On Saturday October 21, Jazzmun Crayton will be recognized for her activism and honored with an award at TransNation’s Eleganza event, a fundraiser gala benefitting St. John’s Well Child & Family Center. The award will be presented by transgender activist and Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox.
Jazzmun was born in San Diego on February 10, 1969 and was destined for a life in entertainment. She made her first national television appearance in 1984 on the talent variety show Puttin’ on the Hits, leading her to move to Los Angeles. Since then, Jazzmun has appeared in numerous shows and films, including The John Larroquette Show, MADtv, Punks, Gilmore Girls, CSI, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Sons of Anarchy, and Glee. She has also appeared in music videos like Gloria Estefan’s “Everlasting Love” and RuPaul’s “Little Bit of Love.” She recently starred in the eight-hour LGBTQ miniseries When We Rise as Bobbie Jean Baker, a real-life peer advocate, case manager, mentor, domestic violence specialist and housing manager in the Bay Area. [Insert quote]
Throughout Jazzmun’s career, almost every television or film opportunity for transgender actors has been for the roles of transvestite, streetwalker, detainee, or trickster. In a stunning photo series and interview with photographer Michelle Mishina, Jazzmun said, “Sometimes we want certain people to validate us a certain way, but they just don’t know how.” Knowing how important it is for transgender people to be able to see ourselves reflected back authentically in art and media, Jazzmun teamed up with director David Hays Gaddas to create and write Lovely Bouquet of Flowers. This performance art production had a predominantly transgender cast with music, dance, and powerful spoken word pieces that reflect many unheard narratives of the transgender experience. The development of this production and the stories of cast members were captured in the documentary In Full Bloom, which was recently screened at TransNation’s Film Festival last weekend.
But Jazzmun went a step further and began speaking out more publicly about the insecurities that transgender people have and the violence the community faces, discussing her own experience with being punched by a complete stranger. In a Buzzfeed video, she states, “When I walk down the street, I still look over my shoulder. But it did not prevent me from still walking down the street.” Jazzmun even teamed up with fellow transgender actors including Alexandra Billings, Trace Lysette, Jen Richards, and Rain Valdez to send an open letter to Hollywood about miscasting, tired clichés and tropes, and strategies for change:
Beyond the entertainment realm, Jazzmun is heavily involved in the Los Angeles transgender community. As a Testing Counselor at APAIT, she provides HIV testing, intervention, and treatment services for local transgender people, especially transgender women of color. Jazzmun connects homeless clients and survivors of violence with support services and housing programs but struggles to find beds in a city with a deficit of shelters, specially programs that are accepting and affirming of transgender identities. Many trans women even today receive their primary source of income through survival sex work. “We really want to get them on a different path…Once you have a record, it’s very difficult to continue to navigate through the various systems that are in place.”
Understanding the need to protect transgender people in order to survive and thrive, Jazzmun works tirelessly to keep transgender women out of jails and prevent arrests. This has lead Jazzmun to serve as an original member of the Los Angeles Transgender Advisory Council, which provides recommendations on policies and initiatives for the Office of the Mayor, the City Council, city departments and other elected officials to pursue. As one of the first councils of its kind in the country, the LA TAC focuses on critical issues facing the transgender community, including economic development, public safety, accessibility, and public awareness. Jazzmun also founded The Midnight Stroll, a monthly outreach event during which volunteers and organizations provide free HIV testing, food, water, and helpful materials to homeless populations and transgender sex workers in Hollywood.
Reflecting on her work and the needs of the community, Jazzmun feels there is still a lot of work to be done for transgender people. As a Board Member for the Inspire LGBTQ Spiritual Community in Los Angeles alongside Reverend Jesse Brune-Horan, she says that “we need spiritual healing now more than ever. We have to come together to support, love, and empower each other. If we don’t know each other and uplift one another, do we really have a community?” And to people who are not transgender or struggling to understand, Jazzmun leaves them with this message: “The more you can be open to other people’s experiences,” Jazzmun said, “the bigger your family gets. You see how much you actually have in common. We really all just want the basic things. We want to be clothed and sheltered. We want to be cared for. We want to be understood. We want ears that will listen and hearts that will accept. Everyone — absolutely everyone— wants that.”
Jazzmun’s work in entertainment and activism – which are not mutually exclusive – has inspired generations and impacted the lives of many people of all gender identities and experiences. Here are a few statements from friends, co-workers, community leaders, and locals on how Jazzmun has played a role in their lives:
“I met Jazzmun about 6 years ago when I was attending APAIT as a client and when I won Miss Quest 2012. Since then Jazzmun has been an impactful person in my life who has given me the knowledge, experience, time and energy to enrich my life to its full bloom. The work that she does for the community goes beyond the requirements. Jazzmun is truly a community leader and helper who does the work for the benefit of others, so that they may also thrive. She is an amazing friend, colleague and role model to me. Thank you Jazzmun for all your years of services.” – Johanna Padilla, Transgender Service Specialist for The Wall Las Memorias Project
“Jazzmun has touched and changed mine and many hearts by teaching us how to take life in stride and let the lessons make us stronger!” – Rajah Jones, Equal Action Board Member, APAIT Peer Health Educator, and Mx. DTLA Proud 2017
“Jazzmun is literally an angel. I have never met someone quite like her; someone who can hold so gently the difficult complexities of someone’s reality. In everything Jazzmun does, she’s able to hold these truths and let that inform the work she does. I learn how to be better from her. I learn how to be tender by watching how Jazzmun keeps herself tender with our community. Trans folks often do not get the opportunity to be seen as just human beings. Jazzmun creates spaces for folks to show up as their full selves. It is quite a humbling sight to behold. But that’s just Jazzmun.” – Jaden Fields, Health Educator & Community Organizer at APAIT
“Jazzmun is one of the pillars of our movement. Jazzmun has brought not only her personality but awareness in the entertainment industry before we were ever acknowledged as individuals and as a community. Jazzmun’s presence, spirit and essence to our movement provides the assurance that we are all going to be ok, despite the horrible experiences and challenges that we may face. Looking in her eyes tells many of us that we are loved.” – Bamby Salcedo, Transgender Activist, Founder of TransLatin@ Coalition, and Featured Member of HBO’s The Trans List
“I am so proud of Jazzmun for this well-deserved honor. I had the privilege of working with Jazzmun for most of her time with APAIT, and I am so proud of how much she has grown to become a community leader in Los Angeles.” – Peter V Cruz, Former Associate Director at APAIT
“Jazzmun has been a dedicated leader in our community since back in the days of 1969. I was first in awe of her amazing performances and make-up techniques and am so thrilled that someone truly deserving of recognition is getting the St. John’s award! Jazzmun was out and proud before the blinding light of celebrity had permeated out community. Jazzmun represented the foundation of what our movement is about: dedication and a selfless commitment to protecting and advancing our rights!” – Drian Juarez, Program Manager of the Transgender Economic Empowerment Project (TEEP) at the Los Angeles LGBT Center
“I wouldn’t be where I am in my life today if it weren’t for Jazzmun. She believes and sees the best in me even when I can’t see it in myself, and she does this for everyone. This is why she is so powerful. People will move, shake and better themselves because they know they are loved by her.” – Destin Cortez, Health Educator & HIV Testing Counselor for APAIT, Actor in
Congratulations Jazzmun on your well-deserved and long overdue award! You deserve to be celebrated, loved, and affirmed each and every day for the work you do and just for being you!