The deaths of two Black transgender women on June 9th prompted a fresh wave of grief within LGBTQ communities already in mourning over the deadly violence against Black trans people across the country. Within 24 hours, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells‘ dismembered body was found in Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, and Riah Milton was shot and killed in Liberty Township, Ohio. They are among the 15 documented deaths this year alone of trans and gender-nonconforming people in the U.S., according to the Human Rights Campaign’s latest report. In 2019, the number was 27, the majority of whom were Black trans women.
Despite the staggering amount of violence and discrimination faced by Black trans people, there is a significant lack of awareness and solidarity around Black trans wellness. This is something many activists are working to change—actively advocating to expand the global conversation around Black lives to include Black transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
ADDRESSING THE DISCRIMINATION AND VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK TRANS PEOPLE
Black trans people are often the targets of both racial and transphobic abuse, and this abuse is frequently ignored in mainstream circles. Violence against transgender people is at an all-time high and continuing to rise, but national media coverage is severely lacking. When anti-trans violence is reported in the media, news outlets commonly misgender the victims by using their “deadnames,” or the names they were assigned at birth.
The ongoing protests against police brutality towards Black people has garnered mass media attention lately, but has significantly left out Black trans experiences with the police. In fact, transgender people are seven times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police than non-trans people according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. According to a 2011 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly half of all Black transgender people have been incarcerated.
Two days after the tragic death of George Floyd, a Black trans man, Tony McDade, was killed by a police officer in Tallahassee. The disparity of media coverage and lack of outcry for Tony, Dominique, Riah, Nina Pop, and countless others, has further fueled the demands of activists—to center trans voices in calls for “Black Lives Matter.” All systemic violence and discrimination against Black people must be examined. There can be no hierarchy created to determine which Black lives are more valuable than others.
RACE AND GENDER EQUALITY GO HAND IN HAND FOR BLACK LGBTQ PEOPLE
Black LGBTQ people face a unique challenge that is often overlooked: dealing with violent homophobia/transphobia, in addition to the discrimination they experience because they are Black. The intersectionality of race, gender, and sexual orientation is at the center of self identity for Black LGBTQ people. Being forced to prioritize or choose one over the other often leaves Black LGBTQ folks feeling like their identity is being erased. LGBTQ spaces tend to be dominated by white voices and experiences and sometimes those spaces are racially ignorant or even actively racist, marginalizing those who are non-white. At the same time, Black LGBTQ people might also be dealing with homophobia within the Black community, which can set the stage for further violence and trauma.
Throughout history Black LGBTQ activists have palyed a critical role in fights for both racial equality and LGBTQ rights. Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, writer/activist James Baldwin, and transgender activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy are just a few examples of Black queer leaders who have fought to advance the rights of Black people in the U.S.
The vital contributions of these Black queer pioneers is representative of the impact Black LGBTQ people have on social advancement. Silencing Black queer voices is detrimental to black liberation movements as a whole—there can be no progress for Black people if some are excluded.
ORGANIZE AROUND BLACK TRANS SAFETY AND EQUALITY
The fight towards equality for Black trans people is not solely their responsibility; it is the responsibility of all of us to fight for social change and institutional advancement. We can all better advocate for our Black trans sisters and brothers. We can do this by building meaningful relationships with Black trans people, investing in their community, speaking up against discrimination, and further educating ourselves and others. If you’re interested in supporting Black trans organizations and furthering the discussion of Black trans rights, check out some of the following orgs: