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Black LGBTQ activists march against transphobia, racism in Baltimore on Saturday afternoon

The protest against transphobia and racism moves down Charles Street, heading for City Hall.
The protest against transphobia and racism moves down Charles Street, heading for City Hall. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Hundreds of marchers filled the streets of Baltimore on Saturday afternoon to protest police brutality and the prevalence of violence against transgender people in the Black community.

The demonstration, on International Pride Day, comes during protests in the region and worldwide following the police killing of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.

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Dressed in face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, marchers rallied together at the Ynot Lot in Station North, thanks to Queers for Black Lives Matter, a coalition of LGBTQ+ activists striving to elevate the Black community while addressing racism through demonstrations. The speakers said they “are sick and tired” of discrimination, and they demanded secure housing and employment for Black transgender people.

Organizers also called for defunding the police, for the decriminalization of sex work, and for protesters to do more than merely share hashtags whenever Black people are killed. They also called out organizations claiming to support diversity even though leadership boards lack the representation of Black transgender people.

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Zenzéle Uzoma, an organizer for the coalition, said, “It’s time for the queer community to show up” for the Black people who fought for gay rights, including civil rights activists Bayard Rustin and Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender woman who played a role in the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York.

“Queer culture is 85 to 90 percent Black culture,” Uzoma said to applauding protesters.

June is designated as Pride Month for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community. The first Pride parade marked the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, which followed a police raid on a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Protesters in the city marched with signs proclaiming “Black Trans Lives Matter,” a commentary on the high number of Black transgender women killed each year. Most recently, Black trans women Riah Milton in Ohio and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells in Philadelphia were killed this month. Speakers also called attention to the deaths of Muhlaysia Booker in Dallas last year and Mya Hall in Baltimore in 2015.

Baltimore activist-organizer Amorous Ebony said the Black Lives Matter movement “will not exist” if people continue “to disregard the voices of our LGBTQIA+ folks.” Ebony led protesters in a recitation of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — often referred to as the Black national anthem — before saying she’s “tired of the senseless disrespect and violence caused among trans Black bodies.”

“I came to shut it down, and I hope you’re ready to shut it down in the streets,” Ebony said.

Car horns blared and several drivers slowed down to shout “Black Lives Matter” as marchers chanted “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” Several people waved rainbow flags, and one protester waved a burning stick of sage in the air. A woman wore a white shirt bearing the words “the first pride was a riot” in rainbow colors, another reference to Stonewall.

The protest ended at Baltimore City Hall, where dozens of cars along East Fayette Street also carried “Black Trans Lives Matter” signs. Baltimore Police could be seen throughout the city barricading streets to prevent potential pedestrian-auto accidents. The protesters staged a sit-in on the yard as police officers guarded City Hall with vehicles and barricades for several hours.

No one appeared to be arrested or detained during the protests as the demonstration reached its climax. The organizers formed a “de-escalation” group prior to the march to identify and root out agitators who could have disrupted the experience.

August Clayton, co-executive director of the Frances Thompson Education Foundation, which nurtures Black trans students, stressed that protesters need to protect the Black people around them in case the police try to detain peaceful protesters.

Derek Lindsey, another organizer for Queers for Black Lives Matter, added that it’s important for people to learn how to be a good ally for the Black transgender community.

“[Recognize] Black trans people as the most marginalized and vulnerable amongst us as a community. None of us can get ahead without those who are the most marginalized,” Lindsey said.

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