Feature image from a photograph by Alexey Kim. Thank you to Fran Tirado for giving Autostraddle access to the incredible photography from this event by Cole Witter, Serichai Traipoom, Leandro Justin, Ashton Do and Alexey Kim.
On July 28, 1917, the NAACP, in reaction to simmering nationwide racial tension and, specifically, mass violence and destruction of Black lives and communities in East St. Louis, held a Silent Protest Parade in New York City. Nearly 10,000 Black men, women and children marched down Fifth Avenue with signs like “We march because we deem it a crime to be silent in the face of such barbaric acts.” According to the NAACP, it was the first protest of its kind in New York, and the second-ever instance of African-Americans demonstrating for civil rights.
This is the protest West Dakota had in mind when she reached out to Fran Tirado about organizing “a Brooklyn-based protest creating space and action for Black trans lives.” They reached out to Eliel Cruz, Raquel Willis, and Dix Peyton. Other organizations came together to help including The Okra Project, The Marsha P. Johnson Institute, GLITS, For The Gworls, The Emergency Release Fund and Black Trans Femmes in the Arts. Eventually, a team of 100-150 organizers came together to create the event, led by Peyton Dix (comms/social), Mohammed Fayez (creative production), Willie Norris (creative production), Kalaya’an Mendoza (security), lanne Fields Stewwart (overall producer and consultant) and Nicholas Valit Anderson (creative production).
It would take place Sunday, June 14th, outside the Brooklyn Museum. It would be called Brooklyn Liberation. It would be accessible. It would center and amplify Black queer and trans people. It would not involve the police. Protesters would march and rally and wear white and listen and amplify. And they did.
All day on social media, reports rolled in about the crowd continuing to grow beyond anybody’s wildest expectations. In the end, police scanners reported more than 15,000 people showed up in Brooklyn for the rally. They were silent, they marched, they danced, and they listened to speeches from Raquel Willis, Ceyenne Doroshow, Iannne Fields Stewart of The Okra Project, Junior Mint, Joshua Obawole and the family of Layleen Polanco.
Two Black trans women were murdered last week — 27-year-old Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells in Philadelphia and Riah Milton of Liberty Township, Ohio. Both were misgendered and deadnamed in the minimal press coverage that followed. In a tweet thread about their killings, Raquel Willis noted, “Cis folks of the Movement 4 Black Lives, the largest queer movement, and feminist movement have long failed Black trans people. It’s time for a reckoning on your collective silence and inaction. What will it take for y’all to hear us? Do you really read these posts, read these articles, hear our pleas, hear our speeches, and feel nothing?”
Two weeks ago, a trans man, Tony McDade, was murdered by police in Tallahassee, Florida. “I keep trying to get chants started for him at the marches and vigils I attend,” wrote Lazarus Letcher in their piece about Tony for this site. “It hasn’t caught on yet, but I have hope.”
Today, on instagram, Raquel Willis wrote, “Yesterday changed something in me, in all of us. No longer will we ever doubt we are winning or folks are transforming in the ways that we need them to to keep us all alive and safe. No longer will we doubt whether it’s possible for the #BlackTransMovement to be elevated and supported. No longer will we doubt #BlackTransPower.”
June is LGBTQ Pride Month around the country and cities with large queer populations generally host enormous, corporate-sponsored multi-week celebrations that marginalize the exact communities who started Pride by rioting for their rights at Stonewall in 1969 — Black and Brown transgender and gender non-conforming people.
This year, in-person Pride events were cancelled in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but we have filled the streets nonetheless. They are not littered with postcards from party promoters for dating-app-sponsored Three Dance Floor Ultimate DJ Best Ever Pride Parties, there are no scantily clad muscled-up white gay men on glittery floats handing out Burger King coupons or hundreds of straight Apple employees wasting massive amounts of space in a parade through The Castro.
Instead, queers have been taking to the streets these June weekends across the country for actions against Police brutality and institutionalized violence against Black people in what seems to be the largest protest movement of our generation. This month, those actions have often merged with activism around Black trans lives specifically, with rallies for Black Trans lives in cities like Boston, San Antonio, Chicago and Los Angeles. At these marches there are no $16 Kettle One cocktails or $10 hot dogs. There are free water bottles and free snacks out for whomever needs them, and there are people turning up to fight against systematic oppression. This weekend, Black and Brown trans activists were finally able to get the mic back for the movement they started all those years ago.
The turnout for the Brooklyn Liberation Action for Black Trans Lives inspired organizer Fran Tirado to tweet, “this revolution is growing a new, robust generation of organizers and it is so damn beautiful to watch.”
“Today, history was made,” tweeted activist Kei Williams of the action. “15,000+ in the streets with Black trans voices uplifted. No arrests, no brutality. And GLITS made their $1 million goal for a new home for trans people. tomorrow, the work continues. we who believe freedom cannot rest until it’s won.”