Against the backdrop of the towering arch in Washington Square Park on July 24, organizers Qween Jean and Hennessy Garcia kicked off a series of moving speeches followed by a march focused on Black trans lives with a simple message about transphobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry.
“We are here to dismantle that shit today,” Qween Jean exclaimed, drawing roaring cheers from the crowd.
A diverse audience continued to file into the park on a humid summer evening as speakers, both transgender activists and cisgender allies, took turns delivering powerful remarks about trans liberation and racial justice in the wake of persistent deadly violence targeting the community nationwide. Several cardboard signs in the crowd paid tribute to Black trans women who have died, while many folks also donned white T-shirts that read “Black Trans Lives Matter.”
Spotlight on Black trans lives in Washington Square rally, procession downtown
“We are here because we deserve change,” Qween Jean said during an impassioned speech. “We are here to demand justice for the heinous acts of violence that trans people have been exposed to, because that violence is traumatic… We are here to speak up because we can no longer tolerate or accept trans people being killed. We are here to tell people Black Lives Matter. Black trans lives are beautiful. Black and brown trans lives are worthy.”
Qween Jean added, “Our liberation is not a magical destiny. It is not a location or a destination. It is a state of mind.”
Garcia, expressing raw emotion as she stood in awe at the size of the crowd, took the time to read the names of transgender individuals who have died this year, along with the location of their deaths.
Other speakers, like Tahtianna Fermin, told personal stories of their own experiences and those of their loved ones. Fermin said a friend in Yonkers has a transgender child and allows them to express themselves freely in their gender identity at home, but is too afraid to let them be an out trans person in public.
“We need to normalize society, we need to embrace our Black and brown queer family,” Fermin said.
She also issued an urgent plea to white allies in the audience who were there to support Black trans lives.
“Protect us,” she said. “Embrace us. Hire us.”
Another speaker, Gia Love, pointed out that many individuals who attend demonstrations do not know Black transgender women personally. She encouraged folks to get involved in spaces that include Black transgender women and find ways to carry out important work for the community.
“This is a community effort,” Love said. “It takes the effort of everyone in this world to eradicate transphobia and patriarchy.”
Love also underscored the impact of white supremacy on Black trans lives and further highlighted the importance of recognizing the lived experiences of trans individuals while they are still alive, not just when deaths occur.
“There is disparity across the board,” Love explained. “When we talk about centering Black trans women, we’re not just saying it because we want to be at the forefront, because honestly I want to live my life. I don’t want to be at the forefront, but the reason why we need to be at the forefront is because there are disparities in terms of homelessness, medical care, economic possibility, respectability.”
Among other speakers were Somalia Rose, Joel Rivera, and Jaime Cepero. Rivera, an out gay man, remembered a Black trans sister who had a profound impact on him but ultimately succumbed to police violence. He went on get personal in his remarks, speaking about having endured sex work at a young age and emerging from that experience with strength.
Following the speeches, folks then proceeded to march from the park through the streets of Manhattan, passing by packed outdoor restaurants and bars near the Stonewall Inn and continuing south towards Foley Square. Along the way, cops perched along street corners stood guard, car horns beeped in solidarity, and New Yorkers dining at outdoor restaurants clapped and cheered on the marchers. Individuals even snapped photos from their phones as they stood far above the crowd on their balconies.
To the beat of drums, marchers — backed by volunteers who provided water, dispensed hand sanitizer, and directed traffic along the perimeter — peacefully barreled through the streets to chants like, “Hey hey, ho ho, transphobia has got to go!” A diverse collection of Pride Flags blew in the wind, including Trans Flags and Rainbow Flags with Black and Brown stripes to recognize queer people of color, as a long crowd of marchers followed the lead of Qween Jean.
More speeches were delivered once the group arrived at Foley Square, but as the march progressed — and the fading sun gave way to darkness in Lower Manhattan — the NYPD presence appeared to grow, with additional cops emerging.
Still, that didn’t stop the uplifting scene on display throughout the evening as the community stood together, united, with the goal of taking on transphobia and racial injustice. Individuals rejoiced in the streets and celebrated Black trans lives while offering respect to fallen community members.
The atmosphere reflected the motivation of the marchers fueled by the words voiced by Qween Jean and other speakers back at Washington Square. Those sentiments resonated with the crowd throughout the remainder of the night, long after the crowd left the park.
“I believe in Black trans liberation,” Qween Jean said during her remarks at Washington Square. “I believe we belong here. I believe that we are enough. We do not have to continue to prove why we should exist.”
She added, “Change is now.”
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