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Tens of thousands dress in white for emotionally-charged, peaceful protest in solidarity with Black trans people: ‘We believe in Black trans power’

Vic Parsons June 15, 2020
Black Trans Lives Matter: Tens of thousands take to the streets in solidarity

Thousands wear white in support of Black Trans Lives Matter on June 14 in Brooklyn, New York City. (Michael Noble Jr./Getty Images)

Tens of thousands of people in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Boston went to public demonstrations in solidarity with Black trans people over the weekend.

The protests were organised in response to the brutal murders of two Black trans women, Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, 27, and Riah Milton, 25, who were both killed last week.

Their deaths are the latest in a wave of violence against transgender people in the US, with at least 14 reported murders of trans and gender non-conforming people in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Black trans women face the worst of this violence, making up 91 per cent of the trans people reported murdered in the US in 2019, according to HRC’s project tracking anti-trans violence.

Protestors in multiple US cities carried placards saying “All Black Lives Matter” and “Black Trans Lives Matter”.

The massive show of solidarity with the Black trans community came after weeks of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and racism in the US, following the deaths of Black men George Floyd and Tony McDade, who was trans, at the hands of white police officers.

Black Trans Lives Matter in New York City.

Thousands of people showed up for a Black Trans Lives Matter rally in New York on Sunday (June 14).

Organised by trans-led groups including the Marsha P Johnson Institute, The Okra Project and Black Trans Femmes in the Arts, leading figures from the trans community gave speeches in Brooklyn emphasising the importance of human rights for Black trans lives.

Thousands of protestors wore white – a nod to Black history, after 10,000 demonstrators marched for civil rights in New York in 1917, wearing white – and marched in silence to the Brooklyn Museum.

“We felt that was a really powerful way to think about our action in relation to a lot of others and how thinking on the metaphor of like silence equals death and how everything comes together,” Fran Tirado, a queer writer and producer who co-organised the rally, told CNN.

Standing on the steps of the Brooklyn Museum, Black trans woman Raquel Willis led thousands of people in a pro-trans chant.

“I believe in my power,” she said, as people in the crowd echoed the words back.

“I believe in your power. I believe in our power. I believe in Black trans power.”

The sister of Layleen Polanco, an Afro Latinx trans woman who died last year while being held in solitary confinement at Rikers Island, also spoke to the crowds.

Chicago: Drag March for Change.

Also on Sunday, thousands more people took to the streets of Chicago for Drag March for Change in Boystown.

Protestors called for justice for the Black trans community and for police reforms, in the third straight weekend of demonstrations against police brutality and racism.

Hundreds lined the streets in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter in what was reportedly a peaceful and vibrant protest.

“What people don’t seem to understand is that trans humans are in crisis right now,” said Jo Mama, a Chicago drag queen and activist who organised Sunday’s Drag March for Change.

“They are a top attacked minority. Their death rate is more than alarming and they are glossed over in every page of society.”

As well as demanding defunding the police, marchers called for violence against trans people to be classified as a hate crime.

More than 30,000 march for justice and LGBT+ rights in Hollywood.

In Los Angeles, tens of thousands marched for racial justice and LGBT+ rights at an All Black Lives Matter rally on Sunday.

Organised by the Black Advisory Board, made up of Black LGBT+ leaders and organisations, the protest was “in direct response to racial injustice, systemic racism, and all forms of oppression”, according to the organisers.

The large and peaceful crowd of protestors gathered on Hollywood Boulevard, where “All Black Lives Matter” has been painted in the street in the colours of the rainbow to represent the diversity of the LGBT+ community.

Jolie Ruffin, 24, carried a sign that read: “To be a Black queer woman in Amerikkka is a triple threat… and NOT in a good way.”

“I’m a Black bisexual woman in America,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s intimidating to men especially… I’m hurt that Black people want to live their lives, and their lives are taken from them.”

Speeches emphasised the importance of Black queer and trans lives, and included gay Black man Greg Austin, 31, who acknowledged the rainbow-infused “All Black Lives Matter” signs sprinkled throughout the crowd.

“We’re not saying that every cop is bad,” Austin said. “We just wish they would follow a different method.”

“This is an eye-opener for everyone. I’m hoping that this will show that the police need better training for their officers.”

Black trans people honoured in San Antonio.

Hundreds of people gathered in San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday evening (June 13) to honour Black trans lives.

The names of Fells, Milton, and trans pioneer Marsha P Johnson were chanted by the crowd, which marched and then held a candlelit vigil for those lost too soon.

“People say Black lives matter but we need to talk about how all Black lives matter and that’s period,” local activist Kimiya Factory told Texas Public Radio.

Protestors chanted “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and carried placards painted in rainbow colours reading “No justice, No peace” and “Queer Black Lives Matter”.

“All lives do matter,” one speaker said, speaking from a gazebo draped in rainbow flags, “but historically and systemically, Black lives simply have not mattered as much as other lives.

“In these days, when we feel the nooses of injustice and the suffocation of grief, we must declare our commitment to change.

“We must be the change that we want to see in the world.”

Organisers also condemned Donald Trump’s move on Friday to remove discrimination protection for trans people in healthcare settings.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg also spoke at the event.

“People have fought too hard for LGBT+ rights in this community,” he said.

“People have been fighting very hard to make sure that we can say truly that Black lives matter in this community.

“People all over this world do not speak up for Black trans rights, and that’s true in this community as well, and I will be working everyday to make sure that you are represented well in the city and that we get that changed together.”

Thousands march for Black trans lives in Boston.

On Saturday (June 13), one day after Trump rolled back healthcare protections for trans people, thousands gathered in a park in Boston for a “Trans Resistance Vigil and March”.

Draped in trans Pride flags, protestors carried signs reading “Black trans healthcare matters” and chanted “Black lives matter”.

“This is not a Pride. Unfortunately, we’re not celebrating happy things,” said Chastity Bowick, executive director of the Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts.

“So it’s time to put your fighting face on, your fighting shoes on, and get ready to march.”

People commemorated the Stonewall Uprising and honoured the Black trans women who fought for LGBT+ rights five decades ago, as well as the Black trans women killed in 2020.

“Even before the pandemic, we were dying,” said Tre’Andre Valentine, a Black Trinidadian trans man who leads the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.

“Even before the pandemic, police were brutalising us, dehumanising us,” he added.

“Pandemic or not, we’re going to show up.”

More: black lives matter, black trans lives matter, Dominique "Rem'Mie" Fells, George Floyd, Layleen polanco, Riah Milton, tony mcdade

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