Last month, members of the FreeState Justice Team marched alongside hundreds of other Marylanders in support of Black transgender rights.
The second annual Black Trans Lives Matter protest, organized by Baltimore Safe Haven, was held on Saturday, July 24th. Protestors blocked the downtown area, marching down Pratt, Light, and Fayette. When they returned to City Hall, transgender activists and allies knelt on the concrete and raised their fists in solidarity with the transgender people of color who were murdered in the last year, and the transgender people who persist in a world that too often denies them rights and exposes them to violence.
The first protest, held in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, was organized by Baltimore Safe Haven. A photo of the event by Devin Allen, a west Baltimore native, became the cover of the June 2020 issue of Time magazine. In an interview, Allen stated that he wanted to provide a platform for a group of people he feels is “left out of so many conversations,” but is often on the frontlines of social and racial issues (source). Allen’s statement was true in 2020, and it holds true today. 2021 is projected to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people living in the United States (source).
This violence disproportionately affects transgender people of color — particularly Latine, Black, and Indigenous people. During the march, protestors held signs to commemorate murdered transgender people of color, including EJ Boykin, Tiffany Thomas, and Thomas Hardin (pictured left).
Transgender activists used the march to raise awareness around issues that affect transgender people of color. This includes the incorporation of trans-inclusive representation in Baltimore City Public School’s faculty and curriculum; eliminating racist and transphobic prison disparities; decriminalizing sex work; addressing HIV criminalization; caring for queer elders, and requiring cultural competency training for all DHS employees. FreeState Justice will be pushing legislation this upcoming session to help address these concerns, including the Inclusive Schools Act, the Youth & Families Protection Act, and other bills decriminalizing HIV and improving conditions of confinement for incarcerated trans people.
These calls to action come amid a record number of bills introduced across the country to restrict the rights of transgender people, particularly youth. A Christian group in Virginia is in the process of organizing state-wide protests against recent policies put in place to protect transgender youth in school for instance (source). In Maryland, acceptance of trans youth varies drastically between school districts. The Inclusive Schools Act would create a statewide standard for non-discrimination and serve as a protective factor in local attempts to restrict the rights of trans youth in education. While transgender issues have become more prominent in the last several years, this visibility has come at the risk of political and physical violence, as many politicians are now using anti-trans legislation to win over their states.
In Maryland, Baltimore Safe Haven works to “provide opportunities for a higher quality of life for transgender people in Baltimore City living in survival mode,” making city services safe and easily accessible to transgender people. Transgender people, particularly transgender people of color, are more likely to become homeless than their cisgender peers. Although data is limited, the homelessness rate among transgender people is increasing at an alarming pace. According to the Point-in-Time Count (PIT), the number of adult transgender individuals experiencing homelessness has increased 88 percent since 2016, and the number experiencing unsheltered homelessness increased 113 percent during the same period (source). Unsheltered homeless transgender people are at particular risk of violence, illness, injury, and encounters with law enforcement.
Earlier this year, Baltimore Safe Haven, in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services, was awarded over $400,000 in funding to build a TLGBQ+ youth center (source). By creating Trans-led initiatives, Baltimore Safe Haven provides support for the unique problems faced by TLGBTQ+ youth. However, it is also critical that all city workers are prepared to help trans people access city services, including shelters, employment, foster care, healthcare, mental healthcare, workforce development, and substance use support. Trans activists in Maryland are working to establish a TLGBQ-centered Shelter and housing program in Baltimore City, and support and foster TLGBQ-led housing services to better serve unsheltered transgender people.
Baltimore Safe Haven and FreeState Justice also used the second Black Trans Lives Matter march to platform their commitment to incarcerated transgender people. After the death of Kim Wertz earlier this year while in police custody, Baltimore Safe Haven and FreeState Justice issued a statement advocating for a liaison that works with the TLGBQ+ community across all Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) facilities.
Although the march is over, Baltimore Safe Haven and other TLGBQ+ organizations in Baltimore are creating services and events for TLGBQ+ people of color. Baltimore Safe Haven partnered with Lyft to launch an emergency transportation service. BMORE BLXCK, an organization serving TLGBQ+ youth, also plans on holding a clothing swap later this month.
Baltimore Safe Haven is Maryland’s first and only community-based health and housing organization developed by and for transgender people. Interested in supporting Baltimore Safe Haven, Please visit Baltimore Safe Haven’s donation page.
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