Content warning: this article mentions violence towards deceased transgender individuals.
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in multiple cities across the U.S. to protest in the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement. What’s particularly significant about the most recent spate of protests is that they’re shining a light on the specific vulnerability of Black trans people and ongoing violence they face.
The cry, “Black Trans Lives Matter,” created by Black trans activist and organiser Milan Nicole Sherry, was chanted by thousands of people in New York in a moment that will go down in civil rights history.
In Brooklyn, New York, somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people donned white shirts and marched for Black trans lives, led by and centered around Black trans women. In Los Angeles, around 25,000 people marched through Hollywood during an All Black Lives Matter protest. The white clothing worn at the NY protests harked back to 1917 when around 10,000 demonstrators in New York walked in the NAACP’s Silent Protest Parade. It was one of the first public civil rights demonstrations by Black Americans.
These protests are also significant because of their occurrence during Pride Month, which is often a moment of corporate co-option of queer affirmation and ‘Rainbow Capitalism.’ “The decision to wear white was to symbolize our unity,” explained by New York rally co-organiser West Dakota, “and also to take a stand against corporate appropriation of the rainbow flag. We don’t need rainbow [merchandise] to show our pride.”
The systemic barriers to employment, safe housing, healthcare and social services that marginalised people face are multiplied for Black trans people. The Trump administration even recently rolled back laws that make it illegal to deny medical treatment for people based on their gender identity. Transgender people already face mistreatment, malicious and otherwise, when seeking gender-appropriate medical aid. It’s a particularly cruel move to gut this protection in the wake of numerous Black trans deaths and on the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
The full scope of the ongoing erasure, oppression and violence than Black transgender people face all over the world is beyond the scope of this article. It can feel overwhelming, but informing yourself of the current situation and learning about what you can do is an urgent and necessary step in the long work of ending racist and transphobic violence towards Black people.
Violence towards Black transgender people
The recent protests come after two Black trans women, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton, were reported dead within the space of 24 hours. Fells was found near the Schuylkill River in the Bartam’s Garden area of Philadelphia, her legs were severed mid-thigh and she’d suffered severe head trauma. Milton was shot several times during an attempted robbery in Liberty Township in Ohio, with investigators saying she was “lured” to a park before her death. Initial media reports misgendered both women.
Their deaths follow the deaths of Tony McDade, a Black trans man who was shot and killed by police on May 27th and who the LA protest intended to honour, and Nina Pop, a Black trans woman who was found dead in her home on May 3rd with several stab wounds. Earlier this year, on March 18th, a Black trans woman named Monika Diamond was shot to death in an ambulance while paramedics tried to keep her alive. She was a businesswoman and LGBTQI+ activist. At the time, media reports used her deadname and misgendered her because they were relying on information from police and local officials.
The perpetuation of violence against Black trans people has been going on for far longer than the events seared into recent memory. According to the LGBTIQI+ civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign, in 2018 there were “at least 27 deaths of at least transgender or gender non-conforming people in the U.S. due to fatal violence, the majority of whom were Black transgender women.” In 2019, there were at least 27. 2020 has sadly seen at least 14 thus far.
While not every single case can be directly attributed to an individual’s gender identity, it’s evident that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia put Black transgender individuals in a deeply precarious place. It’s also likely the numbers are higher than those reported by the media, as many instances of violent transphobia aren’t reported correctly. Many of the recent Black trans deaths were initially misreported in the media—report misgendered the victims, which piles further erasure and violence on Black trans people.
In 2013, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported that transgender people of colour were six times more likely to face physical violence from police than cisgender white people.
How can you help Black transgender people?
The first thing to note here is that while protests offer an opportunity to demand change and for people to mourn, we can’t only advocate for Black trans lives in moments of media attention and crisis. Many issues at the intersection of gender and race aren’t reported. In some cases, they’re deliberately ignored because they don’t pass the “purity test,” that is, where the victim is an uncomplicated and easily digestible figure people can empathise with.
“We can’t just talk about trans people when they’re dying,” Eliel Cruz told CNN. Cruz was one of the co-organisers of the New York event and the director of communications at NYC Anti-Violence Project. “But what are we doing actively and intentionally to create space for them to be safe and well?”
One good piece of news that’s landed recently is the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protects gay and transgender workers. The court ruled that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, also applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This could actually end up undercutting Trump’s restrictions.
As well as examining your own biases and blind-spots in your allyship and activism, here are a few ways you can help advocate for and support Black trans lives:
Donate to the GoFundMe pages that Milton and Fell’s families have set up to cover their funeral costs.
Fell’s younger sister Dior wrote, “Dominique was a black Trans woman brutally murdered and discarded in a river in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Our family is in mourning and in utter disbelief that something like this could happen to one of our own. Dominique who often went by the name Rem’mie was truly one of a kind. We can Assure all of you that we will not stop until her killers are found and justice is served accordingly.” Donate here.
Milton’s sister Ariel wrote, “This GoFundMe was made with the sole intention of covering the expenses that are involved in the funeral and funeral planning. Money that is left over after paying for the funeral will be donated to various organizations focusing on supporting the arts, the supporting of foster care kids, and the supporting of black transgender individuals.” Donate here.
Support the Black trans organisations below by donating or signal boosting their petitions and causes.
The Marsha P. Johnson Institute (MPJI) protects and defends the human rights of black transgender people. They do this through organizing, advocating, creating an intentional community to heal, developing transformative leadership, and promoting Black trans collective power.
The mission of the BTFA Collective is to connect the community of black trans women and non-binary femmes in the arts and to build power among the community.
The Okra Project is a collective that seeks to address the global crisis faced by Black Trans people by bringing home-cooked, healthy, and culturally specific meals and resources to Black Trans People.
The Black Trans Travel Fund is a mutual-aid based organization committed to uplifting the narratives and supporting the livelihoods of Black trans women. Launched in June of 2019, BTTF was developed for the purpose of providing Black transgender women with the financial resources needed to be able to self-determine and access safer alternatives to travel, where women feel less likely to experience verbal harassment or physical harm. They have already redistributed over $60,000 to Black trans women in need.
While not specifically for black Trans women, Black Visions Collective advocates for a future where all Black people have autonomy, safety is community-led, and they are in right relationship within their ecosystems.
The Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative (SNaP Co.) is a Black Trans and Queer-led organisation based in Atlanta that fights for a systematic divestment from the prison-industrial complex, and an investment in community programs.
The Transgender Gender-Variant & Intersex Justice Project is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization working to end human rights abuses against transgender, intersex, and gender-variant people, particularly trans women of color in California prisons and detention centers.
Donate through direct wealth redistribution accounts like BlackTransFutures and Pay Black Trans Women, these accounts also often signal boost importing fundraisers or specific urgent financial needs of Black trans people.
Sign petitions to demand justice for Black trans people and trans people all over the world, here is a non-exhaustive list that is being continually updated.