host for the Met Gala IG Live Stream Red Carpet event and a host of 2021’s Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve TV celebration. Known by her fans as the “Queen Diva,” Big Freedia is a loud and proud advocate for racial and gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights. In 2021, Big Freedia was honored as one of Ebony’s Power 100 and she has appeared on Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, NPR, The Breakfast Club, The Problem with Jon Stewart, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Real. Her critically acclaimed 2015 memoir, God Save the Queen Diva (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster) was released in paperback in 2020.

Indigenous Leadership Award Honoree

Jean-Luc Pierite (he/him)

Scholar, Advocate and Founder of InDigiFab (Tunica-Biloxi)

Jean-Luc Pierite (Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana) is an MLK Visiting Scholar at MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, president of the North American Indian Center of Boston, and the founder of InDigiFab with areas of focus in: supporting distributed networks for education; public policy advocacy for social justice; and supporting philanthropic foundations.

Based on an over fifty year organizational history, Jean-Luc carries forward NAICOB’s values in fundraising and liaising with community organizations and government agencies. Jean-Luc also serves on the Black Mass. Coalition executive committee in which he advocates for racial and economic justice through targets for public and private sectors. Jean-Luc also serves on the Community Advisory Group for the Nellie Mae Education Foundation supporting K12 students and BIPOC-led organizations. Previously, Jean-Luc worked as the Logistics and Procurement Manager for The Fab Foundation in which he managed inventories of community based digital fabrication labs for distributed educational programming.

Jean-Luc has been awarded with the inaugural LaDonna Brave Bull Allard Science Activist Award at The Global Community Bio Summit which is hosted by the Community Biotechnology Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. He is also part of the Global Community Bio Fellows 3.0 to grow the movement of grassroots life sciences and research, and participates in the BIPOC Makers Collective as supported by Nation of Makers. Jean-Luc previously served as co-convener for the Institute for Collaborative Language Research (CoLang) which fosters relationships between academics and community language activists.

Jean-Luc has earned a Master in Design for Emergent Futures from the Institut d’Arquitectura Avançada de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. Jean-Luc also earned a Bachelor of the Arts in Humanities with a co-major in Mass Communication and Japanese from Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Jean-Luc also earned an Associate of Science in Video Game Design from Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida.

Indigenous Keynote Speaker

Marx Cassity (they/them)

Psychotherapist and Songwriter (Osage/Kaw)

Marx Cassity, BSN, LMFT (Osage/Kaw) is a Two-Spirit, Indigiqueer psychotherapist and songwriter specializing in Native American and LGBTQ+ health. Guided by Spirit and ancestors, with a calling to help people embrace their authentic identity, Cassity is constantly exploring and evolving as a practitioner and as an artist. Called “a songwriter to be reckoned with” by No Depression, who “oozes spirituality and soul” by Curve magazine, they’ve recently added an X to their performance name in honor of their own nonbinary identity and to bring attention to the fact that gender diversity has existed throughout all of history. An NDN Collective Radical Imagination artist, Marx Cassity released “2Sacred”, a 10-song, synth-driven folktronica rock album with Native nuances. “2Sacred” and the community-based music video “How Long” speak to overcoming hardship through resilience, in connection to nature, humor, love, community, spirituality, and heritage.

Moderator of Closing Plenary Democracy Panel

Imara Jones (she/her)

Founder and CEO of TransLash Media

Imara, whose work has won Emmy and Peabody Awards, is the creator of TransLash Media, a cross-platform, non-profit journalism and narrative organization, which produces content to shift the current culture of hostility towards transgender people in the US. She was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People on the planet in 2023. As part of her work at TransLash, Imara hosts the TransLash Podcast with Imara Jones, which received the 2023 Outstanding Podcast Award from GLAAD; as well as the investigative, limited series, The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality which received the Excellence in Podcasting Award from the National LGBTQ+ Journalists Association. Imara is also the first trans person to ever receive an award from the National Black Journalists Association, having garnered the Journalist of Distinction Award in 2022. Also in 2022, Politico named her as one of the 40 power players at the intersection of race, politics, and policy in the United States. In 2020 Imara was featured on the cover of Time Magazine as part of its New American Revolution special edition. In 2019 she chaired the first-ever UN High Level Meeting on Gender Diversity with over 600 participants. Imara has been featured regularly in The Guardian, The Nation, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR, Fast Company and GQ. Imara is a 2021 Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellow and a 2019 Soros Equality Fellow. She serves on the New York City Commission on Gender Equity. She also serves as Chair of the Board for the Transgender Law Center, the nation’s largest transgender non-profit organization, and as Co-Chair of the New Pride Agenda. Imara is also on the boards of the GLSEN, and the LGBTQ+ Museum. Imara is also part of the Move to End Violence.