In cities across the U.S., people rallied and marched for Black Trans Lives in light of recent deaths. The demonstrations occurred just before a historic Supreme Court Ruling that is one move forward in a long fight for LGBTQ rights.
The marches for Black trans lives were organized around of series of deaths that shed light on issues Black transgender people face every day. Just recently, two trans women, Dominque “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton, were brutally killed over the course of the week. Suspects have been apprehended in Milton’s case while no one has been identified in Fells’ case.
Just before their deaths, Tony McDade, a Black trans man, was killed by the Tallahassee police back in May, and not too long before this, a Black trans woman, Nina Pop, was stabbed to death in Sikeston, Missouri.
Black trans people continue to face significant barriers, which lead to violence against them. For example, according to a Human Rights Campaign report, Black transgender people have double the unemployment rate of all transgender people and they have four times that of the U.S. general population. Forty-one percent of Black transgender also report experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives, which is more than five times the rate of the general U.S. population.
Many transgender people also have to engage in sex work for survival and at least 1 in 3 victims of anti-trans fatal violence since 2013 reportedly engaged in sex work. Fifty-four percent of transgender people report having experienced some type of intimate partner violence. In 2020 alone there have been 14 reported murders of trans and gender non-conforming people, according to the Human Rights Campaign. This number is most likely undercounted because of law enforcement and media sources misgendering certain victims.
Conditions like these caused thousands of people to rally for Black trans lives over the weekend. In Brooklyn alone, an estimated 15,000 people came out to a “Brooklyn Liberation” rally and march for Black trans lives, according to CBS News. The event was organized by Black trans-led groups, including The Okra Project, which provides meals to Black trans people; For The Gworls, which raises money for Black trans people’s rent and affirmation surgery; and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which is named after the Black trans activist and Stonewall Uprising trailblazer.
Among the people to speak at “Brooklyn Liberation” was the sister of Layleen Polanco, an Afro-Latinx trans woman who died while being held in solitary confinement following an epileptic seizure at Riker’s Island. Recently released footage shows that prison guards waited approximately an hour and a half before calling for help, according to NBC News.
“At least five staff members knocked on Polanco’s door over the span of an hour and a half before officers opened her cell,” NBC News reported. “Moments before approaching an unresponsive Polanco, officers can be seen laughing.” June 2020 marks the one-year anniversary since she passed.
“Black trans lives matter,” Polanco’s sister, Melania Brown, told the massive crowd at “Brooklyn Liberation”, according to CNN. “My sister’s life mattered. All of the loved ones we have lost, all of these beautiful girls that we have lost. There lives matter. We have to protect them.”
An “All Black Lives Matter” march for Black trans lives also took place in Los Angeles drawing in an estimated crowd of 25,000 people, according to CNN. A group of organizers in Chicago also held a Drag March for Change this past weekend demanding justice for victims of police brutality along with a reclassification of violence against transgender people as a hate crime. Thousands also chanted “no justice, no peace, no anti-trans violence on our streets” in Boston for a march held from Franklin Park to Nubian Square.
The weekend of protests came just before the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in Bostock v. Clayton County that employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to Associated Press, Justice Neil Gorsuch, a conservative judge appointed by President Donald Trump, wrote in the majority opinion:
“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and sex. The current Supreme Court ruling came after two gay men and one transgender woman were fired from their jobs and sued their employers over discrimination.
Despite the wins of the Supreme Court ruling, activists continue to push for more work to be done surrounding LGBTQ rights. For example, the Supreme Court ruling does not cover trans people serving in the military because Title VII doesn’t pertain to the military.
The Trump administration also continues to strip trans people of their rights due to his transgender military ban and his rollback of Obama-era healthcare protections for trans people.
Under Trump’s recently amended policy, the Department of Health and Human Services will be “returning to the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology.”
In other words, under the Trump administration’s definition, healthcare providers and insurance companies that receive federal funding can refuse to provide or cover gender affirmative care for trans Americans.
According to The Guardian, A few groups plan on fighting the change, including the Human Rights Campaign, who said they would file a lawsuit and the ACLU who said it would sue to overturn the Trump rule.