Black Trans Lives Matter takes the mic during Pride Month

June 27, 2020

Black Trans Lives Matter takes the mic during Pride Month

Above: Black Lives Matter, Black Trans Lives Matter, image by  Mike Von

The country's biggest annual party has taken a knee in support of Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter. In the US, the month of June has been a time of celebration, draped in colorful parties and parades honoring Pride and the LGBTQIA+ community. Cities across the country host events while allies join hands to show their support of equality and the abolishment of sexual and gender-based discrimination that continues to permeate American culture. While the movement has gained considerable traction over the years, the reality of life within the LGBTQIA+ community is still a genuine struggle, deepened even further for Black and POC trans women.

LGBTQIA+ Pride Parade
Above: LGBTQIA+ community celebrates Pride

Fifty years ago, the first Pride parade took place in New York City on June 28th, 1970, commemorating the Stonewall riots of 1969, where police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. The raid sparked a massive outcry against police brutality, and the three days that followed marked a pivotal time in history. The LGBTQIA+ community fought back for their rights of equality, frequently led by Black and POC trans women and trans advocates, including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Stormé DeLarverie. Today, despite growing support, Black and POC trans women continue to be among the most vulnerable groups in our society, often at the mercy of systemic discrimination that limits their rights towards safety, healthcare, housing, education, and representation in leadership roles.

Black Trans Live Matter


Black trans person wearing rainbow shirt
Above: Making black trans voices heard

On the heels of the current administration's repeal of healthcare rights for the trans community, Black trans women are reminded yet again that their identities have no value in the eyes of the country's leaders. The announcement was jarringly made on June 12th, 2020, the tragic memorial of the Pulse Nightclub shooting that claimed 49 lives back in 2016. This date has since been officially proclaimed Pulse Remembrance Day by Florida's governors, and the attack is currently the deadliest US mass shooting targeting the LGBTQIA+ community. The healthcare repeal, led by the president, came just days after the violent murders of Riah Milton and Dominique "Rem'Mie" Fells, both Black trans women. At the time of publishing this article, The Human Rights Campaign has reported 16 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people so far in 2020, while over 50 deaths were reported between 2018-2019, all fatally shot or resulting from violence, with a majority of whom were Black trans women. According to a recent study by Everytown for Gun Safety, Black trans women represent 16% of the trans community, but they are the victims of 79% of violent trans deaths. With a massive disproportion of violence against Black trans women and legal policies that allow doctors to refuse treatment of trans people, the critical discussion of intersectionality is again back in the spotlight. 

Understanding Intersectionality

Above: Kimberlé Crenshaw @kimberlecrenshaw

A term that has made its way into the mainstream over the last several years, intersectionality was coined over 30 years ago in an academic paper by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. A graduate of Cornell, Harvard, and the University of Wisconsin, Crenshaw now teaches at both Columbia University and UCLA, dedicating her life to studying racial inequality, social justice, and civil rights. According to Crenshaw, intersectionality explains a specific set of challenges that certain individuals face because discriminatory behavior impacts several different aspects of their identity at the same time. In other words, a Black woman does not face discrimination based on being Black and female separately, but as a combined identity. Taking that a step further, Black trans women face unique challenges that are different from being solely Black, solely female, solely trans, or any combination of these identities. Originally posted in 2016, Crenshaw's TED Talk has seen renewed interest in the wake of understanding the complexity of discrimination.  

Why asking for MORE is still just asking for EQUAL

Black Lives Matter Trans Flag Philly 2018 ProtestAbove: Protestors opposing Alt-Right rally,  Philadelphia 2018

Critics of intersectionality often think that this will allow minorities to create their own scoreboard of inequality, adding points each time they identify with a group that is commonly discriminated against, thus earning them rights and entitlements over more traditionally privileged groups, like cis white males. A simple look at Crenshaw's work shows that this is not what she intended when she developed the theory. The application of change based on intersectionality is not to create a hierarchy of power based on victimization, but to remove any power one group may have over another. In fact, Crenshaw's work is yet another voice that effectively responds to the fervent cries of the All Lives Matter groups. Showing support and demanding equality for people who are consistently and systematically discriminated against does not mean that they want the biggest slice of power, nor do they think that their lives have a higher value than anyone else's. They simply want to be treated equally. It is this same desperate plea for equality that fuels LGBTQIA+ activists and Women's Rights groups who have always been deprioritized and discriminated against for their identities. 

So if activists and progressive groups ask for equality, why does it always sound like they're asking for more?

Because right now, more is a necessary step towards equality. If a person riding a bike is forced to race a person in a car, do they have an equal chance at success? And if that person riding the bike asks for a car - in other words, asks for more - isn't that still just a request for equality? 

Taking steps towards change

  • On Sunday, June 14th, 2020, an estimated 15,000 supporters gathered in Brooklyn, NY in support of Black trans rights, while 25,000 protesters marched through Hollywood, CA supporting All Black Lives Matter in the wake of the death of Tony McDade, a transgender man shot by the police in Florida on May 27th, 2020. A demand for justice has ignited a fire across many major US cities, and Pride events have also been used to amplify Black voices and leaders.
  • In an overwhelming show of solidarity, the Gays and Lesbians Living In a Transgender Society (GLITS, Inc) raised over $1 million in the past week to support a critical housing initiative that will create a safe home for Black trans people in New York City.
  • On Monday, June 15th, 2020, in a landmark ruling by the US Supreme Court, federal protection was granted for gay, lesbian and transgender employees under the Civil Right Act of 1964 that currently protects employees against discrimination based on sex, gender, race, color, national origin, and religion. In a statement by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch:

  • "An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee. We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law."

    The work is hard, and the road ahead is long, but that is the very reason why communities must fight for themselves and others, today and every day. Below are just a few links for more information about how you can participate in the fight for equality and justice, including resources, event information, and donation links:

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