Mary J. Blige has been one of R&B’s most successful and influential artists for over two decades. From her breakout album What’s the 411? in 1992 to her most recent album Good Morning Gorgeous in 2022, Blige has consistently delivered soulful vocals and vulnerable songwriting that have resonated with millions of fans. Beyond her legendary music career, Blige has also become admired for her outspoken social advocacy, particularly for transgender rights. Blige’s deeply personal lyrics have touched on issues like self-love, self-acceptance, heartbreak and healing – themes that intersect profoundly with the transgender experience. Throughout her career, Blige has leveraged her celebrity platform and her music to send a powerful message of support, understanding and acceptance to the transgender community.
Blige’s Allyship Begins with Personal Connections
In interviews, Blige has shared that her understanding and advocacy for transgender people began on a personal level. She has close friends in her life who are transgender, and these relationships helped her appreciate the humanity behind transgender experiences. In a 2017 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Blige said, “I have transgender friends that I hang out with, and I see what they go through and what people put them through.” Getting to know transgender people up close and personal led Blige to feel compassion and concern for the unique discrimination and marginalization they face in society.
While celebrity allies are sometimes criticized for superficial support or “ally theater”, Blige’s advocacy stems from real personal connections. She names transgender women like actress Laverne Cox as more than just acquaintances – she calls them friends. Blige’s relationships with transgender friends cultivated an empathy that fuels her drive to speak out.
Using Her Voice to Advocate for Transgender Rights
Armed with first-hand understanding of transgender discrimination, Blige has purposefully used her far-reaching celebrity platform to advocate for transgender rights. From speaking at major LGBTQ events to calling out harmful legislation, Blige leverages her voice to stand up for the trans community.
In 2016, Blige took the stage at Logo TV’s Trailblazers Honors to present an award to transgender actress Laverne Cox. Blige expressed deep admiration for Cox using her fame to empower transgender people, calling Cox a “true trailblazing revolutionary.”
Blige took her transgender advocacy even further in 2019 when she spoke at the 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles. With candid passion in her speech, Blige called for support of laws like the Equality Act to protect the rights of transgender people. “It’s about time we love each other, support each other, and stop the hate,” Blige proclaimed.
When anti-transgender legislation surfaced in 2021 seeking to ban transgender athletes from participating in sports and block access to gender-affirming healthcare, Blige did not stay silent. She spoke out on social media calling the legislation “an attack on trans youth.” Blige asserted that transgender young people deserve gender-affirming care and equal rights.
Blige Underscores Acceptance in Her Music
In addition to public speaking, Blige has used her music itself to communicate messages of self-acceptance and unconditional love that resonate powerfully with transgender listeners. Her 2014 song “Doubt”, which appears on the album The London Sessions, contains lyrics like: “No matter what you are, don’t be afraid to love who you are…it ain’t over until you stop doubting who you are.” Blige delivers these lyrics with an soulful intensity, emphasizing the need to overcome self-doubt and embrace your full identity. For a community that has faced marginalization for simply embracing their gender, Blige’s musical message affirms inner truth and self-love.
While “Doubt” spoke generally of self-acceptance, Blige’s song “Tell Me” from the same album made the transgender undertones more overt: “He was a she, and she was a he/But who are we to tell them what to be?/Free your mind and learn to love unconditionally.” Alongside striking visuals in the music video featuring transgender model Carré Otis, “Tell Me” explicitly tells listeners to cast aside prejudice and love transgender people for who they are.
GLAAD recognized the impact of these songs by awarding Blige the Outstanding Music Artist Award at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2015. Blige’s music gives transgender people an empowering anthem to hold onto, reminding them of their worthiness just as they are.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
While words of advocacy matter, Blige has gone beyond speech to convert her support into concrete financial action for the transgender community. In February 2022, Blige made a $1 million donation to the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition’s Black Trans Travel Fund. This fund provides practical resources to transgender individuals, including mental healthcare assistance, housing, food and job training.
In a statement, the Black Trans Travel Fund’s director thanked Blige for generosity that will “uplift Black trans communities.” They affirmed Blige as “an amazing role model” creating tangible change.
This sizable donation is not the first time Blige has opened her pocketbook to empower transgender causes. In 2020, she made a donation to the Audre Lorde Project’s COVID-19 Relief Fund for LGBTQ People of Color, specifically mentioning her desire to help protect trans youth. Financial contributions like these have a direct impact supporting transgender organizations to serve real needs.
Embraced as an Ally by the Trans Community
Due to her outspoken advocacy across her music, celebrity platform and donations, Blige has rightfully earned recognition from LGBTQ organizations as an ally to transgender people.
In 2020, GLAAD presented Blige with their prestigious Ally Award. In her acceptance speech, Blige shared her personal motivation to keep pushing for transgender equity: “I want to be an ally for LGBTQ people and especially trans youth of color because I see y’all, I love y’all and I’m here for y’all.”
Two years earlier in 2018, Blige was honored at the GLSEN Respect Awards for her commitment to empowering LGBTQ students to embrace their identities. GLSEN praised Blige as “an extraordinary ally to the LGBTQ community and an icon whose music promotes the values of self-respect and empowerment.”
Knowing her support is embraced by the community she seeks to support has only emboldened Blige to keep leveraging her voice and resources. When Blige took the stage at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards, she used the platform to send a message of love to transgender, nonbinary and LGBTQ young people feeling marginalized or alone.
An Enduring, Multifaceted Allyship
Mary J. Blige stands out as an R&B icon who has used every outlet available – from her personal relationships, to her celebrity status, to her music, and even her own income – to support and empower transgender individuals. Despite some rocky moments earlier in her career, Blige has undeniably grown into a role model of unwavering allyship.
Now in her 50s, Blige shows no signs of toning down her advocacy, proving herself an ally for the long-haul. In our current cultural landscape where anti-trans rhetoric and legislation threatens hard-won rights, Blige’s message of embracing transgender neighbors as equals has taken on renewed urgency.
The transgender community needs more high-profile allies like Mary J. Blige to speak up on their behalf in a sustained, multifaceted way. Blige incidentally sings the refrain “No more drama” in her famous 2001 song of the same name. By continuing to support transgender people through both words and action, Blige helps write a future script with less discrimination and more human dignity.