Dozens of queer, trans, intersex, two-spirit, nonbinary people and their supporters gathered Feb. 24 at City Hall in North Adams, Mass., to speak out about the wave of trans murders reported in the early weeks of 2018 in the U.S.
Demonstrators waved trans liberation flags and carried signs made in memory of fallen trans women: Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien of North Adams; Viccky Gutierrez of Honduras and Los Angeles; Celine Walker in Jacksonville, Fla.; and Tonya “Kita” Harvey of Buffalo, N.Y. Demonstrators also gathered in Buffalo, N.Y., and outside an LGBTQ conference in Amherst, Mass.
Ben Power — director of the Holyoke, Mass., Sexual Minorities Archive, one of the event’s organizers and a close friend of Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien — began the rally with touching recollections of Christa’s life and her role in organizing the local trans community. Power also drew links between anti-trans violence and harassment and the deadly toll of intimate partner violence upon so many women, including trans women. Steele-Knudslien’s husband was arrested in January and charged with her murder.
This connection was echoed by Jahaira DeAlto of the Berkshire LGBTQ Pride committee, who explained to the crowd that, as “an out, proud and alive trans woman of color, I am twice as likely to become a victim of intimate partner violence in my lifetime; I am also twice as likely to experience sexual assault in my lifetime; and as I turn 39 years old, I will be four years past my life expectancy.”
Nat Heathman, a Narragansett two-spirit activist and member of Workers World Party, spoke from an Indigenous peoples’ perspective on the abuse and murder of trans people. “I just want to say that we are standing on stolen land. This land belonged to my ancestors. And one of the great things about this land is that before the colonialists came here and stole it and ruined it, trans and nonbinary people lived here. So we are not a new thing. … We’re not abnormal, this is not an illness, this is not a fad and it’s not an anomaly. If humanity matters to you, then this should matter to you as well.”
Time to take action
Queer organizer and member of the Boston WWP trans caucus Gery Armsby told the crowd and passersby, “We are demanding that all people of conscience take action to defend trans lives, especially the lives of trans women of color, who face transphobia at the intersection of racism and sexism.”
Armsby continued, “We live in a racist, woman-hating society … so every time we set out to speak truth to power we should think about building the broadest possible solidarity to show that we can and must change that. We won’t end transphobic murders unless we fight just as fiercely against racism and police brutality with the same breath. We won’t stop getting harassed about the gender markers on our documents unless we fight for all undocumented people at the same time! We won’t get quality trans-competent health care unless we fight for health care as a right for all people at the same time. We won’t have better jobs and wages for trans people until we win the right of every person to a job and a living wage and a union.”
Armsby reminded the group: “The Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 was ignited by queer and trans youth of color who were already active in the struggles against racism, war and economic injustice that were raging in the late 1960s. So, in truth, this is what the struggle for trans liberation is all about: fighting shoulder-to-shoulder to bring about real change. Let’s revive the spirit of Stonewall, and with the memory of our fallen comrades in our hearts, let’s fight like hell for real, lasting justice, solidarity and power for all the people.”
After the rally concluded, there was a march to Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien’s home in a nearby working-class neighborhood. This allowed participants to bear witness to the site of her murder and to share memories about her life. Along the way, marchers were heckled by some who shouted, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” WWP members helped keep the march secure, upbeat and strong, explaining over a bullhorn to residents on porches what the march was about and chanting, “Trans lives matter” and “The people united will never be defeated!”
WW photo: Samuel Ordóñez