Transgender communities build grassroots power in Chicago and nationwide
Wripley Bennet/Trans Day of Resistance

“It’s not really about bathrooms!” said celebrity trans activist Laverne Cox, on an MSNBC live interview last week. “When trans people can’t access public bathrooms, we can’t go to school effectively, go to work effectively, access healthcare facilities. It’s about us existing in public space.” Cox was speaking to the recent attacks from the Republican administration against LGBTQ youth, as last Wednesday President Trump rescinded protections for transgender students.  Non-discrimination laws previously required schools to allow students access to bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity. Since Trump’s inauguration in January, state legislators have filed over 30 anti-transgender bills. Organizers have rallied against these policies in their home states, as many are pushing back against the discriminatory legislation.

Trans youth suicide

These laws speak to a much larger issue of transgender rights, and in particular, the protection of LGBTQIA+ youth. In 2016 the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center released a study which found that about “30 percent of transgender youth report a history of at least one suicide attempt, and nearly 42 percent report a history of self-injury, such as cutting.” The Trevor Project, an organization that works nationally with crisis and suicide prevention, noted that 40 percent of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. Of these individuals, 92 percent reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. These issues with mental health and wellness stem from a long history of trans youth bullying, and feeling unprotected in public spaces – which is why legislative policies, such as the one Trump rescinded, become that much more critical in preserving the well being and safety of students.

In Chicago, the Trans Liberation Collective is fighting back against discriminatory policies and mobilizing the resistance, in what promises to be one of the largest trans-led protests nationwide. Jake Record, a genderqueer Chicago resident, created the Trans Liberation Protest to center trans voices. “I wanted to see myself in the current resistance movement,” they said. Record was then contacted by veteran organizers Stephanie Skora and LaSaia Wade, who shared a similar vision. All three felt it was crucial to ensure that their event be inclusive to all trans people and that it be led primarily by trans-identifying individuals.

Jennicet Gutiérrez, a leading transgender rights and immigrant rights activist, spoke to People’s World about the imperative of trans-led organizing. “It’s crucial for Trans and GNC [gender non-conforming] leaders to be centered and leading,” she said. She added that the exclusion of trans/gender non-binary people, even within LGBTQIA+ communities, is an ongoing issue. “Often times, when we demand liberation, others take over, you don’t see those impacted, our voices are being silenced!”

The Trans Liberation Protest took place in Chicago March 3. Our reporters Michelle Zacarias and Earchiel Johnson were on the scene. Video By Earchiel Johnson.

Trans Resistance

In response to the outpour of positive reactions they received, Record, Wade, and Skora decided to move forward with planning the event. While Record is newer to the organizing scene, they have always envisioned doing something that would help unify the Trans/GNB/GenderQueer community in a collective resistance. Skora and Wade are both seasoned activists. Skora spent years in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., creating spaces for trans students to meet and fight for their rights, and also served as a leader and ally in community and campus movements for Black liberation and for justice in Palestine. Wade has spent over ten years in the nationwide struggle for trans rights. She was part of a group that launched the Chicago Black Transgender Non-Conforming Collective and has advocated for other Black trans women and femmes through her organizing work as the Director of Brave Space Alliance. When the three sat down together, they decided that the Trans Liberation March needed to set a precedent for the type of self-determination and resistance that trans communities are capable of. “We must move from their table and create our own,” said Wade.

With over five thousand “interested” attendees online, the Trans Liberation protest in Chicago is set to be one of the largest trans-led organized marches ever. The rally is hosting a diverse set of speakers, all of whom are Trans/Gender non-conforming, intersex, or GenderQueer. Guests from the Chicago Two-Spirit Society, a Native LGBTQIA+ collective, and Masjid al-Rabia, a pluralist organization for marginalized Muslims, are both scheduled to speak at the protest. The list of demands from the collective includes the need for more stable housing, employment, further public education on trans issues, the end of solitary confinement, and access to affordable health care. Additionally, a majority of the speakers list is comprised of people of color, as the collective felt it was critical to highlight the disproportionate amount of violence that black and brown Trans femmes experience.

Protecting trans lives

In addition to the protest, a vigil will be held at the end of the rally to honor those trans people who have been killed. Last week Ciara McElveen was stabbed to death in New Orleans – making her the sixth trans woman killed in 2017 and the fourth in the month of February. 2016 was the deadliest recorded year for transgender individuals, with 24 recorded deaths in the United States. These statistics reflect just a fraction of the existing hardships that trans individuals, especially Black and Brown femmes, face on a day to day basis. Housing and homelessness continue to be pressing issues for queer communities as a whole, with an estimated 40 percent of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ. The National Center for Transgender Equality noted that one in five transgender people in the United States has been discriminated against when seeking a home, and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes because of their gender identity.

Although several organizers focus on legislative measures in order to protect Trans individuals from violence, Gutiérrez, who has a long history of holding both Democratic and Republican administrations accountable, sees radical change as being rooted in grassroots efforts. “They often say we have to negotiate, but only certain people are going to benefit from that – and the killings will continue to happen.” Gutiérrez knows that legislative policies often overlook the most vulnerable populations. “Guess who’s going to be excluded [from most laws]? Trans women of color.” Nevertheless, Gutiérrez said she believes that the real resistance is predicated in standing together as one. “Time after time we have shown the strength we have as a community.”

As the fight continues around the country, the Trans Liberation Collective prepares for the upcoming rally. Though the work behind the scenes has been relentless, each one of them feels that the labor will ultimately contribute to the ongoing fight for safety and equity in their community. “I want to live in a world where trans people are not constantly in fear of being killed for our truths,” says Skora. “I want our truths to be celebrated, cherished, and known, not feared and suppressed.”


Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.