Pittsburghers protest violence against trans people of color

By Mische Holland, Staff Writer

About 100 people marched through Oakland on Sunday afternoon protesting violence against Black trans people in Pittsburgh. The group chanted, “Black Trans Lives, they matter here” and “Take it to the streets and f—- the police, no justice no peace, f—- 12.”

Trans YOUniting — a local nonprofit that provides resources to Pittsburgh’s trans community — organized the demonstration which started around 2:30 p.m. at Schenley Plaza. The protestors then walked on Fifth Avenue toward West Oakland and circled back on Forbes Avenue before stopping outside the Cathedral of Learning.

Organizers had three primary goals — promoting a fundraiser for the nonprofit’s Trans Crisis Fund, educating allies on the struggles faced by BIPOC transgender people in Pittsburgh and urging people to vote in the upcoming primary elections on May 18. Organizers also called out acts of violence against BlPOC trans women, such as Aaliyah Johnson. Johnson, a 32-year-old Black trans woman and activist, was found dead outside her Pittsburgh apartment last year. According to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, Johnson died from blunt impact to the head and neck.

There were numerous speakers who echoed the rally’s goals and discussed the cycles of violence against BIPOC trans people in Pittsburgh. Chauntey Mo’Nique Porter, executive director of Trans YOUniting, is a 42-year-old Black trans woman who began her physical transition over 20 years ago. She said it is very difficult for someone to change their legal name in Pennsylvania, especially for those with felony convictions, and added that Black trans women face especially dangerous situations.

“Most of the trans women who are being murdered are being murdered simply because they are beautiful Black trans women and they are living their truth,” Porter said. “You have men out here who love and deal with Black trans women, but they fear that their love for these people is going to be exposed. So once they have their fun, they do what they feel they need to do to cover their tracks and sometimes that individual loses their life.”

Dalen Michael, co-founder of The Exclusive House of Makaveli and Pgh LGBTQ+ Coalition member, said gentrification in Pittsburgh is pushing out Black and brown trans people into unsafe housing situations in the surrounding area. The Exclusive House of Makaveli is a Pittsburgh house-ballroom community founded in 2019.

“Pittsburgh is the eighth most gentrified city in America. So that lets you know that there is not affordable housing in the inner city for Black trans women to live. There is not safe affordable housing.” Michael said. “So we go out … because we cannot afford to live in the inner city. And then in the counties, it’s less safe. There’s less policing, there’s less protections, there’s less people that look like us, and it’s not safe.”

Michael added that people should take every opportunity to help address issues that impact trans people, including asking questions about unsolved killings of Black trans women and using correct pronouns. They said “allyship does not stop just because you went to a protest.”

Giuseppe Rosselli, a candidate for a judgeship on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and local criminal defense attorney, spoke at the protest. He emphasized the importance of voting for officials that will advocate for marginalized communities and implored the crowd “to research your candidates, make sure you know who you’re voting for.” He said that people of color would “have an ally” if he were to take the robe.

[PHOTOS: Trans YOUniting protest in Oakland]

Besides their plea to vote in the upcoming primaries, Trans YOUniting promoted its May fundraiser to support the housing and crisis needs of trans people in Pittsburgh. Freedom Foster-Grady, social media and help services coordinator for Trans YOUniting, said the $25,000 fundraiser will go toward critical crisis resources for trans and non-binary people in Pittsburgh, such as a $16,000 apartment with four crisis beds and housing stipend support.

Foster-Grady said housing support is critical because of employment discrimination that trans people face, which leads to inaccessible health care and increased risk of homelessness. Foster-Grady added that “homeless shelters turn trans people away” and “there’s really high rates of sexual assault for trans people in homeless shelters.”

Foster-Grady said while most trans folks may experience similar forms of oppression, it is trans people of color that suffer the most.

“Truly at the end of the day, every single system of oppression falls on Black Indigenous trans people of color’s shoulders and way too often the movements do not center the most vulnerable within each community,” Foster-Grady said. “So this whole month is about bringing awareness to the cycle of violence, but then also fighting it.”

At the demonstration, Trans YOUniting also set up a table for Put People First! Pennsylvania, a branch of Healthcare Is a Human Right, to help people sign up for Medicare, food stamps and dental coverage. HCHR is a grassroots collaborative across multiple states to win universal, publicly financed healthcare. PPF-PA also asked people to sign petitions to bring back coverage of root canals in the state’s dental coverage.

Frederica Phillips, co-coordinator for PPF-PA, said health services provided by the state are not reaching the people that need them and critical services are being cut rather than funded.

“We believe Medicare should be for all of Pennsylvania, not just for the ones on welfare,” Phillips said. “There is money in our state to do this for all residents in the state of Pennsylvania, but they would rather put it in something like the police department which is killing us.”