The NYPD drone circling over the protest outside the Brooklyn Museum yesterday must have only picked up a sea of white. That’s the color protestors were asked to wear to rally and march silently in the wake of the deaths of Dominique “Remmie” Fells, Riah Milton, Tony McDade, and countless other Black trans victims of police brutality and civilian violence.
The event featured speakers from The Okra Project, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, For the Gworls, G.L.I.T.S. and Black Trans Femmes in the Arts, as well as the family and loved ones of Layleen Polanco, a member of the storied House of XTravaganza who was found dead in her Rikers cell last year.
Many of the people gathered had their own stories of police brutality to tell, but that didn’t stop them from showing up for the Black trans community. “I was arrested at my first protest. A bunch of cops stopped me, maced me, and put cuffs on me so tightly that it gave me nerve damage” said Molly, who uses the pronouns they/them, adding, “It was very weird to be nonbinary in jail. They kept calling me ‘her’ and I kept saying, ‘I’m a them,’ and a cop laughed and said, ‘There's always one.’” In spite of their ordeal, Molly was undeterred when it came to Sunday’s protest: “I’ve felt so depressed and alone, but when I walked onto Eastern Parkway and saw everyone in white, I just breathed this sigh of relief.”
Some people at the protest were there in spite of their own health concerns, making liberal use of masks and freely available hand sanitizer to keep safe. “I’ve mostly been protesting via social media and providing knowledge in that way, because I do have health concerns,” said Elle. “It’s important for me to be here even if it risks my health, because we–Black trans lives, disabled lives—are not getting the attention we need.”
“As a black person in this country, if we’re all not free, none of us are free,” noted Lazarus. “I think in the African-American community, there’s still a lot of stigma around trans lives. People don’t understand trans identity, so today, hopefully we’ll raise awareness, money and resources to help the Black trans community.” The hope that Sunday’s event would raise money was soon fulfilled: Ceyenne Doroshow, the founder of G.L.I.T.S., announced that the organization had raised $1 million to help fund Black trans futures.
“We’re living in such gnarly times, with our rights being stripped away from us, that it’s really tough on the soul,” said model, artist and activist Richie Shazam, who photographed the protest for Vogue. “Having this silent march where we allowed our community members to lead us with their words... even walking down the street and just seeing all of the optimism and joy and happiness was genuinely a historical moment. Our energy together is unbreakable and undeniable.”
Ianne Fields Stewart, founder of The Okra Project, also stressed the significance of the day’s event as they addressed the crowds. “Today is the last day that a Black trans woman fears for her life when she... claims herself in front of a man whose hatred of himself is stronger than his love for her. Today is the last day that a Black trans man fears occupying physical space because he can't find his binder or is without it... Today is the last day that Black nonbinary people feel forced to fit themselves into a binary that doesn’t exist. Today is the last day that cis people use trans people as an encyclopedia when Google is right there.”
“I am going to talk to my black trans folk first, and model what it looks like to put us first,” said writer, activist and speaker Raquel Willis, her voice loud and clear even over a circling NYPD helicopter. Black trans attendees were encouraged to claim space at the front of the rally, closest to the speakers, and when it came time to march, all other attendees were instructed to follow their lead. Willis united the crowd in a chant of “I believe in my power,” soon escalating it to “I believe in your power,” and “I believe in our power,” then finally, movingly, “I believe in Black trans power.”
One of the most emotional moments of the day came when Polanco’s sister, Melania Brown, took the stage. She urged protestors to watch the recently released video of Rikers staff mocking Polanco, telling the crowd, “Black trans lives matter. My sister’s life mattered. When one goes down, we all go down, and I’m not going nowhere.”