Content Warning: Mentions of violence, murder and discrimination based on race, gender and sexuality
Six Black trans women – Mesha Caldwell, Ciara McElveen, Chyna Gibson, Jacquarius Holland, Keke Collier, and Jojo Striker – and one Indigenous trans woman – Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow – were murdered in the United States within the first two months of 2017. This sparked outrage from trans communities, followed by conversations on Black Twitter and under the hashtag #BlackTransLivesMatter. However, these murders have been under-reported in mainstream media; in addition to facing physical violence, Black and Indigenous trans women’s experiences are made invisible, and they are disproportionately affected by homelessness and poverty. As queerness and LGBTQ rights have become increasingly trendy and mainstream in North America, it’s clear that Black and Indigenous trans women are being excluded from the protection afforded to other queer people. Queer solidarity means protecting the community’s most vulnerable, by supporting Black trans women.
Relatively privileged queer groups – mainly gay white cis men – control the discourse around queerness and shape its mainstream image. This mechanism limits the inclusion of those who face other oppressions that intersect with queerness: those who are poor, racialized, disabled, and gender nonconforming. The illusion of trans inclusivity within the broader mainstream LGBTQ pride narrative is often disingenuous. The tokenistic, cursory inclusion of Black and trans people in otherwise white and cis-led activism fails to substantially challenge systems of power within queer communities.
It is important to be critical of queer movements and to question the ways in which they are communicated, represented, and perceived. Those allowed space in mainstream discourse must recognize that they are complicit in determining which bodies are valuable, which deaths must be mourned, and which deaths are ignored. Indifference toward violence against Black trans women is endemic within movements that centre white cis women.
Relatively privileged queer people, as well as non-Black and cis people, must make a conscious effort to support Black and Indigenous trans women. This means providing financial support to trans artists and people, showing up for protests, vigils, and strikes, and demanding media representation for Black trans women. Trans Trenderz is a New York-based non-profit record label for trans people – profits from their show last week in Montreal went towards financing the careers of trans hip hop artists. The Prisoner Correspondence Project, based in Montreal, connects queer and trans people in prisons with pen-pals outside prisons. Here on campus, we can support organisation like the Union for Gender Empowerment, which leads campus-based initiatives, and provides support and resources to trans and nonbinary students. It’s our responsibility to contribute to, show up for, and amplify these initiatives while respecting and centering the voices and experiences of trans organizers.