Hurt People Protest
Black Trans Lives Matter at Creating Change 2016
2016 was my third year attending and it was undoubtedly the year of protests at the National LGBTQ Conference Creating Change held in Chicago IL. However, the Taskforce swears that there has been some form of protest every year since it’s inception in 1988. I still had so much fun my first year in Houston getting to hang with Laverne Cox after her legendary keynote address and I’m sure everyone had a high time last year in Denver, Colorado. However, I escaped Chicago and the blizzard of 2016 unsure of if I’d go to next year’s gathering in Philadelphia.
The atmosphere at Creating Change reflected the unrest in the larger LGBT movement and the failures of the non profit industrial complex. Now that marriage equality is the law of the land, we must face the fact that we resourced millions of dollars and decades of time and energy while leaving behind the most marginalized members of our community, black folks, HIV+ folks and homeless and undocumented youth. As the funding once earmarked for same sex marriage dries up, we’ll continue to see this struggle for power play out in these national community spaces. — Cherno Biko
You may have heard about the protests against America’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement being invited or even the #CancelPinkwashing Protests. Hell, I even protested the State of the Movement Address delivered by 6 Taskforce staffers. Upon realizing that there would be no representation by black trans folks and when the National LGBTQ Taskforce failed to recognize Mya Hall and Deonna Mason two young black trans and gender non conforming youth lynched by the state.
Then I got a taste of my own medicine, when the creator of #StopTheShade protested the presentation of my report Meaningful Work because I called out the anti blackness from other TWOC including at the hand of my former employer and her sister Stefanie Rivera of SRLP. I knew the “protest” would happen after watching this threatening video from Mariah Lopez but I put myself on the front lines anyway.
To be honest, I’m sick and tired of being challenged about my involvement with the #BlackTransLivesMatter movement, which was first publicly called into question by Daniella Two-Spirit Mendez. I can’t help but question the intention of these TWOC, who dont want to see black trans women organizing nationally when thats exactly what the TransLatina Coalition has been doing for over 7 years. I initially refused to dignify their critiques with a response because I believe that my work speaks for itself. That was until the critiques of my activism turned into character attacks fueled by jealousy and self hate. Then while preparing to leave for Chicago I learned of Nathalie Figueiredo; who was murdered by other trans latinas in Brazil. That’s when I really realized I could be danger and organized a security detail and safety plan. For now I’ll just remind you all that of the 25 trans women murdered last year 20 of them were black. I’m convinced that in order to end violence against folks like us we must center black trans/gnc/intersex femmes. At some point in the near future I’ll address in more detail how to hold space for folks with mental instability and overcoming online bullies but back to the protests.
The most impactful protest I witnessed was organized by the young leaders of Black Trans Lives Matter, Aaryn Lang and Rae Nelson in collaboration with Bre Campbell of Trans Sistas of Color Project in Detroit. Together they successfully removed Troy Kennedy (Detroit MI) from the Trans Attracted Man Panel after naming him as an abuser of black trans women specifically Yah Yah Nicole an acclaimed model and musician. If you’d like to hear more details as to the exact reason this panel was shut down check out the statement released by the organizers HERE. I wasn’t shocked to learn of the emotional and financial abuse after meeting the couple last year while attending his friend, Tona Brown’s performance at Carnegie Hall. I first noticed the age difference between them; he was nearly 50 years old and she was still a teenager dwarfed by his height and muscular build. I was reminded of the seven black trans and gender non conforming people murdered in Detroit by intimate partner and state violence and my commitment to protect black trans girls at all costs. Since this action I’ve learned of 2 other black trans women who experienced abuse while intimately engaged with Troy Kennedy. However, only one of them felt safe enough to come out publicly. I spoke with Miss Amailia Black, who suffered abuse during her engagement to Troy in 2012–2013 before escaping to Chicago. She assured me that if she weren’t traveling for work she would have participated fully in the protest because “our lives matter too and we shouldn’t just wait until one of us dies to rally”. For additional reading about how dangerous it is to be a young black trans woman in Detroit click HERE.
This panel was archived on twitter using the hashtag #TAMenSpeak and was streamed live by Angelica Ross CEO of Trans Tech Social Enterprises, however the 2hr. video was made private to the public immediately following and is currently being edited and only accessible to the protestors and the sponsoring organizations. Miss Ross, The Boss, has assured us that the videos will be available soon and instead of recounting the entire event I would like to speak directly to the community of folks most impacted by this action and respond to those of you who would rather protect abusers and the patriarchal systemic oppression that produced them than protecting the young black trans women who spoke truth to power.
