“I don’t have any faith in the whites in power responding in the right way … they’ll treat us like they did our Japanese brothers and sisters in World War II. They’ll throw us into concentration camps. The Wallaces and the Birchites will take over. The sick people and the fascists will be strengthened. They’ll cordon off the ghetto and issue passes for us to get in and out.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Eventually, people who are marginalized will fight back, whether through civil protests, riots, or revolution. Radicalization is the consistently definitive result of mistreatment, and few communities have been more marginalized than the transgender community.
In a meeting held at the People’s Assembly Office, surrounded by signs in shades of pink, blue, and white stripes, a large crowd of transgender people and allies met to discuss a successful march in October and future organizing options. Backed by the pink, blue, and white striped Transgender Pride Flag, Toni took the stage. Toni is a member of the New Orleans Workers Group, a socialist organization that focuses on LGBTQ+ rights. She introduced herself to the relatively large crowd of mostly young people.
“This meeting today is coming out of a march that the New Orleans Workers put on in October in response to a leaked memo from the Trump administration revealing that they had plans to completely change how the government would treat gender, in an attempt to erase the rights of trans people across the board,” Toni said.
But it wasn’t only an attack on trans people. Toni sees it as part of a larger pattern, including ATC (La. Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control) raids on strippers and sex workers here in New Orleans. “As you know, in the same time period we’ve seen SESTA/ FOSTA [Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA)] go through, where we’ve seen sex workers attacked online.” She stated that far-right groups are coming for the trans community and she finds it alarming. “I’m hoping we can find out a way to respond to this.”
She added “…So that march was actually pretty awesome …I never had the opportunity to experience people being in the streets, loud in a militant way, making … progressive demands for what you know we deserve as working class queer people.” She continued, “Also, I would like, if you’d like to join me in applauding the death of war a criminal.” She was referring to President George H. W. Bush. The statement was met with awkward laughter and some applause from the audience. Toni persevered. She maintains that he is “a murderer of 140,000 people who suffered with AIDS.”
Someone from the audience laughed saying, “What she’s not saying is she did it.” More nervous laughter.
Changing gears, Toni continued, “My own personal opinion as an individual is that this type of organizing that’s coming…organizing kind of built out of love, built out of love for each other, like love for working class people, love for LGBT+ people.”
But Toni believes in a larger goal. “Workers Group comes from the position where we feel like LGBT struggle is not just the struggle for love in that sense, but a struggle for liberation…liberation of all working class LGBT people… the ability to have proper housing, have proper jobs, freedom from workplace discrimination, freedom from healthcare discrimination…whether or not you’re queer, things the whole working class deserves, and things that are constantly being taken from us, and attacked by the rich ruling class year after year.”
She also briefly touched on the people of Gordon Plaza, who are in circumstances in which their health and well-being are suffering, “These are black working-class New Orleanians who were sold land on a toxic landfill.”
Next at the podium was Sasha, “I go by they/them/he or she, all of them are accurate.” They talked about how this area was once “the place of many languages.” “People lived here, traded here, fell in love here and this was their medicine cabinet and their cathedral, the Houma, the Attakapa, the Chitimacha, the Biloxi. Those people deserve their history to be acknowledged, and their presence to be acknowledged. So I want to create that space here.”
She spoke more on what had become of this First Nation land, “The persecution against LGBT people is both like a colonial violence, and it is a violence against people bought out by our imperialist nation we have currently. It is colonial but it is also a capitalist violence against us, reducing us to product, as opposed to people. And as LGBT people we are uniquely suited to be on the front line of a revolution.
“We, as marginalized people, have a perspective on envisioning a better world for us.” She concluded, “I hope we all come together and begin to fight.”
The next speaker was “Person.” Person explained that they were happy with the outcome of the march, but rather than simply protesting, she was proud that, “At protests, you can’t erase us, trans people exist, intersex people exist, all of which is true, all of which is necessary to say; our march took it a step forward saying that first of all we will defend trans lives, we will defend intersex people, we will defend indigenous trans people. It’s not that you can’t erase us, it’s that we are out here and we will continue to show up for our communities until we achieve liberation.”
They continued, “…we’re not on the defensive here. We are going to make demands. The trans community in the United States is as strong as it’s ever been since the colonizers secured power on this land.”
“We have the strength to demand healthcare, we have the strength to demand housing that our community so desperately needs, as we know.” Person added, “Another thing that was instructive from the march was how representative it was in terms of allies and different communities within the trans community – locals, people of different races, visitors, and straight people as well.”
At the end of their speech they said, “We should organize, build our community. Today is just one step in that process. United with other communities, and united – as Toni raised the struggle for fair and just wholly funded relocations for Gordon Plaza – as a good example of just how other communities have come together in the name of justice. And there are other great examples coming out of this office. So we need to sharpen our knives, envision a world that could be, and take our destiny into our own hands, and hopefully, that conversation can lead us to the next step in the process, so let’s talk again.”
The group then turned away from speeches and moved to the discussion, tackling issues such as the free libraries around town, a food bank, and enlisting more allies from other groups (such as those fighting for health care).
As one person put it, “Like finding, somehow, the people in these positions who would be sympathetic, or available to work with us in some way inside. A lot of times it feels like we just very much pushing on the outside, to make some kind of change happen…wanting to encourage it from people and groups on the inside as well…”
It struck me as a poignant image—those on the outside looking in and those on the inside.
Michael David Raso has worked as a writer, editor, and journalist for several different publications since graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. If you like this piece, you can read more of his work here.