Last week, we disrupted Hillary Clinton’s campaign event in Cleveland, OH, asking her to “divest from private prisons, invest in black trans women.” As representatives of Black Lives Matter and GetEQUAL our ask was strategic and intentional. Since Hillary Clinton makes equality for women a critical tenet of her campaign platform, we demand that Clinton – and our own movement for black lives – center the black transgender women so often left out of conversations about gender and racial equity. As cisgender Black women, we are fighting for our trans family: we understand that Black liberation means all Black people, and we resist the idea that anyone is disposable in our work.
We are in a state of emergency – the murder rate of trans women of color, particularly Black trans women, is higher than ever, with at least 20 women murdered since the beginning of 2015. Black trans women make up at least 13 of those killed – in the state of Ohio alone, 6 trans women have been murdered since 2011.
After three trans women of color were murdered in a 24-hour period, Elle Hearns and other transwomen Black Lives Matter organizers called on cisgender Black people to act. Black Lives Matter declared last Tuesday as “Trans Liberation Tuesday,” and nearly 20 cities answered the call, holding actions around the country. In her speech for DC’s Trans Liberation Tuesday, our friend and comrade Elle Hearns called on cis Black people to do more, saying:
“When you talk about ‘Black Lives Matter,’ you do not think of Black trans people. You do not think of the Black trans women who are being murdered. You do not think about the Black trans people who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders… We learned about the murders of five Black trans women in one day. And there was no outrage. There was no shutting down in the streets. There was nothing.”
We are outraged. We cannot allow silence to herald the death of our Black trans sisters any longer. We cannot accept vague declarations that “Black Lives Matter” from candidates seeking the Black vote while taking money from those who profit from the criminalization of Black people.
Hillary Clinton holds unique culpability for the destruction of Black trans lives: her campaign is funded in part by lobbyists and lawyers for private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group.
Hillary Clinton’s previous meetings with those working with Black Lives Matter have ended with little acknowledgement of how she can fight for Black lives as a candidate. Her attempts to deflect criticism by repeatedly demanding “policy proposals” from activists ignore the responsibility that she and other political leaders hold for propping up the broken criminal justice system.
More importantly, over 41% of Black trans women have been arrested and incarcerated at some point in their lives, and Hillary’s funders and bundlers play a pivotal role in those experiences of incarceration. As organizations across the country ask Hillary to divest from private prisons, we acknowledge the unique harm that private prisons inflict upon Black trans women, and ask Hillary to not only address the murders of Black trans women across the country, but to divest from a violent system that harms so many Black trans women. In order for Hillary to truly demonstrate that she believes “Black Lives Matter,” she must divest from the private prison money that is funding her campaign and actively, intentionally invest in Black trans lives.
This is why we protested Hillary Clinton’s campaign event, shouting “Say Her Name,” while reciting the names of Black trans women killed in Ohio, the very state Clinton was visiting – women like Cemia Dove from Cleveland. While we shouted the names of our Black trans sisters, the women most deeply impacted by the gender oppression Hillary Clinton speaks about on the campaign trail, Clinton continued to speak, waving us off with, “I’ll talk to you about this later.” Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton did not meet with us after we were escorted by security out of the event, nor did she acknowledge the state of emergency that Black trans women are facing in this country.
Our action held Hillary Clinton accountable for her investment in the systems that damage Black trans women’s quality of life, but we are also holding the movement accountable through our disruption. We can no longer afford a movement for Black lives that does not center Black trans women in our work. We can no longer afford to stay silent when a Black trans woman is murdered – and neither can our movement.