The Christopher Street Pier in New York City was packed with thousands of people right before they all marched through downtown Manhattan for the 11th Annual Trans Day of Action on June 26.
Marchers, many of them trans and gender nonconforming people of color, began to rally at the pier at around 4:30 p.m. as members of the Audre Lorde Project emceed and led chants. Speakers from various organizations spoke out against transphobic violence, the detention of undocumented trans migrants, and respectability politics before they took over the streets.
The event was one of many demonstrations taking place in New York City as part of annual NYC Pride celebrations in remembrance of the Stonewall Riots in June 1969 — which took place outside of Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn and was led largely by young trans and queer people of color against rampant police harassment. The riots are widely considered to mark the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
This year’s celebrations also occurred right after the Supreme Court ruled in a five-to-four decision that states cannot keep same-sex couples from marrying and must recognize their marriages, making gay marriage legal nationwide.
But for many, this victory is seen as bittersweet, as much work remains to be done for the liberation of LGTBQ people, particularly queer, trans and gender nonconforming people of color.
“I think that marriage equality, albeit a great thing, has overshadowed a lot of the issues that have been going on with the transgender community,” Elizabeth Marie Rivera, creator of the #StopTheShade Campaign and a member of Harlem United, said. “So much focus has been on marriage equality that the ‘T’ [in LGBT] has been left out a lot.”
Many activists in the more radical NYC Pride events, such as the Trans Day of Action, the NYC Drag March, and the New York City Dyke March, have pointed to a divide between a white, gay, cisgender, pro-establishment elite in the LGBTQ community, who have reaped much of the benefits of past struggles, and more radical queer and trans people of color who have been largely left behind or left out completely.
“Visibility is important, and we’ve won many victories in the past year, but we know we still have a lot of work to do to end oppression and violence against trans and gender nonconforming people of color,” Elliott Fukui, TransJustice Program Coordinator at the Audre Lorde Project and organizer at the Trans Day of Action, said in a statement. “We need to continue organizing to find solutions to get our people safe housing, comprehensive health care, an end to police profiling, meaningful living wage employment, and safety in our streets from all forms of violence.”
During the Trans Day of Action march, as marchers walked past a more mainstream, gay, liberal crowd gathered in front of the Stonewall Inn, chants of “Fuck your assimilation! We want our liberation!” began to ring out and the two very different crowds briefly faced-off.
This tension between white, gay, pro-establishment men and the rest of the movement was visible even before the Supreme Court ruling, particularly with trans activist Jennicet Gutiérrez’s disruption of President Barack Obama’s speech during a White House LGBTQ Pride event on June 24. As Obama was lauding the progress made in the LGBTQ rights struggle, Gutiérrez spoke over the president saying: “President Obama, release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations!” Along with Obama attempting to silence her as she spoke, the rest of the room, mostly filled with white, gay, liberal men began to boo Gutiérrez and one person even told her: “This is not for you! This is for all of us!”
“I spoke out because our issues and struggles can no longer be ignored,” Gutiérrez later wrote in a statement. “Last night I spoke out to demand respect and acknowledgement of our gender expression and the release of the estimated 75 transgender immigrants in detention right now. There is no pride in how LGBTQ immigrants are treated in this country and there can be no celebration with an administration that has the ability to keep us detained and in danger or release us to freedom.”
Gutiérrez also mentioned in her statement that immigrant trans women are “12 times more likely to face discrimination because of our gender identity” and that even though trans women make up only one in every 500 detained immigrants, they account for one in every five confirmed sexual abuse cases in Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, custody. These alarming statistics along with other stories are detailed in a six-month investigation by Fusion on the conditions trans people face in detention.
A study by the Anti-Violence Project found that trans women made up 72 percent of hate violence homicides in 2013 and that trans people, especially trans people of color, were much more likely to experience police violence than white, cisgender people.
With this divide in the battle for LGBTQ rights, the people who have been left out and left behind, like Gutiérrez and other queer, trans and gender nonconforming people of color, can only continue to fight the struggle they started in the first place, all while being booed and silenced by those who reap the benefits of that struggle. For them, marriage equality is only a small victory in a much longer war ahead.
“Yay! Everyone can get married,” Lourdes Ashley Hunter, the national director of the Trans Women of Color Collective, said in a Facebook post. “Now, if everyone can get a job, have a place to live, access health care, not be brutally murdered simply for being trans, not be locked in detention centers simply for fleeing torture, rape or for wanting a better life. Can we work to end mass incarceration and deportation? Can we work so that trans youth are not committing suicide? Wait, I think I’m asking for too much.”