By Elysse DaVega
“I don’t know what y’all came to do today, but I came to fight.”
These were the opening words spoken by Regina Livingston, Black trans woman and founder of the Unspoken Treasure Society, which held a Black Trans Lives Matter rally in front of Jacksonville’s Duval County Courthouse on Saturday afternoon.
Dozens of transgender people and allies gathered, some toting trans flags and others t-shirts reading “We Still Matter,” to speak out against prejudice, healthcare disparities, and targeted murders, as well as encourage attendees to vote.
Other trans organizations such as the Trans Awareness Project (TAP) and the Trans Empowerment Alliance (TEA) attended in support. Black Voters Matter and the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition were also in attendance.
The rally comes in response to the increasing number of trans people killed in the U.S. every year. In 2020, the Human Rights Campaign reported 44 murders of trans people. As of September 2021, the count is at 37 — a number that trans activists fear is already so close to exceeding last year’s total.
“37 deaths already, and we not even through the year yet. Those numbers are gonna climb, they’re climbing daily or weekly,” said Paige Mahogany Parks, Black trans activist and founder of TAP. “We’re target number one.”
Parks says that Jacksonville is especially unwelcoming to trans people. In 2018, after three trans people were killed in the city, it was deemed “America’s Transgender Murder Capital.”
More recently, on August 31, a video of a 14-year-old trans student being slammed to the ground at Orange Park High School caused outrage in both Clay and Duval counties.
This violence and hostility may come from strangers, but more often, activists say, they’re a result of domestic violence and other close relationships. In a study by the Office for Victims of Crime, 50% of transgender people surveyed had been hit by a primary partner after coming out as transgender.
“It’s usually the people closest to us who mean us the most harm,” said Aea Celestine, a speaker at the rally. “[It’s] the people who say they protect us and love us that are secretly harboring ill will.”
This violence and hostility often goes unpunished and even uninvestigated, Parks says. When it is investigated, in some cases, defendants employ a “panic defense,” which asks a jury to factor in a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression as a potential cause for a violent reaction, including murder.
This type of defense has been banned in D.C. and 14 states, most of them in the Northeast and the West.
“Our lives can’t matter if transgender women daily or weekly are being murdered. [Panic defense] must be abolished today, not tomorrow, but today. There are transgender people that are living their truth, and you’re taking their lives away,” Parks said.
Florida has yet to legislate against this.
Instead, the most recent Florida law relating to trans people was one of exclusion: on June 1, the first day of Pride Month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which bars transgender women from participating in women’s sports in schools and universities.
Florida Democratic House Rep. Angie Nixon condemned this action at the rally and urged attendees to advocate through their votes.
“We gotta push back and put people in office that aren’t going to ban trans kids from playing sports, and aren’t going to ban trans kids from getting the healthcare that they need,” Nixon said. Nixon said she would continue fighting for the trans community as an “accomplice,” pushing for bills that help them, and contesting those that don’t.
Livingston says this is right on par with what they need.
“We have allies, it’s just that when it comes to the big picture, we need somebody bigger; somebody that can really make an impact, puts dents in the city to stand up and say ‘Hey, I got y’all back. I’m gonna support y’all.’ But until then, we’re gonna fight. We’re not gonna stop fighting.”