Meet One Activist Helping To 'Shine A Spotlight' On Trans Issues At Movement For Black Lives Conference

One organizer explains how youth are shaping the movement.

This weekend, Black Lives Matter activists and others from around the country convened in Cleveland, Ohio, for a 3-day conference called The Movement for Black Lives. One area of focus was violence against transgender women of color. MTV News caught up on Monday (July 27) with 28-year-old Elle Hearns, a transgender activist with GetEqual and one of the organizers of the conference, to talk about how these movements overlap, and how young people are changing the way activists get things done.

"The Movement For Black Lives convening was amazing," Hearns told MTV News. Hearns reported the goal of the conference was to create a safe space space for black people from across the country with a wide range of life experiences to talk about what their lives were like, and figure out how to work together to create positive change.

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Elle Hearns

"This was for everyone," Hearns said. "We wanted to make sure all of our lives are reflected. Not just activists and organizers involved in Black Lives Matter. We wanted to add additional narratives about what's negatively affecting black lives to the conversations we've had around police brutality. Because when black lives are being destroyed in different ways, we have to come together to really be able to figure out what that looks like, why that is, and how to organize to change things to move beyond that."

As part of that effort to hear a full range of voices, the conference included numerous opportunities for transgender people of color to share their own experiences and talk about how the movement can help support them. In 2013, three transgender women were murdered within a year of each other. One of the women, Brittany-Nicole Kidd-Stergis, was just 22 years old.

The murders prompted concern over whether the Cleveland area was a "hotbed" for anti-transgender violence.

Elle Hearns


"I think we were able to really bring a spotlight [to the experiences of trans people of color] by following the leadership of black trans women," Hearns said. "We were also able to highlight some of the real life experiences that folks actually were bringing in to the conference beyond just, 'I can't use a bathroom' to stories like, 'I can't get a job,' or, 'I can't get ID with the correct gender listed...'"

Hearns said that young people were especially instrumental in organizing the weekend.

"It was amazing to see the leadership of local youth from Cleveland," she told MTV News. "Youth have to be at the forefront of this movement. A lot of the things that people who are older have experienced are being experienced very differently by young people. And social media and the immediate opportunities to connect with others means that young people tend to be more connected, so we also wanted to highlight organizing through a youth perspective."

Toward that end, the conference was live-streamed, and offered ways to connect via mobile app, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and a Youtube channel. The hashtag for the weekend, and for ongoing conversations about the movement, is #M4BL.

Hearns suggested that young people who want to get involved can start with social media, but also encouraged us to figure out what feels right, and what feels most important to us, and to go from there. "It starts with doing some self-love and self-reflection, organizing with the people in your own community, and moving forward from there," she explained. "Just show up."

Elle Hearns


Hearns said that overall, the weekend left her feeling empowered and hopeful about the future. "The movement for black lives is not a slogan ... it's something that, for the folks who attended this convening is a reflection of the future as something that is sustainable, through our ability to love ourselves and hold ourselves and others accountable."

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