Philly’s trans community and allies come together for annual Trans March

2021 Philly Trans March participants at Washington Square Park. (Photo by Michele Zipkin)

In the continued fight for transgender rights, roughly 200 people showed up to the annual Philly Trans March (PTM), the peaceful rally demanding justice, liberation, equity and safety for Philadelphia’s trans community, especially for queer and trans, Black and indigenous people of color (QTBIPOC). Trans activist of color Christian A’Xavier Lovehall founded PTM in 2011. 

Organizers and supporters assembled October 9 in Washington Square Park and wound their way around the Society Hill neighborhood, chanting in choral call and response and stopping at various intervals to have trans and nonbinary individuals address the crowd. 

Speakers included Chris Lester, a Black Lenape person who gave a statement acknowledging that march-goers were standing on Lenni Lenape land; Valentina Rosario, program manager of Transgender, Intersex, Nonbinary and Gender Non-conforming Services at GALAEI; Tazmere Elijah Stephens and Najee Gibson, who were there representing Morris Home, the only recovery program in the U.S. for trans and nonbinary people experiencing addiction; and LGBTQ activist Raquel Saraswati, whom PTM organizer Bri Golphin described as an accomplice to the trans community. 

“[Morris Home has] actually given us a safe space, a safe haven for us to just be ourselves,” Stephens told PGN. “To see these two groups stand up for our community’s voice that’s not really heard, makes me feel like I’m not going to be silenced.”  

Staffers from Morris Home handed out harm reduction resources at the march, and representatives from Food Not Bombs were there to provide snacks. 

GALAEI’s Rosario called the Trans March more than just a march. “[It] is an action — an action of taking back, an action of celebrating and uplifting our ancestors” she said to the crowd. “We need to fight and continue moving the needle in the right direction.” 

She cited border rights, mass incarceration, immigration rights and “trans youth under attack” as issues that most negatively impact Black, Brown and Latinx communities. “Once we become silent, we become complicit,” Rosario said. “Do not become complicit to the colonizers, to the gentrifiers, to the white folk who say you need to limit your life.” 

Golphin told the crowd that a diverse group of people organized this year’s march, including trans and nonbinary Black, Brown and indigenous people of color and those who are disabled. As is custom every year, they also read out a list of demands that PTM organizers make of city leadership, nonprofit and business leadership and the white, cisgender citizens of Philadelphia. 

Those demands include, “the abolition of prisons and the police; protections for people impacted by the ever-growing rates of deportation, policing, separation from their family and detention while seeking home, haven and asylum; investment in transformative justice infrastructures, including participatory defense, Black trans-centered housing and healthcare, as well as various forms of harm reduction, i.e. safe injection sites.” 

“We added more money to the Philadelphia Police Department and less money to HIV prevention and planning services,” Golphin said at the march.   

PTM organizers demanded a stop to harassment, assault and murders that trans people constantly face. “The rates that [trans people] are being murdered is despicable,” Golphin told the crowd. “Especially because we have all these corporations, all these nonprofits that claim that they support Black and Brown trans people. Where are they when we need defense?”

Further demands include economic justice, specifically the need to hire more trans people and to make employment settings safe for trans people; the development of Black trans leadership and remuneration in organizations fighting for social change; safety and affirmation for trans students; and protection of and more substantial support for trans elders. 

Janis Stacy, a native, Two-Spirit trans woman who helped organize the march, said that there needs to be more resources for trans elders in Philadelphia. “When you get to be elderly and you’re trans, a lot of times you don’t have a lot of income,” Stacy told PGN. “You don’t have saved money because nobody wanted to hire you and you’ve had to do survival work your whole life. [When] you get old enough to where most people are retired, you don’t have enough money to necessarily live.” 

Lack of proper housing, healthcare and isolation pose further issues to trans elders. “Connections are often electronic, so when you get up to a certain age, can you afford to buy a computer, can you afford to buy a smartphone,” Stacy asked rhetorically. “Can you actually pay for the plan and the internet? There’s an issue of trying to get electronic access so people can not feel completely isolated from the world when they’re elderly, especially trans people.”

Reparations for Black and indigenous trans people was part of the list of demands. “Black and indigenous folks are survivors of white supremacy and colonization here in the United States. While white folks may claim we have come a long way since the times of slavery and colonization, Black and indigenous folks are still dealing with the everyday casualties that have stemmed from these traumatic times,” Golphin read as part of the written demands.  

Finally, organizers demanded the need for white people, including white trans people, to actively engage in anti-racism work. “We cannot demolish the ‘cis-tem’ if we’re not unified,” Golphin said at the march.

When it was his turn to speak, Stephens shared his story of figuring out his gender identity as a kid, and how his family took issue with the fact that he was trans. When he became a parent later in his life and was struggling with addiction, he felt like recovery options were closed off to him because of his transness.  

He told march-goers that he felt unwelcome at programs geared toward mothers, “where I scare every heterosexual mom around because I’m going through hormonal therapy,” he said, nor did he feel like he could attend programs for fathers out of fear of discrimination. “Because I wasn’t man enough at the time, I had to literally put myself and my child’s life in danger just to get the help that I needed,” Stephens said. He added that if people treated each other with kindness, “racism, sexism, transphobia wouldn’t exist.” 

Gibson, a nonbinary trans elder in the community, spoke of the relative progress they have seen in terms of resources for queer and trans folks, including the development of health organizations like Philadelphia FIGHT, Mazzoni Center, and Morris Home. 

Gibson also witnessed change when it came to society’s overall acceptance of trans people, they said. “[Cis people] didn’t look at us as real people. I [saw] hate, I walked in fear. But out of that came TV shows, to walking the balls, to standing with the mayor. The world was slowly coming to see us as real people,” they said. The fight for equity and support is still ongoing, they added.  

Since the previous Trans March, Golphin told PGN that they have seen some positive change for the local trans community. For one, no trans Philadelphians have been murdered in the past year. “It sucks that that has to be a positive, but it’s reality,” Golphin said. Two trans women of color were killed in Philadelphia in 2020 — Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Mia Green. 

Golphin also cited reliable mutual aid initiatives for trans folks, the reclaiming of nonprofit leadership despite budget cuts, and deepened unity as wins for the Philly trans community since the last march. “I think that the pandemic and all that has happened has caused us to be closer than ever.”

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Michele Zipkin is a staff writer for Philadelphia Gay News, where she reports on issues including LGBTQ youth issues, housing insecurity, healthcare, city government and advocacy organizations, and events. Her work has been recognized by the Keystone Media Awards, Society of Professional Journalists, National Newspaper Association, and more. She received her BA from Goucher College and her MA in journalism from Temple University. She has been on staff with PGN since January 2020 and previously worked as a freelancer.