Openly Transgender Liberian Woman Wins 2018 Sacramento Pride Award

The first Liberian openly known transgender woman, Grace Lawrence has been named as the 2018 Sacramento Pride Grand Marshal. Lawrence was presented the award at the 2018 Sacramento Pride event in California last week.

Sacramento Pride is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender celebration that promotes acceptance and pride with a parade followed by an outdoor party. The Pride Grand Marshal award annually recognizes individuals and organizations whose work have created a safer, and welcoming community for members of the disadvantaged group.

Lawrence, who is a photojournalist and a human rights and LGBT activist, said she was touched and honored by her selection as the Pride Grand Marshall, giving that she is used to being generous to others.

“I was very honored but the beautiful thing about is that, I love Sacramento and being honored by Sacramento- my own LGBT community, means a lot to me,” she said in a video posted on the Sacramento Pride Facebook page.

She said, “It also means a lot to that little boy or little trans or little girl – a lesbian girl in Africa that couldn’t tell their mother, their best friends, or their father their true authentic selves of being gay, lesbian or trans.”

The honor bestowed on her, she noted, is a message to the world that Sacramento embraces immigrants, including refugees, noting that they too, can be anything they want to be.

She thanked the organization’s board of directors for accepting her when she joined them 16 years ago. She said they gave her the ability to do her work in the LGBT community in Sacramento.

Lawrence said she obtained legal residency in the U.S. in 2007 and has been working in the LGBT community for more than 20 years.

The 49 year-old had told a local public radio in San Francisco that she was born in Monrovia as Wellington Felix Lawrence, the oldest of seven siblings. She finally came out to her family as a transgender woman after having two kids by a woman she married in Minnesota, where her family had settled.

“I told my mom that I wasn’t only gay, but I think that I was a woman and they said I was crazy and that they didn’t want to have nothing to do with me. So, I was kicked out of the family. So, I came to San Francisco and tried to forget my former life,” she said.

At 37, she began her transition from man to a woman. In the process of making a living and generating the high cost of her transitioning, Lawrence said she got into prostitution; she also started dealing and abusing drugs. She was arrested by police in late 2006 for being in possession of crack cocaine and was due to face deportation, in line with U.S. immigration laws.

Lawrence said she was held in solitary confinement to protect her against assault from other inmates. She gained her freedom in late 2009 after the case against her was dismissed.

Lawrence wrote on her facebook page Tuesday that she would shortly return to Liberia for the first time in 20 years to see her family and properties in Monrovia and Marshall.

“I have lots of land and three homes, both in Monrovia and Marshall city,” she wrote. “Let me know what will happen when I get to Monrovia.”

Liberia, like most African countries, is a hostile environment for LGBT people. Many often face threats of violence or have difficulty obtaining basic needs such as healthcare or education.

Featured photo courtesy of Grace Lawrence Facebook page

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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