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.
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.”
at the #BlackTransLivesMatter rally today, the brilliant @RaquelWillis_’s voice drowning out the nypd helicopter ☀️ pic.twitter.com/ITFmTwPi06
— Sabrina Imbler (@aznfusion) June 14, 2020
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.”
#BlackTransLivesMatter rally outside @brooklynmuseum. “Let today be the last day, that you ever doubt #BlackTransPower… White queer folks get to worry about legislation, while black queer folk is worrying about our lives.” @RaquelWillis_ #LayleenPolanco #TonyMcDade pic.twitter.com/0vwldlMlQZ
— Caribbean Equality Project (@CaribEquality) June 14, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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