Activism · Chicago · Community


This year has been full of ups and downs. Much to celebrate, but also much to mourn.

Over 20 trans women, most of them trans women of color, have been murdered this year, an increase from 13 trans women killed last year, despite the increased mainstream public attention towards issues impacting trans people and to trans celebrities such as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Caitlin Jenner. Jennicet Gutierrez, an undocumented Latina trans woman activist with GetEqual and Familia TQLM, stood up for the human rights of undocumented trans people incarcerated in immigrant detention centers at a White House LGBTQ pride month reception in June. She interrupted President Obama’s speech about the progress LGBTQ people have made in the United States, to remind him and all of the people in the room that undocumented trans people are facing violence and torture in immigrant detention centers. This year also saw the release of the critically acclaimed film, Tangerine, written and directed by Sean Baker, and starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, two trans women of color. The film chronicles Sin-Dee and her best friend Alexandra, during Christmas Eve, as they search for the truth about Sin-Dee’s boyfriend’s infidelity. What looks to be another amazing film that surpassed its Indiegogo fundraising campaign is Happy Birthday, Marsha!, which celebrates the life of Black trans woman activist and artist Marsha P. Johnson. Written, Directed and Produced by Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel, the film is currently in post production, but you can already view the official trailer (just click on the link!). The last film I have to tell you about is a documentary created by dream hampton, titled Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice, Mapping a Detroit Story, which tells the story of the life and heartbreaking murder of Shelley Hilliard, a Black trans woman who was killed in 2011. Through the stories of her family and friends, we learn who Shelley was and how the forces of anti-blackness, transphobia and criminalization coalesced to end Shelley’s life.

2015 was the year we saw Amnesty International, a global human rights organization, vote to develop a policy to support the full decriminalization of sex work. This really should have been a no-brainer; criminalizing people involved in the sex trade only hurts sex workers, and makes them more vulnerable to the violence that anti-sex work activists claim to want to end. To read Amnesty International’s ruling on the draft policy, click here; and oh yea, listen to sex workers (and not uninformed celebrities such as Lena Dunham) and believe them when they say that what they need is access to housing, health care, and better working conditions, not to be incarcerated and subjected to state violence.  But if you feel like you just have to listen to a celebrity opine on sex work, listen to Margaret Cho, who this year choose to discuss her past experience as a sex worker and advocate for sex worker rights.

The African American Policy Forum has been leading the way in educating the public about the ways Black women and girls are impacted by state violence, whether it is assault or rape by the police, or being pushed out of school, Black women and girls’ lives are structured by state violence, and deserve support, access to resources, and our community resisting alongside with them. This year, unfortunately, revealed the various ways violence is acted upon Black women and girls’ bodies, spirits and souls, with the deaths of five Black women in police custody in July alone, including the death of Sandra Bland,  the assaults of Dejerrica Becton in Texas and a 16 year old Black girl in South Carolina by police officers. There was also much resistance to this violence. Project Nia and Love & Protect hosted Blood at the Root: Unearthing Stories of State Violence Against Black Women, an exhibit which situated state violence against Black women in a historical context. During the month of August, a coalition of organizations celebrated Black August by focusing on state violence against Black women, with several events including a film screening, workshop, speak out, and panel discussion. The African American Policy Forum’s year long campaign to raise awareness of state violence and push-out of Black girls culminated in the White House finally launching an initiative, with over $100 million in funding, to help Black girls.

As you can tell from my last post, I am continually in awe and inspired by the organizing in Chicago, much of it being done by young Black people. We have had victories in our local struggle to make Black lives matter in Chicago, from reparations for Burge torture survivors, the University of Chicago reopening an adult trauma center due to continued activism from Fearless Leading by the Youth, Dyett High School hunger strikers forcing CPS to reverse their decision to close Dyett, the firing of CPD Superintendent Gary McCarthy and indictment of Jason Van Dyke, the cop who murdered 17 year old LaQuan McDonald last October, and the sustained pressure by activists and organizers to compel Mayor Rahm Emanuel and State’s Attorney Anita Alverez to resign from their jobs.

I know I haven’t covered everything that happened this year, but I just wanted to highlight some of the grave injustice and violence that impacted us this year, and also the continued resistance to that violence. As we inch closer to 2016, I expect more injustice and more violence against Black and other marginalized violence, but I also expect increasing resistance that is centered around a demand for meaningful justice beyond the criminal legal system, that calls for less and eventually no police and prisons, and the redistribution of resources from the criminal legal system to Black communities.

Goodbye to a year filled with pain, heartache, and resistance and hello to a 2016 filled with movements centered on love, healing, and community-based accountability.

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