Pa. delegate and trans activist defends her work in porn industry

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Sharron Cooks on Thursday at the DNC, a trans-activist and founder of a consulting company called “Making Our Lives Easier.”

Delegates to political conventions come from all kinds of backgrounds.

That's a given.

Still, it's kind of surprising, when you come across someone who admits to having worked in the sex industry.

That's right.

Sharron L. Cooks, 38, a delegate from Pennsylvania at the Democratic National Convention, doesn't shy away from telling people about her life.

"I've had some individuals say well what about when you were an adult film actress? Or what about when you did that?" she admitted Thursday as she took a break from proceedings on the floor. "I don't necessarily think that it is a negative thing. People look at it as a negative thing and it's not necessarily a negative thing. "

"The thing about that is, people here in America have a stigma around sexuality, sexual orientation, what bathroom you use. People are always going to have questions about that," Cooks added. "We here in America we have freedom of expression. That freedom of expression takes various different forms for each particular individual. Some people like to paint. Some people like to dance. Some people like to express themselves in an erotic way."

"Halle Berry won an Oscar for Monster's Ball. Also Vanessa Williams," she said referencing the former Miss America who resigned after nude pictures of her surfaced.

"But that's old," I pointed out.

"It's the same thing with me too. When people say stuff, it's old news," Cooks said.

Yesterday, all of that seemed far, far away as delegates readied themselves to see history made as Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party nomination.

When I finally made my way to Cooks, who works in community relations for a Center City charter school, she was sitting on a first row at the Wells Fargo Center watching as speakers took their turn at the podium. Dressed modestly in a black fit-and-flare dress with pearls around her neck, she looked as if she was ready to take a turn at the podium. I got to her shortly after Delaware's Sarah McBride made history by becoming the first transgender person to address a major American political party's convention.

"I loved her speech," Cooks said flashing a dazzling smile. "It was very refreshing that she chose to use her platform as the first transgender individual to address the Democratic National Convention and use that platform to draw attention to the epidemic of violence against trans women, particularly those of color, so I thought it was absolutely amazing.

"It was very, very brave."

A trans activist who has volunteered at the William Way Center, Cooks also is the chief executive of a consulting company she founded called "Making Our Lives Easier."

On the organization's website, she writes, "Throughout my experience in the sex work industry, I noticed as with many other industries there were many inequalities that sex workers face such as exploitation (being taken advantage of to any degree), the salary disparities, stigmas and misconceptions ultimately, made me want to make a difference in the way women of trans experience are treated in the adult entertainment industry and seen by society at large."

I asked if she had ever worked under the name "Mistress Soliel" as the paper had been tipped off. (And no, I'm not going to describe what I saw when I Googled it.)

"I probably have an idea of who that was. What I said to that individual is 'I'm going to address that if it ends up coming up,'" she said. "If you look on my website, I address that."

Suddenly, I felt dirty raising the topic with her. It was a downer on what really was a triumphant moment for Cooks to be in such a heady atmosphere just steps away from where President Obama had spoken so eloquently the night before. Cooks said she wasn't totally surprised about the tipster.

"When you educate and start rising, people are going to try to tear you down," Cooks said. "It's sad because here it is an African American trans woman has the opportunity to represent and bring awareness to issues and you have other individuals who are trying to undermine that progress..."

As I pointed out earlier, this wasn't the topic Cooks planned to talk about Thursday, given everything else going on. But she handled it with class.


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