In the days leading up to Mardi Gras, three black trans women were murdered in Louisiana. Jaquarrius Holland, Ciara McElveen, and Chyna Gibson all lost their lives within days of each other. Holland was shot by an acquaintance during an argument; McElveen was stabbed in a car and then left on a street in New Orleans; Gibson was shot outside a shopping center while visiting her hometown of New Orleans for the holiday.
The impact of these murders extends far beyond those directly targeted: An act of violence against any trans person harms the entire community. News of violent death can create a sense of fear among other trans people. Fear feeds isolation and emotional trauma, and fosters a narrative that devalues trans lives. The need to counter that fear with loving support is all the more reason for trans and cisgender individuals alike to take a moment, right now, to address how we can stop trans violence generally, and transmisogyny in particular.
This is exactly what the national LGBTQ-rights network GetEQUAL aims to do this week. The organization has put out a call to action to celebrate the lives of black trans women in a national day of action on March 15. Since its launch on March 8, the campaign has adopted preexisting hashtags #BlackTransLivesMatter and #ProtectTransWomen to align itself with the struggles of trans women of color and protest anti-trans violence.
Angela Peoples, director of GetEQUAL, tells MTV News that the campaign aims to do much more than just draw attention to violence against black trans women, though: This day of action asks us "to do our own work within ourselves and within our communities to figure out what we need to do to be in collaboration and in partnership with our trans sisters." The central message, Peoples says, is that "we will love [black trans women] and we will protect them and show up with and for them while they are here, not just when they are taken from us."
Supporting trans and gender-nonconforming people starts with changing how we think and talk about gender. Last weekend, GetEQUAL put this objective into practice by holding strategy sessions with LGBTQ leaders from small towns and rural areas in the South. Part of those sessions was dedicated to talking about how those leaders can facilitate teach-ins and educate their communities. Resources such as GLAAD's Tips for Allies of Transgender People, TransWhat's Guide Towards Allyship, and the Trans Ally Workbook from Think Again Training can help cis folks start educating themselves and others.
Trans rights don’t begin and end with access to bathrooms, just like gay rights aren’t only about marriage equality. Like any marginalized group, black trans women have a lot more going on than just what is directly legislated against them. "Because of the way that our politics are shaped and because of the way that the media is fixated on particular issues, folks think that it's just about whether or not people can use the bathroom,” Peoples says. “But the issues of police violence, immigration enforcement, catastrophic unemployment, and lack of access to health care — these are all ways that state violence is impacting trans women of color."
A 2013 Anti-Violence Project report on anti-trans violence found that trans people were up to seven times more likely to have experienced violence while interacting with police than cis people. The United States immigration enforcement system is already notoriously abusive to all who enter it, but it's particularly challenging for trans immigrants, who can face problems obtaining accurate documentation and struggle to find asylum from persecution in their countries of origin. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, trans people reported three times the rate of unemployment compared to the general population, while 16 percent reported losing jobs because of anti-trans discrimination at some point in their lifetime.
Cis allies who want to better understand these issues and trans people looking for support can go to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) to learn more. The organization provides resources and guides on issues like immigration, employment, and criminal justice. It's also important to remember that movements like Black Lives Matter and its affiliates keep trans and gender-nonconforming people at the center of their principles when they address racial justice.
Peoples frames the cooperation between cisgender organizers and trans women of color already in leadership roles as a requirement for success rather than a request. "If we don't put some attention and intention behind making sure those folks are not just visible but are also central to our work, then this resistance will fail, and it will not be strong enough to counteract the forces that we know we need to take down."
But centering the leadership of trans women of color alone isn’t enough to achieve equality: Everyone, particularly black organizers, must embrace the inherent value all people possess regardless of their gender identities. "The truth is we need each other," Peoples says. "Black cis men, black trans women, black trans men, black cis women; we need each other to get free. And so I think my ask really to cis men is to call out your boy. That's what organizing for black lives really means to me: It's to do the work to hold yourself accountable, and to lovingly hold your neighbors and your family accountable, so that we can actually protect and love and support each other and get rid of these chains, as Assata Shakur says."
This means putting the self-education mentioned earlier into action. As your own understanding of transmisogyny deepens, you must in turn challenge others’ internalized prejudice. When anyone makes a transphobic joke or objectifies trans women, push back. Turn it into a conversation about why that language is unacceptable. Cis men especially must realize that they have an unparalleled ability to access other cis men who perpetuate discrimination against trans women. Every instance of transphobia is an opportunity to help someone recognize the humanity of trans people and begin dismantling their own prejudice, and silence in those moments is an opportunity wasted.
On the National Day of Action to Celebrate the Lives of Black Trans Women, you can participate in events like a rally for trans liberation in Los Angeles, California; a Speak Out! rally in Washington, D.C.; or a fundraiser for the Transgender, Gender-Variant, Intersex Justice Project at UC Davis. If you’re planning an event for March 15, sign up for the conference calls on March 13 and 14 with other organizers here. However you choose to spend Wednesday, whether it's participating in a rally or working to be a better ally in some way, know that this is only one part of a long journey toward liberation. For those who want to do something but don't know where to begin, Peoples advises that you start by supporting black trans women's leadership.
"Fund groups like the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which is led by my good friend Elle Hearns. Fund that work, and then also do some research. Just like there's information about white supremacy and white privilege all over the internet, the same is true for transphobia and misogynoir. Come to a place and a space where you can reach out to trans women in collaboration and not just in a way that's like, 'Oh, I feel guilty' or 'I feel ashamed,' but actually 'I see your liberation as directly tied to and inseparable from my own liberation, so I'm here with you and for you so that we can get free together.'"