‘None of us is free until everyone is free’

Black and brown trans women are seeking liberty

Ebony Harper, a Sacramento activist, is leader of the new National Alliance for Trans Liberation and Advancement.

Ebony Harper, a Sacramento activist, is leader of the new National Alliance for Trans Liberation and Advancement.

On July 4th, 1776, the Second Continental Congress legally severed the binds that British colonial rule had on America. The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Many politicians, citizens and important figures have attempted to keep its intention alive.

But a closer look at life in the margins illuminates a sad truth: freedom and liberty only exist for some of us. Since our founding, some have been left out, not just on the basis of race, but also based on sexuality and gender identity.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, a pivotal moment in the gay liberation movement. While the battle for queer rights has seen tremendous victories since Stonewall, many black and brown queer, trans and non-binary folks living in poverty witness the duality of a queer America that liberates some while tightening the chains on others.

As the transgender community gains more cultural visibility, it’s difficult not to notice how regularly we are being attacked, both inside and outside the queer community. Trans people, particularly our black women and femmes, were on the front lines of the Stonewall Rebellion, yet we’re on the back lines of the gay and lesbian liberation. We were the first ones to declare how so sick of hiding and dying we were, to call for resistance. And yet, we have not seen the fruits of our labor.

What we know now is that there are rising attacks on transgender lives. Since Donald Trump has taken office, hate crimes against transgender women of color have spiked dramatically. The murders of black transgender women are a silent American crisis.

A few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a young black trans woman shot to death in Dallas. Muhlaysia Booker was her name. A few days later, the body of Chynal Lindsey, another black trans woman, was found in a Dallas lake. We don’t even have time to mourn, let alone pick ourselves up from the depths of despair, before another one of us is murdered and the cycle of grief repeats. We’re dying one after another, and it feels like no one but us even knows we’re alive.

Zoe Spears, Chanel Scurlock, Paris Cameron, Michelle “Tamika” Washington, Claire Legato, Ashanti Carmon, Jazzaline Ware, Dana Martin. These are the names of other transgender Americans who have been killed this year while embodying the very essence of what this nation claims to be as liberated, free women striving for happiness and peace in the face of adversity. They chose to walk in their truth, no matter what, to be themselves and to love their lives, no matter what.

It is our duty as citizens of this country to protect the liberties and freedoms that being an American is supposed to define and to fight for the least protected, least heard and least supported among us. None of us is free until everyone is free, especially black and brown trans women. That means everyone has to find ways to support us—economically, culturally, educationally, professionally, politically.

The fight for liberty did not end in Philadelphia with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It is a daily battle for many in this country and it will continue until we all internalize this fact: There is no freedom when there is also terror, just as there is no justice when there is also corruption.

This Independence Day, I want you to think of those who don’t have true liberty in this country and what you’re going to do to amplify their voices. I implore you to let the banner yet wave for all citizens—yes, even trans citizens.