On Juneteenth, Heed the Calls of Black Trans Freedom Fighters

Feature photo of Joshua Allen can be found on their Instagram. More images from the recent Brooklyn Liberation March for Black Trans Lives can be found here.

Earlier this month, on June 4th, Joshua Allen was out protesting the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade — in addition to the centuries-long destruction of Black communities at the hands of the U.S. government. Joshua is a Black trans femme and a community organizer, artist, and public speaker who’s been devoting their life to Black liberation since they were a teenager.

Now, as more and more Black people’s murders are gaining visibility though they’ve always been happening, Joshua is once again protesting and fighting for their people. Joined by their friend Mani Chirse, a Black transmasculine person, they went out knowing that the New York Police Department was out for blood. Moreover, the police were actively preventing people from being able to make it home before the curfew, which now now been lifted, in order to make more arrests. As Mani noted, “I can still picture a woman along with her son crying to go home, as she repeats ‘I live up the street, I just want to take my baby home.’ The police officers did not care, she was trapped along with the rest of us.”

Joshua and Mani were arrested that day. While they joined the protest together, they were separated by police. Joshua explained the imminent danger they were in simply for demanding justice for their people: “I feared that they would take us a roundabout way to the detention center and beat us up while our hands were tied. I was afraid I’d be pepper sprayed with my hands tied behind my back and I wouldn’t be able to breathe.”

Meanwhile, Mani had to make a split decision: maintain their gender identity as a transmasculine person or go with the women on a bus to a Queens County detention center. Many urged him to temporarily identify as a woman so as not to be split up from the group of protesters with whom he had gathered. But he maintained his truth, instead. These high-stakes decisions are not something that cisgender protesters have to endure.

While detained, Joshua was placed in a men’s cell. At each stage of the night, from protesting to being arrested and detained, their safety was at risk — but their life was especially in danger as a transfeminine person detained among mostly men. And that is something the cops would have known.

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Last night I was arrested for peacefully protesting for black lives & charged with unlawful assembly & a violation of mayoral edict (the edict being a racist 8pm curfew). First— to my friends & family, I am OK! I have sustained some minor injuries to my right hand and am dealing with PTSD after being charged by a blood thirsty gang of militarized police. I am grateful for all of your unending love & support. I know y’all ride for me 😩😭💐 Second— I had a lot of time to think while sitting in a jail cell. While detained we chanted the names of black folks lost to police brutality, like Sean Bell, Tony McDade, Amadu Diallo, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd & so many more. I thought about the generations of people who came before me. The fearless leaders like Assata Shakur, Miss Major, Essex Hemphill & Angela Davis. The generations of Black people who live inside of me [us]. How they too were cracked over the head with batons & pepper sprayed for speaking out against injustice. This reaffirmed my commitment to our movement for black lives. I thought: “If not now, when? If not us, who?” I firmly believe that we have an obligation to resist laws that are unjust. Legality is a reflection of power, not morality‼️ So today I’m taking some time to rest, heal & recover. The fight for justice requires sustained & strategic resistance and baby we’ve got it 🖤 We will carry it on! Much love to the rest of the #Brook136 and my friends @_freedom.love__ & @inertsquare who were arrested with me ❤️ thank you for your service to our communities ✊🏿History will look kindly upon us 💐

A post shared by Joshua Allen (@joshuaobawole) on

We know that Black people are targeted for criminalization and incarceration, as an extension of chattel slavery. Even our laws, the 13th amendment of the constitution specifically, indicates that slavery is abolished except when it applies to incarcerated people. For Black trans women and transfeminine people, there is the additional violence of being regularly placed in men’s units, putting them at risk for assault from staff and other incarcerated people. “A lot of people told me they were worried about me being placed in the wrong cell, but quite frankly if I were in the men’s, women’s, or an individual cell, it would still just be a cage,” Joshua reminds us. “It’s no place for a young person trying to make the world a better place at all.”

Joshua had to strategize their safety within the detention center. They looked to others detained alongside them for help, asking them to watch over them while they napped. The police were randomly selecting detainees to brutalize them before throwing them back inside their cells.

While Joshua and Mani narrowly escaped those beatings, they were left with bruises and lacerations on their wrists. They were able to return home thirteen hours later in the morning. Victims of brutality at the New York protests have since filed a lawsuit against the NYPD.

A week later, Joshua was among the speakers at the Brooklyn Liberation March on June 14th. They were among other Black trans leaders — including Raquel Willis, Ceyenne Doroshow, and Junior Mintt — who had a central message: Black lives will not matter until Black trans lives matter. Standing at the mic, Joshua galvanized a crowd of 15,000 people, shouting: “BLACK TRANS POWER MATTERS.”

Many trans leaders have reported that this crowd is the largest that’s ever shown out for Black trans people. “It may be the largest gathering for trans rights overall in American history,” said journalist Imara Jones to Democracy Now.

