Part one of our two-part recap of the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change — get inspired by how trans women of color, bi women of color, and queer youth of color owned their power and the space.
We are seven weeks in to 2015 and six trans women of color have been murdered. Three queer women of color have also been killed, including 17-year-old Latina lesbian Jessie Hernandez who was brutally shot dead by Denver police. These tragic losses served as a backdrop to the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, February 4–8, in Jessie’s Colorado hometown. From the opening plenary to the closing brunch, trans women of color, bi women of color, and queer youth of color ensured that this state of emergency was at the forefront — and stays there.
“Trans lives matter! Trans lives matter,” chanted activists as they took the stage on Thursday, February 5 during the “Ferguson On Our Minds” opening session. Participants blew horns, raised signs, and read a list of demands.
“We’re here for intentional, meaningful investment in our community and our efforts to end this motherfucking epidemic,” said L.A.-based Latina trans activist Bamby Salcedo.
Salcedo called out LGBTQ organizations like the Task Force on their hiring practices. She also criticized the national advocacy group for inviting the mayor to speak. (Denver County has the second highest rate of law enforcement killings.) The Task Force soon announced that the mayor’s speech was cancelled.
“Trans Latinas continue that proud trans movement leadership legacy thanks to the Trans Latina Coalition, the fearless leadership of the members of it, and other trans Latinas toiling locally across the [United States] and the world,” explained TransGriot blogger Monica Roberts.
The evening continued with a discussion on police brutality and the murder of Mike Brown. Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza, the co-creators of #blacklivesmatter, accepted the Empress I Jose Sarria Award for Uncommon Leadership and they read the names of three transgender women who were killed this year, which was followed by three minutes of silence.
Earlier that day, the National Black Justice Coalition hosted The Black Institute, a day-long convening that centered on intersectionality. Panels included “Get Free: Black LGBT Rights and Grassroots Organizing,” “The Color of Sports: Black Perspectives at the Intersection of Race, Gender and Orientation in Sports,” and “Suffering in Silence: Addressing HIV, LGBT Health and the Black LGBTQ/SGL Community.”
“It felt like an oasis that was intentionally Black-centered,” shared Keisha McKenzie, Black Institute attendee and Maryland resident, by way of London. “I didn’t realize I needed it until I saw it on the schedule. I was recovering from The Racial Institute from the day before, which was emotionally intense for me. At The Black Institute I was surrounded by my people.”
On Friday, February 6, one of the morning workshops included “Intersection Electric,” an interactive discussion led by Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNet USA, about utilizing intersectionality as a tool to better understand Black and bisexual lives.
“I went to Intersection Electric because the description resonated with me,” shared Armani Beck, a Master’s of Education student studying Human Sexuality at Widener University in Pennsylvania. “I’m really passionate about the intersection of identities, specifically my blackness, my womanhood, and my queerness. My biggest takeaway was learning facts about queerness in pre-colonial Africa.”
During the session, Cheltenham touched on the legacy of same-sex behavior across the continent and how much of that was erased by colonists. “[Homophobia] is not our history,” Cheltenham explained. “It’s actually the opposite.” The L.A.-based bi activist also organized a bi visibility action where about 50 people marched through the exhibition hall shouting “We are the ‘B’ in ‘LGBT'” and carrying signs that read “Erase Biphobia.”
That afternoon, community members convened for “Trans Women of Color: The Sisterhood,” a panel discussion featuring Cecilia Chung, Transgender Law Center, San Francisco, CA; Tela Love, New Orleans, LA; Bamby Salcedo, President, Trans Latina Coalition, Los Angeles, CA; Monica Roberts, TransGriot, Houston, TX; LaLa Zannell, Anti-Violence Project, New York, NY; and Arianna Lint, SunServe, Wilton Manors, FL.
The panelists reminded attendees that trans women of color are in a state of emergency and that it is crucial that cis people check their privilege and check others on their transphobia.
“You don’t have to own or run an organization to advocate for trans people in leadership positions,” explained Tela Love. “You can call out organizations and ask them where are the trans people on their staff.”
The New Orleans-based activist also shared her story of survival as someone who is HIV-positive. When Tela Love first received her diagnosis, she wanted to speed up the process of what felt like a death sentence and engaged in behavior that put her life at risk.
“Every day you’re breathing is another chance,” she encouraged other trans women.