Historic Turnout for Black Trans Lives in Brooklyn

Trans Black Live Matter rally and march from the Brooklyn Museum.
Thousands gathered at the Brooklyn Museum Sunday to affirm the power and dignity of Black transgender people.
Donna Aceto

Everyone knew it was coming — and they made their voices heard in a big way.

One day before the US Supreme Court declared it’s illegal for employers to fire workers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, an estimated crowd of at least 15,000 people mostly donning white shirts flocked to the Brooklyn Museum on the edge of Prospect Park and Grand Army Plaza for a “Brooklyn Liberation” rally and march focused on Black transgender lives.

Trans Black Live Matter rally and march from the Brooklyn Museum.Donna Aceto

Raquel Willis, a Black trans woman who is a writer, editor, and activist led the crowd at the museum in a chant, saying, “I believe in my power. I believe in your power. I believe in our power. I believe in Black trans power.”

She continued, ““Let today be the last day that you ever doubt Black trans power… You know, I might get in trouble for saying this, and yes the legislation matters, but white queer folk get to worry about legislation while Black queer folk is worrying about our lives.”

Willis also delivered a message to white-dominated groups, saying, “If you have an organization that has no Black people in leadership, if your organization has no funding or programs specifically for Black trans people, you are obsolete.”

The historic demonstration, on the heels of two more deaths of Black transgender women in the previous week, started with the lively rally at the museum. The massive group then stepped off on a silent march, first heading west toward Grand Army Plaza before shifting north on Vanderbilt Avenue, west on Atlantic Avenue past Barclays Center, and concluding at Fort Greene Park for another rally.

Tanya A. Walker of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group speaks.Donna Aceto

Black trans women took center stage at both locations, leading speeches and paving the way for the tens of thousands who followed behind in the march on a beautiful, sunny day in the city. Cardboard signs along the march paid tribute to slain Black transgender individuals such as Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, and others who have lost their lives due to deadly violence. Numerous other signs read messages like “Black trans lives matter,” “A trans woman was lynched yesterday,” “Black trans power,” and “Black trans women deserve to thrive.”

Like numerous other protests in recent weeks, a police helicopter circled along the perimeter of the event and often drowned out the noise of speakers, including at the final rally at Fort Greene Park. Police vehicles trailed behind the march as cops closely surveilled the peaceful protesters.

Sunday’s crowd was fierce in asserted the power of the Black transgender community.Donna Aceto

The demonstration also featured strong support systems in place by volunteers who offered marchers water, hand sanitizer, masks, and medical assistance. Some individuals brought along bags of snacks for anyone who was hungry.

Other speakers included Ceyenne Doroshow, Ianne Fields Stewart, Kei Williams, Junior Mint, Joshua Obawole, and the family of Cubilette-Polanco. Organizing partners listed for the event included the Okra Project, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, For the Gworls, GLITS, Black Trans Femmes in the Arts, and the Emergency Release Fund. Willis, Anti-Violence Project communications director Eliel Cruz, drag artist West Dakota, and Fran Tirado were among those who helped spearhead the organizing effort behind the event.

The massive crowd carried homemade signs.Donna Aceto

In a nationwide show of solidarity, there was also a focus on Black trans lives at demonstrations in Los Angeles and Chicago on the same afternoon.

Notably, the action coincided with the new details surrounding the death of Polanco just days after Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark deadnamed her in a press release (for which she later apologized) announcing that there would be no criminal charges in connection to her death. There is now new video footage showing guards who were supposed to be monitoring the well-being of Polanco when she was locked up in restrictive housing, or solitary confinement. Contrary to previous reports, guards ended up waiting roughly an hour and a half to take action during Polanco’s fatal health emergency.

Along with simultaneous demonstrations in Los Angeles and Chicago yesterday, the crowd in Brooklyn insisted that all Black lives matter.Donna Aceto

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Brooklyn City Councilmember Brad Lander was among the allies on hand.Donna Aceto
Trans Black Live Matter rally and march from the Brooklyn Museum.Donna Aceto
The second rally of the day at Fort Greene Park.Matt Tracy
Jason Rosenberg, injured by police during a June 2 protest, was back in action on Sunday.Donna Aceto