Unfortunately some movement leaders don’t really believe that black trans lives matter more than funders, organizational alliances and respectability. Resulting in the campaigns #StopMonicaRoberts and #MonicaRobertsWhatsGood? To be clear, I adore Monica Roberts aka the Trans Griot. Just a few weeks ago I posted here in celebration of her 10th blog anniversary and talked about how inspiring she was to me as a storyteller. A few years ago when she mentored me more regularly I asked for her advice about how to hold abusive leaders within the movement accountable. She told me then about an unspoken rule meant to keep minor or personal disagreements from going public but encouraged me to speak truth to power. I knew she was upset immediately following the action and tried a few times to reason with her while in Chicago. But in the following days it became clear that she was more than upset, she was pissed! I watched her upload blog after blog after blog and even give an interview to the Dallas Voice. All the while refusing to engage with the young black trans activist who actually organized the action and the trans attracted men who are in support of the survivors. I struggled this past week with whether or not to publicly name her as an enabler of the abuse so many of us face. I thought maybe she would come around eventually and see the danger of her standpoint, but nope. At this point, I believe hell would freeze over before we see Monica put her hurt feelings to the side. Somehow she has managed to make this more about herself than the survivors or even Troy Kennedy as an abuser. She keeps asking if we want to be “trans leaders or trans pariahs”. I can’t speak for the other girls but to me questioning our status in the community is pointless when we’re simply fighting for our lives.
Many would have you think these young people were misguided and sloppy in their approach, but many of those people left the space in support of Troy Kennedy. They missed the part where Aaryn apologized for disrespecting the Sharon Lettman-Hicks and the private meeting they shared after the action. They missed when Angelica Ross acknowledged the significance of this moment and called us to recognize how emotional and financial abuse shows up within the community. They missed the part where two of the invited panelist Jose Monzon and Thomas Matt denounced Troy Kennedy as an abuser. They missed the part where the leadership of Trans Latinas Bamby Salcedo and Arianna Lint stood in solidarity with black trans women and when Jennicet Guiterrez took the mic and wished through her tears that someone would have supported her when she disrupted President Obama. And finally they missed how I led the finale, a call and response of the Assata Shakur chant we use at every gathering. Everyone in the room held raised hands and declared that:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains”.
To the folks who are devaluing this moment to “drama” and blaming girls from the “Midwest and NorthEast” — You should know that this action was planned and executed by black trans leaders from the South, Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Atlanta and swelled to include dozens of activists and organizers who bravely served as a physical barrier between the survivors and Troy.
To the folks who are mad that the people in power got disrespected as a result of the action — I don’t have time for allies or community leaders that place their feelings above the safety of black trans girls. I mean, I get that things got heated but if we cant be black in the black institute then where the hell can we go?
To the white, cis and/or otherwise removed parties who are entertained by watching this story unfold and taking sides — do us all a favor and have several seats.
Finally to the folks who are mad that the #TAMenSpeak conversation didn’t take place. I invite you to view the first episode of the Mrs. Biko Show filmed in August of 2015 featuring the exact same panelists. Watch here
As a black, fat, disabled, intersex, gender non conforming, young woman who has survived nearly every form abuse I often feel unworthy of love and protection. I bring all of these identities into every space I inhabit, every conversation I have and every collaborative effort. I’m not interested in movements that don’t believe survivors or require proof or evidence of abuse. I’m not interested in following leaders that protect oppressive systems and subscribe to respectability politics. I’m not interested in a movement which profits from the deaths of black trans women while ignoring us when we’re yet still breathing. In order to build a sustainable and truly revolutionary movement we must protect black trans girls by any means necessary.
We must recognize that we are all, each of us capable of participating in the oppression of others. We must begin to heal ourselves from the traumas we’ve endured before we poison our resistance efforts. If the saying “Hurt people hurt people” is true, then it is also true that “Healed people, Heal people”. Which was the theme of this years Black Institute at Creating Change — healthy, healing and whole. I believe that this protest was the beginning of that healing for many of us because the best way out is always through.
Still some of my favorite moments were the: Black Feminism Panel featuring Barbara Smith, Charlene Carruthers and Reina Gossett. When Precious Davis paid tribute to Eisha Love during the opening plenary. And of course Cece McDonald in conversation with Alok and Josh. These inspiring moments coupled with the joy of spending time with comrades I hadn’t seen since I visited Chicago last year, sustained me in unimaginable ways. I’m reminded that we are the ones we’ve been waiting on and I really do believe that we will win.
Cherno Biko is a Human Rights Advocate and Media Activist based in Brooklyn NY. For business inquiries please email email@example.com