Trans rights and issues have always been close to home, as for most of my life I have struggled with my own identity. When I was a child, I loved playing dress-up in my mom’s closet. When I got into my teenage years, I still loved doing it, only now her heels fit me just right. When I was home alone, I would carefully pick out my favorite items from her wardrobe, put them on, and prance around the house, imagining I was a girl. Up until my early 30s, I was still pondering if it would be sensible for me to transition, but last year I made a conscious decision to stay with the gender I was assigned at birth. When I got to Atlanta for their 49th Annual Pride celebrations, I looked up the events that were going to take place over the weekend, and I saw that a Trans March was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. It was a no-brainer that I would put it on my list of the events to attend.
The Annual Trans March in Atlanta first began in 2009. The March celebrates and uplifts the visibility of the trans and non-binary community, while also addressing issues facing the trans community – from discrimination in the workplace, to the growing number of hate crimes and trans murders. This year, the Trans March honored trans lives lost in 2019. So far, at least 22 trans or gender non-conforming people, mostly black trans women, were reported murdered this year, according to the HRC. A trans woman, Roxsana Hernández, died earlier this year in ICE custody due to AIDS complications while seeking asylum from trans prosecution in El Salvador, while another trans woman, Layleen Polanco, died in Rikers Island prison due to complications from epilepsy. Johana Medina Leon was one more victim that died due to health complications while in ICE custody shortly after her release.
By the time I got to the Charles Allen Gate of Piedmont Park, where the parade was supposed to take off, I saw no sign of the march. I was sort of caught off-guard, as I didn’t realize that other things would be happening at the park at the same time. Rainbow flags were everywhere and the queer people congregated as far as the eye could see. A huge stage was set up in the middle of a large field and I noticed a poster with the weekend’s lineup. Kesha, slated to perform later that evening, headined the festival.
I started making my way through the park, trying to find the missing Trans March. I made it all the way across the park with no luck in locating it, but I stopped in front of a field strewn with what looked like colorful blankets. Upon closer investigation I realized that they were all handmade memorial quilts for queer people who had passed away from AIDS. “Happy Pride!,” I heard a voice say. There were two men standing behind me. One was in his 20s, while the other one was a couple decades older. “My name is Ben,” the younger guy introduced himself. He told me that this was his first Pride. After a couple more minutes of conversation I excused myself, but not before Ben flirtatiously announced that I had kissable lips. Happy that I could land a Southern dick, I started walking along the field, looking through more of the memorial quilts.
A few moments later I noticed a commotion happening towards the right side of where I was walking, and I made my way over there. Pansy Patrol volunteers stood with huge styrofoam pansies and posters that said things like “God Adores You” and “You R Loved,” blocking out another dozen people who held up posters that said “Homo Sex Is Sin” and “Prepare To Meet Thy God.” Several other queer activists barricaded the homophobes with huge poster boards called The Hate Shield, designed by artist Matt Terrell. “The front is a rainbow design, which faces the Pride-goers. The back, which faced the protesters, is covered in mirrored panels, so the anti-LGBTQ protesters see themselves. “This mobile soundproof wall also helped reduce protest noise such as megaphones by nearly 25%,” wabe stated.
A trans woman holding up a countdown clock and a sign urging people to donate to THAP said: “Every 15 minutes they protest we raise money for trans housing, to get homelessness off the streets of Atlanta. We’ve raised over $600 so far from pledges from people in the community. The longer they protest, the more money we raise. We are going to turn their hate to love.””
I came up to a woman who was holding up a sign “They Never Miss A Gay Party,” and I asked how did the Pansy Patrol know the religious anti-gay contingent would be there. She said “They are always here!” The only other time I’ve seen Bible-thumping protesters was at Brooklyn Pride earlier this year. But Atlanta’s Pansy Patrol, who came to shield the Pride attendees from the homophobic hatred, did a darn good job drowning them out with songs and chants of love and support.
It was almost time for me to head out to the first day of Afropunk and I started making my way back. A stage that was empty just an hour earlier now featured full-on performances. A local trans activist/performer of Mexican descent, Alissah Brooks, graced the stage and brought out several surprise guests, like Jazmin Balenciaga and Alissah’s best friend, actress, singer and gay rights activist Kat Graham. At the end of the performance, Alissah read the names of the 19 trans women killed before the date of the event: Dana Martin, Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Calire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle “Tamika” Washington, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Zoe Spears, Brooklyn Lindsey, Denali Berries Stuckey, Tracy Single, Bubba Walker, Kiki Fantroy, Pebbles LaDime “Dime” Doe, Bailey Reeves, Bee Love Slayter, and Itali Marlowe. Sadly, the next day after Atlanta Pride, one more name of a black trans woman would be added to the list of murdered trans women this year. Brianna “BB” Hill was fatally shot in Kansas City.
As I started getting closer to the exit gate of the park, I finally caught up with the tail end of the Trans March. It was coming to an end and the marchers were almost at the point where they started. Even though I missed the whole march, I was able to witness other incredible things, like the queer community coming together to protect each other from hate and bigotry and celebrity allies willing to stand in solidarity with members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Moments like these give you hope and show that even though our community can be divided at times, we are still not afraid to speak up, come together, and face our adversaries.