August 25 was a clear, non-muggy day in Atlanta. I was engrossed in the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Hyatt Regency. The preceding evening, my friend and mentor, Cheryl Courtney-Evans, sent me a message. Our TILTT support group was to participate in a street action in lieu of our usual fourth-Tuesday-of-the-month meeting. The action was to start at 6 pm across from the Five Points MARTA station beside Underground Atlanta. Two weeks ago, Cheryl attempted communication with an African-American transgender woman who had been attacked on MARTA only to be arrested while her assailants walked free. This recent incident echoes a widely-publicized attack on two African-American transwomen on MARTA in May 2014. Worse yet, as of the day the action was being organized, 17 male-to-female transgender persons, most of them African-American, had been murdered in the United States since the start of 2015. Thus, I felt it my sacred duty before the Goddess to leave the conference early and stand with my sisters and brothers in the demonstration.
I met Cheryl, along with one of the organizers, Holliday Simmons, and, Anna, a photojournalist from Toronto, as they left the Five Points MARTA station a few minutes before six. We waited in the still-quite-intense evening sunlight under the Underground Atlanta arch across Peachtree Street. Raquel Willis, the other main organizer, soon joined us. Around 6:30, the main group of the participants arrived from the MARTA station, having ridden from the West End station with their posters and placards. Additional accounts of persecution suffered by local transgender persons, along with dozens of moving photos, are provided by Matt Hennie in his Project Q article.
With the hundred or so participants gathered, they chanted “Black Trans Lives Matter.” I unpacked my two small hand drums and added percussion to the necessary noise. Raquel, Holliday, and several others spoke to the participants and onlookers. Cheryl Courtney-Evans pointed out the sign held by one activist, “35 years, average life expectancy of a black transwoman”. Cheryl expressed outrage at these grim statistics while expressing gratitude at beating such odds in her own, significantly longer life. Holliday read a list of ten “Dear Everybody” requests from African American transwomen to all the rest of us who enjoy at least one gender, racial, or class privilege. As related by Patrick Saunders in his Georgia Voice article, Holliday also urged non-transgender persons to respect our gender pronouns and chosen names. Finally, as the gathering wound down, everyone hugged.
No television news stations nor mainstream newspapers covered the Atlanta #BlackTransLivesMatter demonstration. The effort of my trans sisters of color to fight back against a near-genocidal system seemed futile. My own efforts to support my sisters feels hopelessly inadequate. Compared to other populations within the transgender community, transwomen of Color suffer disproportionately from poverty, homelessness, HIV infection, and violence. Today, during a seminar for the final day of my Emerging Infectious Disease conference, I challenged researchers on sexually-transmitted infections to include transgender persons as a defined demographic in their studies. It seems my prayers to the Divine Feminine, my attendance at #BlackTransLivesMatter, and my words of advocacy cannot stop the combined assault of hatred and indifference. This evening, August 26, I found a report in The Advocate listing the number of transgender female lives lost in 2015 at 19.