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Vigil for T.T. honors slain trans woman, celebrates Black trans power
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond

This article shared 752 times since Wed Oct 5, 2016
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In an unprecedented display of defiance and frustration, more than 150 people from across the racial and gender spectrum gathered outside Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ in Lakeview Oct. 6 to hold a vigil and march for T.T. Saffore—a transgender woman of color who was murdered Sept. 11 in Garfield Park.

Saffore was one of 43 known transgender individuals to be slain in the U.S. over the past two years and the third transgender woman of color killed on Chicago's West Side since 2012. To date, each of those murders remains unsolved.

Despite being misgendered in initial mainstream media reports and the lackadaisical interest they have shown in her life and the circumstances of her death, a large contingent of press was on hand for the vigil—an irony that did not go unnoticed by the impassioned lineup of speakers.

The demonstration was organized by a coalition of Chicago's Black, trans and gender nonconforming community members and allies who, according to a statement, have unified "not only to mourn the loss of a sister, but to collectively imagine a future for Black, trans people free from violence in all its insidious forms."

"We know that the state does not mourn the loss of Black lives," the statement read. "We know the names of Black women lost to violence are held up even less than those of Black men. We know queer, trans and [gender nonconforming] deaths are often hushed by Black communities in addition to being ignored by the state. We accept none of these realities. The epidemic of violence against trans and cis Black women and girls must be treated as an emergency, and a charge for the entire Black community to take up."

That statement was read aloud by collective members LaSaia Wade and K. Tajhi Claybren at the onset of the vigil.

They made it clear that "we are not here to showcase our pain—though we will express it— but instead to make our demands audible to all our Black, trans and queer family members."

Those demands included community-wide education on "Black, trans misogyny, and the unique barriers that keep Black, trans people from living full lives, living wage jobs for Black, trans and [gender nonconforming] people in all fields of employment, especially in leadership roles within organizations that claim to fight for trans issues, shelters and affordable housing designated specifically for trans youth and elders, in the neighborhoods in which they choose to live, free access to hormones, needles, gender-affirming surgeries, STI testing, and all other basic health needs [and] free access to mental health services—provided by other trans and [gender nonconforming] people—who view us as in need of healing, not fixing."

Organizers also pressed for the decriminalization of sex work, an end to the solitary confinement within the United States prison system ( which worldwide human-rights organizations have agreed is an insidious form of mental and physical torture ) and the abolition of prisons, the police and the military.

"Without being harassed, without being targeted, we wanted to honor somebody that we lost from our community," Wade said. "We spend so much time in our lives and in our community mourning. We are also here to celebrate, to show our power, flex our strength as Black trans and gender nonconforming people, demonstrate what we can do when we get together and actively imagine what the world looks like where we don't have to worry about losing our people. We're here because we want to remember the power we have when we are not afraid of joining together."

Demonstrators called upon the spirits of community ancestors in that unification, names lost but not forgotten—some nationally renowned figures of change, others deeply personal.

"Ain't no power like the power of the people, and the power of the people don't stop," the demonstrators chanted in rhythmic solidarity before poems were read by Claybren and celebrated Black writer and musician Vita.

"We have been thrown under the bus," beloved Black trans activist Mama Gloria Allen said. "We have been tarred and feathered, we have had our throats slit and it doesn't make sense. Everybody's beautiful. The Black churches especially teach against homosexuals and transgender women. We need to stand up in the church and speak out. When God made us, he didn't make a mistake."

"Power to the trans community!" equally celebrated activist Miss Africa declared. "We need to come together as one. Things are happening now that should draw the community together closer than ever. As long as we continue to stay separated, how in the world are we going to fight for what we believe in?"

Those words were heeded as the vigil and its message of empowerment took to the streets of Lake View—a neighborhood that, while celebrated by the city as LGBT, is often decried by members of the Black and Latina/o trans and gender nonconforming community as unwelcoming to them.

In an extraordinary scene at the intersection of Halsted and Belmont, the demonstrators took hands and linked arms creating a wide circle blocking traffic on all sides for at least 10 minutes. Efforts by Chicago Police Department officers to move them turned physical in some cases although no arrests were made.

It was the declarative culmination of an evening designed around ensuring that trans and gender conforming people were seen not as forgotten victims of violence and injustice but as a potent force in the betterment of society who deserve, not just a seat at the table but a place at the head of it.

It was a declaration that organizers vowed would continue.

For more information about Turn up for T.T., visit .

This article shared 752 times since Wed Oct 5, 2016
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