What It Was Like To March With Thousands of People for Black Trans Lives

Supermajority Education Fund

June 16, 2020

On Sunday, June 14, organizers told The New York Times that an estimated 15,000 people took part in a rally for Black trans lives in front of the Brooklyn Museum. Drag queen West Dakota had the idea for the rally when she and her community saw that Black transgender people’s names were being left out of the Black Lives Matter protests, even though Black transgender people are disproportionately affected by police violence and hate-crimes. 

Last week, two transgender women, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Riah Milton of Liberty Township, Ohio, were brutally murdered this week. Sunday’s rally recognized their lives and the lives of others, including Tony McDade, who was killed by police in Fort Lauderdale, Florida the same week as George Floyd’s murder and Nina Pop, who was found stabbed to death in her Sikeston, Missouri, home in early May. 

The rally on Sunday, to which all participants showed up wearing white in honor of these trans lives, was called the “Brooklyn Liberation” march. Among the speakers was Melania Brown, the sister of Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who died from epilepsy complications in a cell at Rikers Island, after—video evidence shows—guards failed to call for help for 90 minutes. 

Chala, a Brooklyn resident who joined the crowd at the museum on Sunday, said they made that choice because as a Black transgender person they fear for their life in the U.S. It was also important for them to see which of their allies actually turned up to stand in solidarity with them. 

“I felt a whirlwind of intense emotions being out there with 15,000 people proclaiming that my Black trans life matters. I was awestruck by the sheer magnitude of the march and the powerful statement that was made by everyone being in white,” they told Supermajority News. “I was heartbroken that it took the deaths of so many beautiful Black trans people to build this kind of momentum. But more than anything, I felt a deep sense of euphoria and love for every Black trans person there who said ‘we’ve had enough.’”

Scout, who helped organize jail support, clothing, food, water, medical equipment, and P.P.E. for the rally, told Supermajority News that it’s important for onlookers and allies to recognize that the majority of the people on the frontlines of protests held across the country these past few weeks have been queer and/or trans. On the day of the Brooklyn Liberation march, Scout met up with the members of Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society (G.L.I.T.S.), one of the event’s organizers, who were on the staging area, where the speeches took place. 

“Being there felt moving, powerful, emotional,” they said. “I am still trying to process the feeling of seeing so many people show up in solidarity for those who are normally left behind in broader conversations and who are failed by the system I have rallied, lobbied, and fundraised for the past few years with many of the people who spoke at the museum. I am not used to seeing such an outpouring of support.”

They added that they were with the G.L.I.T.S. team when they met their $1,000,000 fundraising goal for Black trans people. Scout said they kept saying, “‘Time to go for $2,000,000,’ because it is important to understand that realistically, a million dollars doesn’t go that far for a non-profit doing such vital work and the G.LI.T.S. team deserves to be compensated [with] market-comparable wages.”

Chala added that they hope this rally drove home the fact that everyone needs to speak out and stand up for Black trans lives. If Black transgender people are not included in the fight for justice, then “there is no liberation.”

“There is no end to white supremacy without dismantling racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia,” they said. “There is no path to freedom without breaking the multiple chains that keep Black trans people tied down. To fight for our rights is to fight for the rights of every group above us on the social ladder—which means everyone.” They went on: “Ianne Fields Stewart proclaimed in front of that crowd outside the museum that it was the last day that transphobia would claim our lives. People need to know that we’re not playing any games; Black Trans Lives Matter. Period.”