Black Trans Lives Matter

June 30, 2020

Throughout June, trans, gender non-conforming (TGNC) and non-binary people—especially Black trans women and femmes—played an integral part in the nationwide uprisings for racial justice. Black trans people are showing up and speaking out, despite the disproportionate violence they’ve faced by police, and the erasure they’ve experienced within protest and movement spaces themselves.

In 2020 alone, at least 16 Black trans people have been killed, including most recently Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, and Riah Milton. We honor and remember their names and the names of others who who’ve been killed just for being trans and Black.  

These losses, along with the power of this political moment, sparked a massive outpouring of support for Black trans lives. On Sunday, June 14, Black trans women and femmes organized tens of thousands of protesters in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Richmond, and Washington DC to defend the value and dignity of Black trans lives. It was the coming together of Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ Liberation during Pride month, with Black trans leaders loudly and visibly at the center.

Over this past weekend, LGBTQ Pride events everywhere reclaimed their roots in the Stonewall rebellion against police brutality, led by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera⁠—Black and Brown trans women. The power of intersectional organizing is becoming more apparent every day.

Intersectional organizing that centers Black trans lives is only possible with strong trans leadership that is committed to racial, gender, and disability justice. Since 2016, Borealis’ Fund for Trans Generations (FTG) has provided $6.7 million in flexible support to 118 such organizations in 24 states and Puerto Rico; 94% of 54 active grantees are led by people of color and 54% are Black-led.

We spoke with Ryan Li, Senior Program Officer, about his perspective on recent events. 

This has been a historic month for the groups that FTG supports. What are your reflections?

What I’ve been most excited about is not just the visibility, but the power building by trans Black women and femmes. So many of our grantee partners and members of the FTG advisory committee provided leadership to the Brooklyn protest and other protests across the country. 

Never in my lifetime did I think we’d have that many people come out for trans people, let alone Black trans women and femmes. It was so emotional to see the turnout.

“Never in my lifetime did I think we’d have that many people come out for trans people, let alone Black trans women and femmes.”

I’m really happy for so many of these organizations to be getting more recognition and financial resources. In part, I’m wondering, “Hey, where has all this money been? Why are folks just now waking up to the importance of funding and trusting the leadership of Black trans women?”

So I’ve been thinking, “What does this moment allow, now that we are seeing some of these long-overdue resources, as we build on the powerful history of organizing for community safety?” It feels like there is more possibility for dreaming and imagining what’s possible

Why fund and support intersectional organizing?

As many are saying in this moment, and have said before, we organize and fight and fund this work because, “until Black people are free, none of us are free.” In LGBTQ organizing, we acknowledge that “there’s no pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”

We see even with an increased call for more active intersectionality, a lot of these protests still are not really talking about trans people’s lives. I want us to ask ourselves—and to honestly answer—when we say “All Black Lives Matter,” are we actually including trans women, in our messaging, our organizing, our looking out for each other and ensuring the safety of all Black people?

A lot of our grantee partners have been doing this work for a long time. They are pushing to be centered, not just included. Inclusion is not enough.

There’s still a lot of invisibility, erasure, and quite frankly, some discomfort from many social justice movements when it comes to TGNC lives and experiences. There’s still a lot of work to do for cis people to unpack their transphobia, transmisogyny, and gender biases in order to get out of the way and let trans people lead the work.

This moment is also a call-in for non-Black folks–white or POC–as well as cis folks to do their own work so the labor isn’t all on the trans groups. Other folks need to do that political education and to build strong coalitions and alliances that aren’t based on Trans 101 in which “You tell us what to do.” 

It’s similar and different to calls from the disability justice movement at this moment, “How can folks who are disabled, chronically ill, or immune-compromised be a part of this political moment from their homes? Activism isn’t just about being in the streets. We all have a role to play to show up and take action.  

We must all must figure out our place in right relationship to the liberation of Black people and center Black trans, TGNC, and non-binary people in that process. 

“We must all figure out our place in right relationship to the liberation of Black people and center Black trans, TGNC, and non-binary people in that process.” 

Why is it important to invest in groups early on and for the long term? 

FTG is thinking a lot about the need for long-term investments in communities. There’s a lot of money coming into organizations right now, and that support is needed and frankly, long overdue. But it can actually be disruptive and challenging for a small organization to absorb a lot of money quickly. 

It just shows the importance of starting with groups when they’re small and emerging, and sticking with them to provide long-term general support. It’s asking funders  to use the urgency they feel in a moment of crisis, and deciding to spread that trust, support, and money over the long-term rather than just in the moment.

For FTG, it’s important to believe in the work in its early development, and help people grow and sustain that work and the leadership. Specifically, that looks like providing general support to organizations and capacity building so leaders and staff can actually pay themselves and build strong teams and invest in their leadership. We know that women of color and especially trans women of color, often are put into positions without the support systems they need to succeed and thrive. As funders, we must trust and proactively invest in our leaders.

Have you seen more interest from funders to join FTG? 

It’s both heartening to see more support and interest, and I also wish it didn’t take a pandemic and global uprising for people to wake up to the power and struggles of TGNC and Black communities. We’ve seen in other rapid response moments like Ferguson, that there’s a lot of investing quickly for the short term without thinking about the long term. 

“The work ahead of us–of how we actually implement and build community safety that includes everyone—will be critical.”

Our grantees have fought to have a seat at the table. We need these groups to be around for the long term. The fights aren’t going to just end because we’ve had these openings. The work ahead of us–of how we actually implement and build community safety that includes everyone,—will be critical. The solutions and leadership have to come from grassroots BIPOC TGNC communities to develop these things.

What are some next steps that grantmakers can take to support the amazing trans-led groups around the country?

  1. Follow FTG grantees on Twitter. We’ve made a list so it just takes one click. It’s a great way to keep up with all the action that is rarely covered in the philanthropic or mainstream press.
  2. Support and financially resource Black trans-led organizations. Make a one-time donation or consider a bigger impact through monthly contributions. Check out FTG’s grantees’ list and that of the Trans Justice Funding Project. Think creatively about how your funding institution can move money to these groups now. Here’s a great community developed resource of many of the Black trans-led groups you can support across the country.
  3. If your foundation made a statement that Black Lives Matter, follow up with a message that affirms that Black Trans Lives Matter. Use social media to promote the message that #blacktranslivesmatter.
  4. Join the donor table at Fund for Trans Generations! Come and learn in a supportive, peer-based collaborative fund.