Michael Knaapen

Trans* Women of Color's Lives Matter

Filed By Michael Knaapen | October 03, 2014 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: black lives matter, trans women of color, transgender rights, TWOC, vigils

twoc-vigil-sept14-1.jpegLast Saturday, nearly 50 people gathered on the steps of the Washington Convention Center to support trans women of color. They shared stories, posed for group photos, and even prayed together. At the end, they exchanged business cards and pledged to do their part in promoting their common cause and to bring the event back next year.

The Black Trans Women's Lives Matter Vigil, part of a movement to bring attention to the community and concerns of trans women of color, gathered outside the Congressional Black Caucus's Annual Legislative Conference as a "call to peace," organizer Ashley Love said. Love, a transsexual and intersex advocate and journalist, planned for the vigil to meet outside the caucus in order to force black leaders and elites to see a constituency that is too often invisible.

The event brought together trans women of color and their allies to reflect on the lives lost at the intersection of transphobia and racism, and to recommit themselves to advancing justice for this community.

Attendees came singly and in groups, from near and far. Many came as representatives of organizations like the National Black Justice Coalition, which was hosting its OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit nearby. The Human Rights Campaign was represented, as was The Bilerico Project.

Some came with white roses, symbolic both of the mourning of fallen trans women of color, but also as hopeful tokens of peace. All came to stand in solidarity with their sisters, and many others came because they grieve the loss of a friend or family member lost to transphobic violence.

Speaker Ruby Corado, Executive Director of the Casa Ruby LGBT community center, discussed the many challenges trans women of color face. She spoke passionately about how trans women of color are not only at higher risks of violence, but they are in jeopardy of being caught in a cycle of poverty and dangerous survival strategies that prevent them from escaping that violence.

Corado highlighted the importance of leadership, saying that trans women of color need to be leaders of their own movement and their own community. She mentioned a protégé of hers who sometimes jokes that she will take over for Corado when she retires. "That makes me so proud," Corado said, because it is vital for trans women of color to develop the confidence to lead.

twoc-vigil-sept14-2.jpegOther speakers highlighted different challenges. One mentioned the prohibition on open trans service in the armed forces while another addressed the injustices of a health care system that puts excessive burdens on all trans people.

Several speakers expressed gratitude for the work of allies in the District of Columbia and elsewhere who have heard the cries of trans women of color and worked with them to make streets safer, jobs more attainable, and educational opportunities more accessible. Speakers were optimistic that such progress could be extended across the country and around the globe.

At the end of the event, everyone gathered into a circle to pray. Following this, Love invited all the trans women of color to gather into an inner circle surrounded by the other vigil-goers.

As they held each other in a tight embrace at the heart of the group, these women sent a strong message: Just as the outer circle gives support to the inner circle, so too does the inner circle strengthen the outer. And for just a moment, it was possible to comprehend the decimation of transphobic and racist violence that denies individuals of their lives and communities of their wholeness. For the community is truly incomplete without transgender and transsexual women of color, and every life matters.

Photos by Michael Knaapen.


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