The 10th annual Philly Trans March took place on Oct. 10 at Hunting Park in North Philadelphia. Approximately 200 people gathered to demand an end to violence, police brutality and discrimination toward the transgender community, especially queer and trans people of color. After the march, a memorial was held for Shantee Tucker, who was shot and killed in Hunting Park in 2018.
Christian Xavier Lovehall, trans activist of color, founded the Philly Trans March in 2011 after the murder of Stacey Blahnik, a local trans woman. The main organizers of this year’s march were Bri Golphin, a Black nonbinary community organizer, Roberto Thornton, a Black trans community activist, and Sunny Marks, a Black trans person and longtime disability advocate. However, the event was a collaborative effort between roughly 20 people, said Mikah Thomas, one of the organizers and speakers at the march. Thomas works as the recruiter for GALAEI’s Trans Equity Project.
In addition to Thomas, the speakers at the march included Janis Stacey, Shain Polk, Kendall Stephens, Ruth Birchett, Deej McCoy, Karin A Carthins, Gem Aziza, Kareem Anthony aka Diamond Pearl and Mx Philadelphia Leather, Giana Graves and Chamar Cooper. At the end, Alonda Talley shared some touching words about Rem’mie Fells. Carmen Lugo and Nicole Struck both interpreted the speeches for those who are deaf or who experience partial hearing loss.
“I think it was a good thing that they had it in North Philly because a lot of actions, like marches, are often in Center City or West Philly,” McCoy told PGN. “It was nice that something actually happened in North Philly, especially since there are a lot of murders of trans women that happen [there].”
Before the group set off, Janis Stacey, a native, two-spirit trans woman, activist for trans and racial equity and an elder in the community, shared a land acknowledgement with the crowd. She explained that the colonists stole the land from the Lenni Lenape people despite having signed a treaty dictating that the land would be shared. “The Lenape… they’re still alive, don’t think of them as history,” Stacey said.
Shain Polk, the emcee for the march, led the crowd in moments of remembrance for the many trans people of color who died by violence this year and in the past, including Nizah Morris, Maya Young, Shantee Tucker, Diamond Williams, Keisha Jenkins, Michelle ‘Tamika’ Washington, Dominique ‘Rem’mie’ Fells, Tracey Mia Green, Tatiana Hall, and others, naming only some of the dozens of trans women who have been killed in the U.S. in 2020 alone. “I would also like to shout out Kendall Stephens for still being with us today,” Polk said.
Stephens, a Black trans woman and community activist, was violently attacked in her South Philly home in August.
“Currently, Pennsylvania has totally failed the trans community,” Stephens said. “Why is our sense of gender expression such an affront to yours? Are you relishing in our collective demise, or fighting to stem the tide of it? This commonwealth, this city, has time to redeem itself and affirm us in the process. We need that affirmation to show up in social policy.”
In his speech to the crowd, Thomas talked about being the change you want to see, and shared that he signed up to be a police recruit after speaking with District Attorney Larry Krasner.
“We all need to heal, we all need to come together,” Thomas told PGN. “I’m tired of being mad, I’m tired of being angry, I want to be the change. I applied to the police, and I don’t care if I lose LGBT family members and friends because I want to be the change from the inside.”
Krasner was present at the march that day along with two of his associates. He had been invited to speak following a recent meeting with Stephens and Deja Lynn Alvarez. However, after his opening remarks, people from the crowd started yelling “F*** the police.” Krasner continued to try to address the crowd, but he was ultimately booed out of the spotlight by chants of “Get off the mic!”
As the crowd marched down the streets of North Philadelphia, they shouted in call and response with Samantha Rise, who led most of the chanting, “When trans lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back,” and “No justice, no peace! Defund the police!”
Several common themes stood out for the participants and the speakers, including the importance of the current generation educating future generations about queer and trans rights; the power of unity and strategy in the fight for justice; the need for allies to provide concrete support for queer and trans people of color; protecting trans women of color; addressing racism within the trans community; debunking stereotypes about people living with disabilities; and educating the public about how to understand and respect gender nonbinary individuals.
“I want other people to see that there are Black nonbinary people in Philadelphia, and we’re trying to make things better and give people the information that they might be lacking,” McCoy told PGN. McCoy is a Black non-binary burlesque artist and community organizer. “One thing that people don’t quite understand is to unlearn those deeply ingrained thoughts of the binary, like assuming that a person that has breasts is a woman, and someone that might have a lot of facial hair is a man. To unlearn that is uncomfortable.”
A trans woman, activist and strong voice in the community, Graves spoke primarily about the need to protect trans women of color. She called for radical change in the form of “calling out the bigotry and hate that leads to our oppression. That means refusing to allow homophobia, transphobia and racism to be a matter of opinion. Calling out bigotry also means holding a mirror to our own community. Most trans women will lose their lives to someone who claims to love them. We must also remember to look long and hard in that mirror. Amongst the trans community, racism and colorism are still entertained.”
Ruth Birchett, an ally who has lived in North Philly her whole life, shared some powerful words at the first street stop. She worked for decades in electoral politics and has been heavily involved in community organizing and neighborhood building.
“There’s an African proverb that says, ‘if the wise village elders don’t teach the youth, the village idiots most certainly will,’” Birchett told the crowd. “That says to you that legacy matters, that your generation must teach the next generation that must continue.”