Nearly two years after 28-year-old Sandra Bland died in jail, Alex Anderson from the West End held a sign with her image in front of the Pittsburgh City-County Building. He doesn’t want anyone to forget her story.
Chicago native Bland died in a Texas jail three days after she was arrested for a minor traffic infraction in 2015. The still-uncertain circumstances of her death — she was found hanged in her cell — sparked national outrage and a discussion about violence against women of color.
More than 100 people, including Anderson, gathered in solidarity with cis and trans women of color who have been victims of violence Saturday night. The LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council of Pittsburgh and SisTers PGH organized the candlelight vigil, which they called “Say Her Name” to bring attention to women of color who have been victims of violence.
“This event is about uplifting the women and girls, whether they’re transgender or cisgender, whose names go often forgotten,” said 37-year-old Shanea Leonard, a pastor at Judah Fellowship and an organizer of the rally. “It’s become too much of a regular event where [women of color] are killed, and we go on like it’s a regular thing.”
According to the Department of Justice, 40 percent of African-American women report being a victim of sexual violence by the age of 18. For transgender women, the National Coalition for Anti-Violence Programs reported that 72 percent of hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people are targeted toward transgender women, and 97 percent of those victims are people of color.
In an effort to discuss these issues and educate attendees, speakers from the community, advocacy groups and churches spoke during the rally. In between speakers, SisTers PGH member Anita Brown Levels led the group by singing, “Hell you talking about” to the tune of “Hell you Talmbout” by Janelle Monae, followed by a list of names of black women who have been victims of violence around the country. When Levels shouted a name, the audience shouted it back.
Ralliers held candles and signs that read “#translivesmatter,” while the speakers stood on a platform garnered by a rainbow flag — the symbol for gay pride. While the event was officially organized in support of cis and trans women of color, many attendees, including 31-year-old Stephanie Tsong from Bloomfield, came to support universal trans rights.
“I have quite a few friends who are trans, I wanted to show my solidarity with them. I think this is such a great platform to lift up my trans friends,” Tsong said.
For many, the rally was an intersection of national social justice movements. Speaker Jasmine Brockington, an advocate who is a trans woman of color and is HIV positive, said her intersecting identities have caused her fear in day to day life.
“My whole life I knew I was a minority within a minority within a minority. I’m scared to drive black, I’m scared to drive trans, I’m scared to drive gay,” Brockington said.
Speaker La’Tasha Mayes from New Voices Pittsburgh called the rally a fight for human rights, urging ralliers to stand behind black women, no matter their assigned birth gender or sexual orientation.
“This is about human rights for black trans women, black cis women, black girls, gay girls. We say her name because we believe in freedom, we believe in justice,” Mayes said.
Another speaker, Vanessa Carter, reiterated the need for people to support black trans women during her speech and spoke about being a white, cis-gendered ally to transgender people of color.
“Stop using black trans women for your cause,” Carter said. “We need to uplift them. We don’t need a cis white man leading for us. Instead, we need allies of all colors, and white allies, it’s your job to keep your peers accountable.”
Leonard ended the rally by voicing an impassioned mission for human rights to a crowd of raised fists.
“Not only is it our duty to fight for our freedom,” Leonard said. “It’s our duty to win.”