The transgender community and allies came out on Sunday in a way that visually set them apart from previous protests.
With style, confidence and a whole lot of panache, Aug. 9 marked the first March 4 Trans Rights rally in Denver. Despite temperatures that left flamboyant and conservative outfits alike clinging uncomfortably to characterful demonstrators and had many seeking refuge in the shade during speeches, around 300 people gathered at the Capitol building to show support.
State Rep. Brianna Titone said she was encouraged by the turnout.
“These events are important because there’s a lot of people who know about these events, but are afraid to be visible because of the ramifications of being trans and how people feel about it,” Titone said. “They rely on people who are able to go and that helps them to be visible.”
The rally began with a handful of speakers calling out for awareness and equity. Speaker Nishant Upadhyay said that as an immigrant who identifies as non-binary, none of their papers reflect their gender identity. Upadhyay said that fighting for trans rights also means fighting systems of oppression like racism and patriarchy.
“We tend to think of trans rights as trans rights, but we have to think about intersections of race, gender, class, ethnicity, religion, nationality and all of that,” they said.
Upadhyay added that organizers did intentionally try to feature only Black and Indigenous speakers, but noted that not many people of color were in attendance.
“I think as the group establishes itself and gets more visibility and intentionally tries to make bridges with communities of color, I’m hoping the next time we have this gathering there will be more trans folks of color,” they said.
Despite peaceful intentions, the day did not go off without a hitch. As demonstrators began the march down East Colfax with shouts of, “We’re here, we’re queer, we refuse to live in fear,” they were mostly encouraged with honks of support by nearby cars. But as demonstrators passed the Denver Courthouse a couple in a white SUV appeared to become impatient while waiting for the crowd of marchers to move out of their way. A woman got out of the vehicle and began arguing with a protestor named Ruby. She then assaulted Ruby and demonstrators separated the women. The passenger returned to the car and the couple was told to drive away since they were no longer being blocked.
After a few more blocks, a person who had been marching along with demonstrators suddenly began spraying people around her with pepper spray. Within seconds, demonstrators had her on the ground and disarmed. Fellow marchers assisted the victims of the sudden assault by flushing their eyes.
In spite of the two incidents, many were encouraged by the rally overall. A demonstrator who asked to be referred to by “20” said the day was more about visibility than anything else.
“Denver’s been pretty quiet lately and it’s good we get people out and are like, ‘Hey we’re still here and things still matter. There’s still a fight to fight,’” they said.
For Tiara Kelley, who hosts the Trans Sister Radio show on Youtube, the march was about awareness and making some noise.
“I definitely think we did that, thanks to the media outlets and the march itself,” Kelley said.
But she also felt it important to call attention to the deaths of Black transgender people who are misgendered most of the time when their stories actually do make it into the media.
“Not only that, but I just think the fact that more than two dozen trans individuals have been murdered this year alone, and we don’t hear about it in the news, there’s never anything that’s talked about, there’s never really investigations,” Kelley said. “And most of the time the culprits end up walking away. I definitely think that’s something that needs to be highlighted.”
Rep. Titone also felt it important to emphasize that 50 years ago the Stonewall movement was led by a Black trans woman. She said that Black trans women have been a key part in the LGBTQ+ movement, and they are the people most often still waiting for justice.
“In order for those groups of people in the trans community in general to get acceptance and equality, everybody else who has gotten their rights given to them over time needs to pay attention,” Titone said. ”We need these allies because without the people who have already gotten there it’s going to be harder and harder for the final groups of people who are still waiting for that justice to come.”