Angelica Ross (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)
A rally was held at Freedom Plaza before the National Transgender Visibility March on Sept. 28, 2019.
Organizers and observers said between 1,500 and 3,000 people turned out on Saturday for the first ever National Transgender Visibility March on Washington in which scores of participants held signs proudly declaring their status as transgender or gender nonconforming Americans.
The march kicked off at 11:35 a.m. on Sept. 28 from Freedom Plaza in downtown D.C. following the completion of a two-and-a-half hour rally. It traveled along Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., from 13th to 4th Streets, where the march ended four blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
Among the speakers at the rally was trans actress of “Pose” and “American Horror Story” fame Angelica Ross, who made an impassioned call for unity, inclusiveness and compassion within the transgender and overall LGBT rights movements and those movements’ allies.
Also expressing strong support at the rally for the march and trans rights were D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.
Reid read an official proclamation issued by the mayor declaring Sept. 28, 2019, Trans Visibility Day in D.C.
Many of the marchers carried signs saying, “Trans Lives Matter.” Several told the Washington Blade they were moved and inspired as they walked past the buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue that they said symbolize the people and the institutions they are calling on to change to ensure their equal rights and dignity.
Among the buildings the marchers walked past were the FBI Headquarters, the Trump International Hotel, and the Justice Department, which, under the administration of President Trump, has taken positions against transg rights in pending federal court cases.
“This is amazing,” said trans activist Maggie Downs, who said she traveled from Florida to attend the march. “I’m here for black trans lives and trans children’s lives, and then my own rights,” she said as she walked past the Trump hotel.
“We’re here not to be invisible, which is what this administration is trying to do to us,” she told the Blade.
Marty Drake, an official with the Montgomery County Pride Center who marched with the group Maryland Trans Unity, said this was not the first time he has walked past the Trump hotel in a protest march.
“It’s always a treat going by the Trump hotel in any march,” he said. “This group was very polite. The shouts of ‘shame, shame, shame,’ were a lot politer than some of the other marches I’ve been at,” he said. “It was remarkable that a lot of people simply waved at the Trump Hotel.”
Several speakers at the rally, including Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director at the D.C.-based National Center for Transgender Equality, said an important objective of the trans rights movement is securing passage by Congress of the Equality Act, an LGBT civil rights bill that includes strong protections for trans people.
“Today’s march is about the power and visibility to get us equality,” he said. “At a lightening pace, Americans have seen our power at work as transgender people have moved from a side issue that our neighbors didn’t even know a lot about to a priority in the halls of power and the presidential campaign,” he told the rally.
“A community long forced into the darkness is now finally stepping into the daylight,” Heng-Lehtinen said. “But what the grassroots organizers of this march and what you know is that progress for any of us is not enough unless it is progress for all of us.”
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights groups, described as a crisis the large number of murders of mostly black trans women over the past several years in the U.S.
“As we gather here in the capital of the greatest country on earth there is a crisis raging across our country,” David, a long time civil rights attorney, told the rally. “There is a crisis that is shattering dreams and shattering lives. There is a crisis that has been largely overlooked by the media,” he said.
“It is a crisis that has taken the lives of more than 150 transgender people in the past five years, most of them black transgender women,” he continued. “It is a crisis that none of us can ignore anymore. We have to stand up. We have to speak out,” he said.
“For those of us who are gay or are lesbian or bisexual or queer or who are straight, we have to stand up for the transgender community, said David. “We have to stand up for the transgender community and stand up for them as if they are our family because you are our families.”
As in all protest marches in the nation’s capital, D.C. police have a policy of not releasing estimates of the number of people who turn out for such events. In the case of Saturday’s Trans Visibility March, although no official crowd estimate was released, it was clear to observers that the march was about three and a half blocks long as it traveled along Pennsylvania Avenue in the east bound lanes, which make up half the width of the famous street.
D.C. police closed the entire section of Pennsylvania Avenue between 13 and 4th Streets, where the march ended and many marches gathered at John Marshall Plaza, a small park located at 4th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue between the Canadian Embassy and the U.S. District Courthouse.
Among those walking in the rear of the march were members of the D.C. Police LGBT Liaison Unit. Also helping to oversee the police escort of the march and the closing of nearby streets was Lt. Brett Parson, who oversees the police liaison units.
“It was a sizable crowd,” Parson told the Blade. “And it was cooperative and it was well organized and we were proud to be there to provide safety and security,” said Parson, who noted that the entire march and rally went off without incident or any safety related problems.
Among the buildings the march passed near the end of its route on Pennsylvania Avenue were the Newseum, which currently includes an LGBT exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and the Canadian Embassy, which is next door to the Newseum. People standing in front both buildings waved at and cheered marchers as they passed in front of the two buildings.
“I think it was fantastic,” said Lucky Alexander, the assistant national strategy director for the National Trans Visibility March, as he stood in John Marshall Plaza following the march. “We got a lot of diversity in the crowd. We didn’t have any hiccups as far as any counter protesters,” he said. “I think we did a fantastic job.”
Added Alexander, who traveled to D.C. from Los Angeles: “I would estimate 3,000 people at least and give or take maybe more than that” attended the march and rally.
Longtime D.C. trans activist Dee Curry called the march a highly successful “first step” in what she noted are plans for an annual trans march on Washington, including one next year in the midst of the 2020 presidential election campaign.
“This is an amazing start to a movement,” said Curry, standing at John Marshall Plaza, named after the first U.S. Supreme Court chief justice, where the marched ended. “I think that the numbers reflect that there is a consensus that we need to step up and do some things,” she said. “And I think this will be a catalyst so this will be much bigger next year.”
Other speakers at the rally included trans activist Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the Trans Latin@ Coalition; Jodie Patterson, chair of the HRC board of directors; Justin Nelson, president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce; Carter Brown, founder and executive director of Black Trans Men, Inc.; and trans activists Apyphanie Dawn and Lynn Morrison.
D.C. transgender activist Earline Budd, who was scheduled to speak, had to cancel due to illness, according to Alexander-Reid.
Follow Shannon Garcon:
(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key – reprint)