Hundreds show support for black trans rights in Tenderloin protest

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Friday June 19, 2020
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Hundreds of people marched in support of black trans lives and Black Lives Matter Thursday evening in San Francisco. Photo: John Ferrannini
Hundreds of people marched in support of black trans lives and Black Lives Matter Thursday evening in San Francisco. Photo: John Ferrannini

Hundreds showed up to a protest for the equality of black transgender people and people of color in San Francisco Thursday evening, marching from the federal courthouse to the intersection of Turk and Taylor streets in the Tenderloin — the historic site of the 1966 Compton's Cafeteria riot.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, the Courthouse 2 Compton's march was promoted by the Transgender District in the wake of President Donald Trump's "consistent tirade against the safety and well-being of transgender people."

Further, the protesters demanded that the former site of Compton's Cafeteria be relinquished by its current occupant: GEO Group Inc., a real estate investment trust that invests in private prisons and detention facilities for undocumented immigrants.

Honey Mahogany, a black transgender woman, community activist, and legislative aide to District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, headed up the protest and was a featured speaker.

"Tonight was about trans empowerment. It was organized in coalition with a huge list of queer and trans organizations and it centered the voices and work of trans women," Mahogany wrote to the B.A.R. after the event late Thursday, June 18. "Tonight we paid homage to our ancestors, who took their fight to the streets. We rallied, we chanted, we danced and we cried. It was beautiful."

'Say his name'

Crowds began to gather before 7 p.m. at the Phillip Burton Federal Building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue, home to the federal courthouse.

Koh, who declined to give their last name, showed up with a shield that stated, "Protect trans POC."

"I'm a transgender person of color whose family has been in San Francisco for a long time," Koh said. "I wanted to show support and solidarity with my community. With everything going on in society, it's important to show up to events like this."

Speeches began around 7:20 p.m. in front of the courthouse. Xavier Davenport was one of the speakers.

"I want to thank everyone for coming out here — so many people," Davenport said. "I'm a black trans man and a lot of people think that black trans men don't exist: but I'm living proof. Trans black masculinity exists. ... But to be a man in a world where people don't accept blackness is even harder."

In his remarks, Davenport discussed the police killing of a fellow black trans man named Tony McDade in Tallahassee, Florida on May 27 — two days after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota that sparked the most recent series of protests against police violence and a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Throughout the night, the protesters chanted McDade's name and calls to say it, alongside the names of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman who was killed by officers in Louisville, Kentucky as they were executing a no-knock search warrant.

Following Davenport was Ms. Billy Cooper, a black trans woman who is a 35-year resident of the Tenderloin neighborhood.

"America is going through a revolution," Cooper said. "I stand here for all my people. All you people are my people."

Cooper said that a lot has changed over the decades she has lived in San Francisco, and reiterated the importance of participating in this year's elections.

"I remember in the 1980s, I said 'my vote doesn't count,'" Cooper said. "But it does. It does now, more than ever."

'There was one queen who said 'no more''

Around 7:40 p.m., protesters made their way from the courthouse through the Tenderloin to the Turk and Taylor intersection.

A dance party ensued, followed by more speeches. Mahogany, speaking from the roof of a bus, introduced people to the Transgender District and the history of the Compton's Cafeteria riot.

The riot, which was three years before Stonewall, was the first recorded trans uprising in American history.

"Before cellphones, Instagram, Facebook, or Grindr, there was Compton's Cafeteria," Mahogany said. "That's where folks went in to check on each other, and find some trade."

Mahogany then told the story of how, when a police officer began the usual harassment of the trans and gender-nonconforming people at the all-night diner, one patron had finally had enough.

"There was one queen who said 'no more.' And you know what she did? She threw her coffee in that motherfucker's face," Mahogany continued.

Levi Maxwell was another one of the speakers from the bus, and received a rousing ovation after her remarks. A black trans woman, Maxwell's fear is that allies will view their recent participation in demonstrations as performative.

"We're already seeing Instagram's black posts, the black pictures disappear," Maxwell started saying, before someone yelled from the crowd "fuck that shit!"

"Fuck that shit," Maxwell said. "This right now is a reminder that our lives are still in danger. Before this country stopped and rioted due to police violence trans folks, black trans femmes especially, have overestimated — sorry."

The crowd began applauding as Maxwell continued.

"The Tenderloin is the place where the city has put the most marginalized people," Maxwell said, adding that after escaping from a more conservative part of the state, the Tenderloin was where home was now.

In addition to the Transgender District, the Stud Collective, the TGI Justice Project, the Tenderloin Museum, CounterPulse, St. James Infirmary, Asians4BlackLives, "Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria," and Haney's office organized the march.

The June 18 event was planned several weeks ago, according to Susan Carter, a trans lesbian woman who is on the coordinating committee for the march. Nonetheless, it came a few days after a June 14 Black Trans Lives Matter event in Brooklyn, New York drew thousands on the weekend that Brooklyn Pride in-person events would have occurred.

GEO Group Inc. has not given comment to the B.A.R. after a request was made several days ago.

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