Joining Joshua at the mic was Ianne Fields Stewart, the founder of the Okra Project, an initiative to feed Black trans people experiencing food insecurity. Reflecting on the unique struggles of Black trans people, Ianne explained the following: “The greatest violence that Black trans people face from every side is the violence of silence. Our people are brutalized and forgotten about or even worse, buried under names or truths we never claimed.” Like Ianne and Josh, leaders have challenged the Movement for Black Lives to heed the calls for placing Black trans people at the center of Black liberation.

The insistence that Black trans lives must matter comes after the deaths of Tony McDade at the hands of police, along with Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton who were killed by civilians. Black trans people are not only in the crosshairs of violence by police but also by the general public. Earlier this week, the case of Tete Gulley was reopened; it was originally ruled a suicide a year ago, but only now is it receiving more attention as a potential lynching. Tete’s name is resurfacing in media as it’s tied to articles reporting on the deaths of Robert Fuller and Malcolm Harsch, who died under the same circumstances.

The impact of Black trans leaders has reached even Dr. Angela Y. Davis, the prolific Black feminist freedom fighter and scholar. She said during an event organized by Dream Defenders that “Black trans women constitute the target of racist violence more consistently than any other community — we’re talking about state violence, we’re talking about individual violence, stranger violence, intimate violence. So if we want to develop an intersectional perspective, the trans community is showing us the way… I don’t think we’d be where we are today encouraging ever larger numbers of people to think within an abolitionist frame had not the trans community taught us that it is possible to effectively challenge that which is considered the very foundation of our sense of normalcy. If it is possible to challenge the gender binary, then we can certainly effectively resist prisons, jails, and police.”

“I don’t think we’d be where we are today encouraging ever larger numbers of people to think within an abolitionist frame had not the trans community taught us that it is possible to effectively challenge that which is considered the very foundation of our sense of normalcy.”

For many years, Black women and Black trans leaders have been pushing for a defunding of the police and abolition of police and prisons as a whole. Many have also reminded us that abolition is a demand that helps us return to the roots of Pride, as an uprising against police brutality towards trans people and sex workers.

As the movement to #DefundPolice continues to gain traction, we cannot forget those who’ve paved the way for abolition to be the central demand of this uprising, especially because abolition is a means of survival for them. We must remember that Black trans people, Black women, Black migrants, and Black sex workers experience the very kind of harm from police that people expect the police to solve — murder, trafficking, and sexual assault.

On this day in 1865, commemorated as Juneteenth, Black people in Texas were told they were free from slavery. This day honors the freedom that Black organizers have been cultivating for many years. It’s fitting then that we, especially non-Black folks who all benefit from the liberation work of Black folks, recommit to freedom for Black trans people who’ve been waiting far too long.

This day honors the freedom that Black organizers have been cultivating for many years. It’s fitting then that we, especially non-Black folks who all benefit from the liberation work of Black folks, recommit to freedom for Black trans people who’ve been waiting far too long.

Ianne Fields Stewart describes a feeling that many share: “Many of the visions that I have for our future… are large dreams that I never thought I would see in my lifetime.” It’s time to bring Black trans dreams into reality in our lifetime. We all owe it to the visionary Black trans people who, as Dr. Angela Y. Davis illuminates, have been building us up to the current moment.

Abolition requires that we not only reinvest dollars spent on police and prisons into community infrastructure like healthcare, education, housing, and more. It also requires us to invest in our shared humanity. Police and prisons by nature strip the humanity of those who are victims to their grip, but they also foster a culture where we are encouraged to make inhumane decisions — like choosing to allow police and prisons to torture and end people’s lives. Abolition requires that we demand our collective humanity by unlearning the values — like transphobia, misogyny, anti-Blackness, and the convergence of all three — that make us complicit in the deaths of Black trans women especially.

Despite the ongoing assaults on Black trans lives, Joshua Allen reminds us that “Black trans people historically have been some of the world’s greatest contributors to social, political, and economic movements around the globe and this uprising is no different. By utilizing art, direct action, media, grassroots fundraising, and leading the cultural conversation, Black trans people have been making vital contributions to our movements for justice. It is for this reason that they must be resourced, to sustain this important work!”

On Juneteenth, donate and follow Black trans-led initiatives to ensure the well-being and liberation of Black trans communities:

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xoai pham

Xoài Phạm is a Vietnamese trans person who descends from a long legacy of warriors, healers, and shamans. Her life's work is in dreaming new futures where we are all limitless, and she makes those dreams a reality as a poet, essayist, editor, and collaborative educator. Learn more about her work here: xoai.co. Catch her on Instagram @xoai.pham and on Twitter @xoaiwrites.

xoai has written 22 articles for us.

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