Black transgender activists rallied Saturday at the War Memorial Plaza, calling on city leaders to provide better access to health care, employment, foster care, substance use support and housing, specifically for LGBTQ and non-binary people over the age of 25.
Activists also demanded a public education inclusive of queer history and the enforcement of non-discrimination policies at the 2nd annual Black Trans Lives Matter rally.
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 non-profit dedicated in providing resources and opportunities for LGBTQ people in the city, including transitional housing for youth and seniors.
Transgender people, especially Black, Indigenous and people of color, consistently face barriers when it comes to city services, said Dammons, who was part of Mayor Brandon Scott’s transition team.
“We’re on a state of emergency,” Dammons said.
Last year, anti-transgender fatalities hit a new record with at least 44 transgender people killed. A majority of them were Black and Latinx women, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
This year, at least 30 people in the transgender community were killed. Two of these people were killed in Baltimore: Kim Wirtz, an Asian woman, and Dannika 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 march.
As the transgender flag, depicted by stripes of light blue, white and pink, waved behind her at War Memorial Plaza, Voorhees stared at over a hundred people before her. She doesn’t believe in the word “transphobic,” she said.
“We, the community, are not what you fear,” the 19-year-old said, raising her voice. “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.”
Jamie Gracie Alexander, who also spoke at the march, stressed the need for not only creating non-discrimination policies, but “actually enforcing them.”
“There are so many platitudes with local government where we’re given things that are symbolically meaningful, but that’s no follow through that actually makes a difference on the ground,” Alexander said.
“Take one step further than acknowledging the deaths of Black trans women when it happens,” Alexander added. “Give money, power and resources to Baltimore Safe Haven.”
Activists called for the city to implement a reliable housing strategy for homeless transgender youth, an employment linkage program and training for employees to create safe and affirming spaces for transgender people. The city must also expand access to testing and treatment of HIV, they said.
The Baltimore City Public Schools also need to hire more LGBTQ and non-binary employees, they said, and include queer history and comprehensive sexuality education in the curriculum.
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 office of homeless services and the nonprofit.
“We are going to be a city that understands and pushes to make sure that they know that their lives matters just like everyone else in Baltimore city,” said Mayor Brandon Scott, who attended the event.
A 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey report found that 42% of 796 Black respondents experienced homelessness at some point of their lives, and 38% reported living in poverty.
As a performer sang a redemption of “Rise Up” by Andra Day, Dammons walked towards the center of the plaza, where a person laid by 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 clothing with wings behind her shoulders, held the head of a person that laid by the flowers.
“Black Trans Lives Matter,” they chanted.
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