What Happened For Black Transgender People When Police Protests And Pride Converged

Originally published on July 2, 2020 3:58 pm

June 2020 was a pride month that looked different from past years, and not just because people were socially distancing and wearing masks: Demonstrations for LGBTQ equality overlapped with protests against violence and systemic racism against Black people.

At the intersection of these two fights for equality are Black transgender people.

Imara Jones, an independent journalist and founder of TransLash media, told NPR's All Things Considered, that this moment has been "a crucible."

"The marriage of these two issues at the same time has been incredibly intense, but if you look at the history of the two movements, in many ways it makes sense that they actually are occurring at the same time," Jones said. "They have so many cross links. People involved in one were involved in the other. They both have similar roots in terms of what they are all about."

Jones was referring to the Stonewall riots — in which police violently raided New York's Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. The resulting protests, which were led by Black and brown transgender and nonbinary people, focused on police brutality and led to the first Pride march one year later.

She said that "in a much larger frame, it makes sense" that the Black Lives Matter movement and the LGBTQ movement have converged. "But it has been incredibly intense." In June alone, at least four Black trans women were killed: Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells, Riah Milton, Brayla Stone and Merci Mack.

Fifty years after the Stonewall riots, on June 14, 2020, organizers estimated 15,000 people gathered in Brooklyn to march for Black trans lives in the Brooklyn Liberation rally. It's believed to have been the largest ever gathering in support of Black trans people.

"Black trans people are the most marginalized of the marginalized in every single way that's imaginable," Jones said. "And of course the irony, as well, of this moment is that the very people who helped to start the fight for LGBTQ rights have not benefited from the movement that they started."

There's one message Jones wants people to remember as the movement for equality continues on all fronts: Trans people are people.

"I think that what happens is that we're so easily caricatured and dehumanized, and so once we dismiss people, we don't hear them, we don't believe that their concerns are valid, we don't look to hire or to fight for equality, and so I think that's the most important thing," Jones said. "And the second thing is that when we leave certain groups of people behind, the rights of everyone are fragile. You should care about us if you care about yourself."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Pride month is over, and it looked a little different this year, not just because people were social distancing and wearing masks. Demonstrations for LGBTQ equality overlapped with protests against violence and systemic racism against Black people. At the intersection of these two fights for equality are Black transgender people. A couple weeks ago, organizers estimate that 15,000 people gathered in Brooklyn to march for Black trans lives. It's believed to have been the biggest-ever gathering of its kind.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Black trans lives matter.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Black trans power matters.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Black trans power matters.

SHAPIRO: Independent journalist Imara Jones has been a leading voice in this fight, so I asked her about what this moment has been like for her.

IMARA JONES: It's been a crucible. I think that's the best way that - to describe what it has felt like. The marriage of these two issues at the same time has been incredibly intense. But if you look at the history of the two movements, in many ways, it makes sense that they actually are occurring at the same time. They have so many cross-links, people involved in one were involved in the other. They both have similar roots in terms of what they're all about. Of course, Stonewall began as a pushback by predominantly, for the first couple of nights, Black and brown trans and gender-nonconforming and nonbinary people against police brutality. And so in a much larger frame, it makes sense. But it's been incredibly intense.

SHAPIRO: Before this most recent spate of protests began, did you feel like you had to fight to find a space for trans Black voices to be included in the fight for racial equality and LGBTQ equality?

JONES: Undoubtedly. I think that when one looks at the position of Black trans women in the country and just the extreme marginalization, you don't get that amount of marginalization without extreme erasure.

SHAPIRO: Not just erasure in general society but erasure in Black dialogues, in queer dialogues.

JONES: I think that that's right. That's what I mean. I mean, there has to be a total erasure - right? - for people to end up with the highest levels of poverty of any community. So, you know, Black trans people are the most marginalized of the marginalized in every single way that's imaginable. And, of course, that's the irony as well of this moment is that the very people who helped to start the fight for LGBTQ rights have not benefited from the movement that they started.

SHAPIRO: So for people who are just starting to pay attention, what's the most basic thing that you want people to know?

JONES: That trans people are people (laughter). I mean, I think that what happens is that we're so easily caricatured and dehumanized. And so once we dismiss people, we don't hear them. We don't believe that their concerns are valid. We don't look to hire or to fight for equality. And so I think that that's the most important thing. And the second thing is that when we leave certain groups of people behind, the rights of everyone are fragile. You should care about us if you care about yourself.

SHAPIRO: Does this feel to you like a lasting change? Or do you think it's just something that's popular to talk about now, that people will move on from and return to their old ways of thinking and doing?

JONES: I think that one of the things that's changed is that Black trans women and Black trans people understand that we have to continue to press our case. I think whether or not there will be this larger focus on us and our issues and a centering of our needs in terms of discussion and policy - I think we're going to have to wait and see. But I think that that's true for the overall moment.

And I just want to point out that change in America is a hard-fought thing. And I often think about the fact that, for example, during the Vietnam War, you had the largest protest in American history up until that time about anything around the Vietnam War, but the United States still did not exit until four or five years later. So, you know, I just think these are these are long-tail issues.

SHAPIRO: That's independent journalist and founder of TransLash Media, Imara Jones.

Thank you for talking with us.

JONES: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.