On the day that was expected to mark the 50th anniversary parade of Boston Pride, the city’s massive annual celebration of LGBTQ identities, a crowd of about 2,000 people turned out for a Transgender Resistance Vigil at Franklin Park.
Though the parade was postponed due to the threat of spreading coronavirus, a huge and diverse crowd of mask-wearing participants showed up for the hastily organized event that replaced it, in a rebuke of the Pride board’s leadership.
Organizers of the Saturday gathering expressed dissatisfaction with the Pride leaders’ responsiveness and what they regarded as a lukewarm public statement on the recent killings of Black people. From now on, they made it clear, they intend to speak forcefully for themselves.
“We have seen them fail this community, year after year, for 50 years,” said speaker Tre’Andre Valentine, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. “It is up to us. We are the ones we have been waiting for."
Organizer Athena Vaughn opened the vigil with a moment of silence for transgender people who have been killed in recent years, many of them Black women. The Human Rights Campaign identified 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people violently killed last year and 14 already this year.
“We are tired of being murdered. We are tired of being beaten. We are tired of being raped. We are tired of being told no,” said Chastity Bowick, one of the lead organizers of the event.
One non-binary participant carried a handmade cardboard sign memorializing Tony McDade, a Black transgender man who was killed by police in Tallhassee, Florida, just days before George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.
“I’m standing in solidarity with the Black trans community and recognizing that being queer doesn’t absolve me of white privilege,” said the Somerville resident, who went by the name of B. “There’s no queer liberation without Black liberation."
Mauri Trimmer, a white person from Medford, added, “We’re standing in solidarity with folks whose experiences are much worse than my own."
The vigil helped raise money for the Transgender Emergency Fund, which supports low-income and homeless people and aims to secure a building to provide housing. The event was planned with the help of Monica Cannon-Grant, a Black anti-violence activist who just 11 days earlier had staged a massive march and “die-in” that brought thousands to Franklin Park. Last summer, Cannon-Grant organized the counterprotest that responded to a “Straight Lives Matter” rally in Boston.
Sharon George, who is Black but not LGBTQ, brought her daughter to the Saturday vigil at the urging of Bowick, a coworker of hers at Boston Medical Center.
George said she is always saying she has a friend who is transgender, but then Bowick asked her to be a more active ally by showing up. “I said, of course, of course,” said George.
“It is important to have my voice be heard,” she said.
“When we saw the video of so many of our trans sisters and brothers being killed and being beaten, we had to make sure that we came out here and take a stand,” said Joty Allison, a Black minister who arrived with his husband, Robert. “Not standing up for them is an injustice. Not standing up for them doesn’t really communicate what we believe our community represents.”
Though the gay and lesbian community has continued to gain mainstream acceptance, transgender people continue to face disproportionate levels of violence and the Trump administration has made policy changes eroding their protections against discrimination.
On Friday, the administration finalized a regulation that seeks to end transgender patients’ protections against discrimination in health care.
“The time is now,” said Bowick. ”We all know what happened yesterday. Now we have another barrier added to our lives, worrying about what medical coverage are we going to have."
The Washington Post also reported Friday that the Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to propose a rule that would allow single-sex shelters to accept only those of the same biological sex, rather than the way people now identify, undoing an Obama administration guidance that opened the door for transgender people.
In fiery remarks, the organizers pledged to push back.
“It is our time to stand up, take back our excellence and speak for ourselves,” said Vaughn.
“This is the generation that is standing up and letting you know that you’re going to get your knee off of our necks,” Vaughn added “You’re going to get your hands off of us and trying to put us in handcuffs. You’re going to stop killing us.”
The vigil was followed by a march to Nubian Square.
There, Chanthal Harris, a biracial woman from Waltham, said she’s gotten educated about trans issues and been dismayed to learn of the numbers of deaths.
“I needed to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said. “I feel like a moment like this can’t be missed – even with the pandemic.”