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Thousands gather in Brooklyn to protest the “state of emergency” for trans youth

When thousands gathered in Brooklyn last summer to take part in a march for black trans lives, Shéár Avory was home helping care for her family amid the coronavirus pandemic. But Mx. Avory, who is transgender and non-binary, was encouraged by what they saw online: pictures and videos of a sea of ​​people dressed in white, gathering for their community.

“I remember being so connected to the community, even virtually,” said Mx. Avory, 22, said. “And just that overwhelming feeling of ‘Well, we did that.'”

On Sunday, several thousand people gathered in front of the Brooklyn Museum for the Brooklyn Liberation March. This time, Mx. Avory reached out to them, calling for solidarity and action to support black transsexuals and gender-disregarding youth in a rally that specifically aimed to put their voices and concerns first.

“We’re here to claim space,” Mx. Avory said to a crowd cheering them on. “We are here to say that we have a right not only to survive but to flourish; to demand that our movements emerge and center us. “

The crowd gathered for a demonstration in the middle of a Pride month this year, where debates are taking place over the role of protests in celebrating LGBTQ identity. They came together to show their support for transgender and gender non-conforming young people in a moment that the organizers described as a “state of emergency” in their mission statement.

“We’re black and transsexual, and I would have liked more protection as a child,” said Wes Garlington, 25, of Brownsville, Brooklyn, who attended the rally with her partner. “So we came out to show support.”

In state legislatures across the country, Republican lawmakers have introduced bills to limit transgender children’s participation in sports and prevent their access to gender-affirming or transitional health care. At least 10 were signed this year.

Schuyler Bailar, who competed as an overt transgender man on a Division I college swim team, said the barrage of laws was exhausting and discouraging.

“Trans youth absolutely deserve to play sports, just like me, just like me,” said Mr Bailar, who described himself as a queer Korean-American transgender man of color. “Transkids deserve this freedom.”

At the same time, the pandemic has exacerbated economic inequalities that had already severely disadvantaged people of color and transsexuals, and the ongoing violence against transgender people has not abated.

At least 28 transgender or non-gender compliant people have been killed in the United States so far this year, according to the human rights campaign, making 2021 one of the worst years in anti-trans violence history. The victims were mostly black and Hispanic trans women.

Raquel Willis, a black transgender activist and one of the organizers of the march, said there are links between the violence that the American Medical Association has labeled an epidemic and the laws being debated and passed across the country.

Legislation threatened to erode young trans people’s control over their bodies and identities, and would have lasting effects on them.

“When we talk about the epidemic of violence that plagues black trans women and brown trans women, it is so closely related to the violence and psychological distress faced by trans youth,” Willis said.

The first Brooklyn Liberation March, held last year, arose in part from protests following the 2019 death of Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who died in solitary confinement on Rikers Island after having a seizure and the guards neglecting to to look after her.

The event followed a wave of demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism organized in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among others.

The organizers sought to create a powerful display of solidarity for a group that was marginalized not only by society but often also by the LGBTQ and racial justice movements.

The enormous turnout last year, which the organizers estimated at 15,000 people, exceeded their expectations. But they knew that a rally would not solve problems that had not been addressed for decades.

“When we showed up last year to improve the life of Black Trans, we all knew it was going to be an ongoing commitment,” said Ms. Willis.

Activist and performer Ianne Fields Stewart said last year’s event paid a lot of attention to the organizers, who include Ms. Willis and Ms. Stewart, Eliel Cruz, Fran Tirado, Kalaya’an Mendoza, Mohammed Fayaz and Peyton, Dix, Robyn Ayers and West Dakota.

But this year, Ms. Stewart said, they wanted to put the spotlight on younger voices, those who would be the next generation of activists and leaders and whose formative experiences are different from theirs.

“We are ready for this new generation of young people who are rising and defining themselves through things that are much more complex and deeper,” said Ms. Stewart.

The six speakers on Sunday’s march, all 25 years or younger, said they hoped to reaffirm the humanity of trans youth, who too often were shaped by the challenges they faced rather than their resilience.

“Trans and GNC youth who live in their truth and live for their truth show us that we are regaining our power in our openness to one another and to ourselves,” said Lafi Melo, 25, a Palestinian-American artist and activist .

Mx. Avory pointed to a long legacy of young trans organizers who were at the forefront of activism in their day, including Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major, transgender women whose involvement in the Stonewall uprising was instrumental in the modern LGBTQ movement solidified.

To young people, taking the stage at a rally like the Brooklyn Liberation “feels really empowering and empowering,” Mx. said Avory. “And it feels like it’s really time to be honest.”

The crowd this year has been more modest than last year, partly reflecting decreased energy for the protests as New York City opened up with the easing of pandemic restrictions and some of the talks about racial justice gradually wear off.

“Interesting what is vaccinated and what bars are open to show up at events like this,” Mx said. said Garlington. “People have more options and there is less pressure.”

Her partner Yaya added, “There isn’t that much guilt in the air.”

But organizers estimate that more than two thousand people still came to listen to the speeches outside the museum before marching about a mile and a half to Fort Greene Park.

Senna Mamba, who attended last year’s and this year’s events, said the march was a welcome moment of relief and comfort for them in their struggle for community. As a black trans woman, she faced workplace discrimination and struggled to develop relationships while living in a homeless shelter.

“I didn’t see a real future for myself last year and often I still don’t,” she said. “I just feel that sometimes things like that help me see a future for myself.”

Even in New York City, a liberal bastion that has tried to lead the way in LGBTQ rights, young transsexuals face significant disadvantages. They have difficulty finding shelter and meaningful employment, are more likely to have negative interactions with the police and experience higher rates of violence.

“We will not allow systems to continue brutalizing, demonizing, or criminalizing the most marginalized people,” said Qween Jean, a black transgender costume designer who led the weekly protests at the Stonewall Inn, at the rally. “It must end now.”

Mx. Avory said they hoped the march this year would inspire trans youth across the country and remind them that they have long been a foundation for the LGBTQ and social justice movements.

“In the midst of this chaos, in the midst of these anti-trans laws across the country, there is a legacy of resilience, a legacy of hope, a legacy that young people are really born together,” they said.

For Bri Joy, 24, who is black, trans, and non-binary who moved to New York from Atlanta a week ago, the march provided an inspiring opportunity to connect with her new community – and what they referred to as their family-to-be .

“There’s this rumble, this really big energy that only trans and queer people can deliver, in which I can just sit and exist and meditate,” they said. “It’s hard to put into words, but it’s just so beautiful.”

Melissa Guerrero and Julia Carmel contributed to the coverage.

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