Being in Washington Square the afternoon of Friday, June 24 for the 12th annual Trans Day of Action was like being thrust into what an LGBT march looked like in 1969, the year of the Stonewall Rebellion: a crowd of 2,000 that was diverse, countercultural, fierce, and dedicated to a range of progressive issues — a sharp contrast to the weekend’s Heritage of Pride parade, where activist groups and messages mobilized by the Orlando massacre only sometimes challenged the event’s dominance by corporate contingents.
At the kick-off rally, transgender activist Pebbles read from the manifesto for the action, saying, “It will be a magic day for social and economic justice” as we “recognize the importance of working alongside other movements — women, people with disabilities, the poor, the formerly incarcerated, and immigrants.” Pebbles decried how many transgender people have been displaced in New York City by gentrification: “Why are we expected to move from the beauty that we built?”
Alok Vaid-Menon of the Audre Lorde Project, whose TransJustice program was the principal organizer of the day, said, “Orlando showed it is LGBT people of color feeling the brunt of the violence,” but went on to say that “police are the biggest perpetrators of anti-LGBT violence. Police do not keep LGBT people safe. We are not interested in police protection here. We are calling for the demilitarization of police. We are on our own.”
Indeed, while the NYPD has stepped up police presence steeply at LGBT events and venues in the wake of Orlando, the uniformed presence for this gathering and march was less evident. Vaid-Menon said that transgender people are “profiled by the police as sex workers — even on their way to and from the Pride Parade.”
Jennicet Gutierrez, the transgender woman who heckled President Barack Obama at last year’s White House LGBT Pride reception over his administration’s treatment of transgender immigrants in detention, said she was feeling “a lot of pain,” citing the constant reports of the murders of trans women of color and the US Supreme Court’s refusal to unblock Obama’s executive actions on immigration intended to allow four million immigrants to apply for legal status. Gutierrez is from the Los Angeles-based Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement and was in New York for a panel. She said she felt the need to be present for the action even though she was not a speaker.
Jennifer Louise Lopez, director of Everything Transgender NYC, highlighted the plight transgender people face even in this city just trying to use restrooms consistent with their gender identities, but added, “I feel good about being among a lot of trans people and allies. Every day is trans day of action for me.”
New York City just passed Councilmember Daniel Dromm’s bill ordering all single-serve restrooms to be gender-neutral by the end of the year — a bill pushed by Comptroller Scott Stringer and conceived by transgender activist Bryan John Ellicott. And while that will make it safer and easier for all New Yorkers seeking relief, most restrooms serving more than one user are still a challenge for transgender people, even though the law allows everyone to use the facility consistent with their gender identity.
Rosa of the spirited Rude Mechanical Orchestra that has provided a beat for this action for eight years expressed the hope that people “see what we’re doing here as part of intersectional movements for social justice around the world.”
Randy Wicker, 78, an LGBT activist since 1958, said, “Trans people are at the center of the culture war and I am here to support them.”
The march set off from the Washington Square arch through the streets of the West Village and past the Stonewall Inn with signs such as “Crush the Binary, Fuck the Cis-tem” and banners for everything from the Pride Center of Staten Island to the Ali Forney Center and Girls for Gender Equity.