On May 27, 2020, after 11 a.m., a 38-year-old African American transgender man, Tony McDade, was fatally shot in the Tallahassee, Florida, by an officer of the Tallahassee Police Department. The circumstances surrounding McDade’s death are still murky. Tallahassee Police say McDade was a suspect in a fatal stabbing that occurred shortly before his death. They also claim he was armed with a handgun and he “made a move consistent with using the firearm against the officer.” An eyewitness report has contradicted statements by the Police Department that McDade was armed with a gun. But this barely made the news. Why?
McDade doesn’t check off the appropriate boxes for being a “real” victim. He was transgendered, and for some, that’s not the face of the Black Lives Matter Movement and Protests. McDade’s death came on the heels of the high-profile deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd—who were killed in police encounters in Louisville and Minneapolis, respectively.
Florida has been an epicenter of anti-transgender violence over the past two years. Last year, the American Medical Association deemed a surge in the murder of transgender people an “epidemic.” The vast majority of victims are transgender women of color. Of the 52 reported murders of transgender or gender non-conforming people in the past two years, about 1 in 7 were in Florida.
I was going to talk about other civil rights moments when people who didn’t fit the bill of the perfect victim and were pushed aside or forgotten, but I decided to do a bit shorter of a post today. Did you know that five women refused to give up their seats to a white person and were arrested in 1955 before Rosa Parks became the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott for doing the same thing? For one reason or another, the other women did not fit the profile that the Movement wanted. Several of these women did file the lawsuit Browder v. Gayle which eventually end bus segregation. Bayard Rustin, one of the organizers of the March on Washington, was eventually pushed out of the Civil Rights Movement for being gay. In many civil rights movements, those who didn’t fit into the perfect profile were ignored or pushed out. In the early gay rights movement, men who couldn’t pass as “straight” were not allowed to march with the Mattachine Society. The examples are really too numerous to mention all of them.
Never forget that Marsha P. Johnson, a black self-identified drag queen, was a leader of the Stonewall Riots. Many of the rioters in June 1969 were transgender, and we owe it to transgendered people of all races for the gains we have made in civil rights. Let’s not forget the “T” in LGBTQI+, because they are also our brothers and sisters. They deserve to be recognized as well. Just because a person doesn’t fit the perfect profile you want to see represent people that are treated unjustly, they were still treated unjustly, nonetheless.
As newly out actor Justice Smith recently said while protesting for Black Lives Matter:
“[Nicholas Ashe (his boyfriend)] and I protested today in New Orleans. We chanted ‘Black Trans Lives Matter’ ‘Black Queer Lives Matter’ ‘All Black Lives Matter’. As a black queer man, myself, I was disappointed to see certain people eager to say Black Lives Matter but hold their tongue when Trans/Queer was added. … I want to reiterate this sentiment: if your revolution does not include Black Queer voices, it is anti-black. If your revolution is okay with letting black trans people like #TonyMcDade slip through the cracks in order to solely liberate black cishet men, it is anti-black.”
While I know what it is like to be a gay man and have to hide who I am, I cannot begin to pretend that I know what life is like for a person of color. I know that the LGBTQI+ community and communities of color have faced similar struggles and fights for equal rights, it is far from being the same. Many of us can, and have, hidden our sexuality, but people of color can’t hide their skin color. African Americans need our support at this time. We are a nation in crisis, and we need to all come together to make it a better place. Especially since we have a president who as The New York Times reported: “Trump increasingly sounds like a cultural relic, detached from not just the left-leaning protesters in the streets but also the country’s political middle and even some Republican allies and his own military leaders.”