Trans Women of Color Campaign Featured on Times Square Billboards Over Pride Weekend

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By now, Marsha P. Johnson's story is familiar to many who celebrate Pride month. Marsha was 23 years old when she took part in the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, a six-day protest against police harassment. Tall, black, and slender, she was a self-described "drag queen" and an undisputed leader in the activist community. She was also homeless. She sold sex to survive and was arrested more than 100 times.

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Although Marsha was a central figure in the rebellion, the civil rights victories that followed didn't always extend to people like her.

In the run-up to the 50th anniversary celebrations, Pride has gone mainstream, finding endorsements from multinational corporations. But last month -- as major brands launched rainbow-edition advertising campaigns -- a coalition of trans advocates chose to launch a very different kind of campaign, which they dubbed "Stonewall Is Now."

From June 25 to July 2, two massive billboards in New York City's Times Square sought to remind people that the Pride celebration started when trans women of color rose up against police violence in 1969. The billboards read: "Black and Brown trans women are still being caged and killed … in prisons, at the border and on the streets. Reclaim Pride to defend Trans women's rights. Support Trans Lives. Text Trans Pride to 41444."

On social media, the hashtag #StonewallIsNow has become a space to memorialize 12 trans women who have been killed in 2019: Dana Martin, Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Claire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle Washington, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Johana Medina Leon, Layleen Polanco, and Zoe Spears.

The Stonewall Is Now campaign is sponsored by the Transgender Law Center, the largest civil rights organization in the United States led by trans people, as well as the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Mijente, El/La Para TransLatinas, and Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee.

Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center, explained that the violence that killed trans people of color 50 years ago continues to this day.

"Pride month is over, but TLC's commitment to turn our rage and grief into action continues," Hayashi told TheBody. "It was absolutely necessary for us to remind those celebrating Pride that none of us are free until black trans women and trans migrant women are free."

Over the past 50 years, the LBGTQ civil rights movement has resulted in positive changes for cisgender gay men and women. Since the 1990s, the Supreme Court has issued landmark rulings that that banned anti-sodomy laws and made marriage equality the law of the land. Public opinion has also shifted, with psychologists reporting a 33% drop in anti-gay bias over the past three decades.

But trans people -- particularly women of color -- still face stark social-justice disparities. Today in the United States, more than half of trans people are afraid to go to the police when they need help. Just under half of black trans women are living with HIV. And among members of the LGBTQ community, black trans women face the highest rate of fatal violence.

Many trans advocates draw parallels between the state-sanctioned discrimination that led to 1969 Stonewall Uprising and the Trump administration's policies banning trans people from the military, and support of "refusal rules" that would allow health workers to deny care based on personal beliefs.

The bitter irony of Marsha P. Johnson's story, advocates say, is that as a black, gender-nonconforming woman, she would probably face the same forces of over-policing, incarceration, and homelessness today that she encountered during her years of activism.

"Our Stonewall Is Now campaign continues because whether it's ICE raids, police violence, or immoral and illegal policy changes, state-sanctioned violence must be met with community resistance," Hayashi told TheBody.

"Stonewall never ended," Hayashi said. "Stonewall is now."