Baltimore City

Black transgender activists rally in Baltimore for better health care, housing

Black transgender activists rallied Saturday at War Memorial Plaza in Baltimore, calling on city leaders to provide better access to health care, employment, foster care, substance use support, and housing for members of the transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and nonbinary communities.

Activists at the 2nd annual Black Trans Lives Matter rally also demanded a public education inclusive of queer history, as well as the enforcement of nondiscrimination policies.


Iya Dammons, founder and executive director of Baltimore Safe Haven, said the government knows what the Black transgender community needs. Baltimore Safe Haven is a nonprofit organization providing resources and opportunities, including transitional housing for youth and seniors. The group uses the acronym TLGBQ, rather than LGBTQ.

Transgender people, especially those who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, face barriers when it comes to city services, said Dammons, who was part of Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott’s transition team when he took office late last year.


“We’re on a state of emergency,” Dammons said.

Last year, anti-transgender fatalities hit a record, with at least 44 people killed in the U.S. A majority of them were Black and Latinx women, according to the Human Rights Campaign. This year, there have been at least 30 deaths of transgender or gender nonconforming people.

Two of the deaths in 2021 have been in Baltimore: Kim Wirtz, an Asian woman, and Danika Henson, a Black woman.

“We deserve to be able to get to walk without having to look behind our backs, wondering if someone is going to attack us out of pure ignorance,” said Kaycee Voorhees at the rally.

As the transgender flag, with stripes of light blue, white and pink, waved behind the speaker at the plaza outside City Hall, Voorhees stared at the more than 100 people at the rally. Voorhees doesn’t believe in the word “transphobic.”

“We, the community, are not what you fear,” the 19-year-old said. “How we live authentically and unapologetically is your fear. Living in America as transgender in a city that cares nothing about you, to continue to be the best you can be — it’s the bravest thing I’ve seen anybody do.”

Activists called for the city to implement a reliable housing strategy for homeless transgender youth, an employment linkage program and training for city employees to create safe and affirming spaces for transgender people. The city must also expand access to testing and treatment of HIV, they said.

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Also, the Baltimore City Public Schools system needs to hire more TLGBQ and nonbinary employees, they said, and include queer history and comprehensive sexuality education in the curriculum.

As "Rise Up" by Andra Day plays Saturday at a Black Trans Lives Matter rally, Baltimore Safe Haven Executive Director Iya Dammons raises a fist while calling attention to trans lives lost to violence.

Earlier this month, the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services announced a partnership with Baltimore Safe Haven for youth-focused transitional housing. The city received a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund the work.

“We are going to be a city that understands and pushes to make sure that they know that their lives matter just like everyone else in Baltimore City,” said Scott, who attended the event.

Those who rallied said they wanted to advocate in particular Saturday for housing for TLGBQ people over 25.

As a performer sang a rendition of “Rise Up” by Andra Day, Dammons walked toward the center of the plaza, where a person lay next to a circle of pink and red flowers. As she walked, people knelt, laid down and sat, waving light blue, pink and white flags.

Dammons, dressed in white with wings behind her shoulders, held the head of the person on the ground near the flowers.

“Black Trans Lives Matter,” they chanted.