When black people and our allies take to the streets tonight in protest—as we have on previous nights past and as we will on nights to come—we will be calling for justice. Justice for our community means justice for George Floyd. Justice for our community means justice for Breonna Taylor. And justice for our community means justice for Brianna “BB” Hill, because when we declare Black Lives Matter, we also mean Black Trans Lives Matter.
You are not alone if you do not know the name Brianna “BB” Hill, but you should. She was a black transgender woman killed months before George Floyd’s horrific murder sent thousands into the street in righteous protest.
A community leader in Kansas City, where BB lived, said of BB, “When BB was in the room, there was no mistake.” She was a beloved member of the Dior Family in the local ballroom scene, “a firecracker,” and a passionate fan of Kansas City football. And like so many black transgender women trying to survive in a system structured against them at every turn, BB grappled with homelessness and poverty.
On May 24, 2019, two Kansas City police officers assaulted BB. In a video recorded by a concerned bystander, Officer Matthew Brummett slams her face to the sidewalk before dropping his knee onto her neck and right shoulder as she cries out in pain. In spite of the video, it took a year for charges to be brought against the officers.
But for BB, it was too late. On October 26, 2019, BB was shot and killed. She was one of at least 26 transgender and gender nonconforming people killed in the United States in 2019, the majority of whom were Black transgender women.
Since 2013, when the Human Rights Campaign began tracking this data, we have seen at least 172 transgender and gender nonconforming people violently killed in the United States. Seventy-three percent of these individuals were black. Since March 28 of this year alone, we have seen seven violent deaths of transgender and gender nonconforming people in the United States, constituting the second-highest spike the Human Rights Campaign has ever tracked. This horrific spike in violence is disturbing and particularly so, given that they all occurred during a period of quarantine and curfew. Just last week, Tony McDade, a black transgender man in Florida, was shot by the police.
These numbers are more than just statistics. Behind these numbers are real people who left behind loved ones and dreams for the future. Tragically, there are more deaths we don’t know because these deaths are all too often unreported due to a variety of factors, including inaccuracy and indifference by law enforcement, the media and the victim’s family.
In this moment of reckoning, as so many across the nation are demanding an end to white supremacy and the toxic complicity and indifference it feeds off of, we must remember that when we declare Black Lives Matter, we also mean Black Trans Lives. No person going forward can be indifferent to the cost of our racist systems on the black minds and bodies that are brutalized or the black lives that are shattered every day. And this challenge to confront indifference includes, by necessity, our black transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming siblings.
It is a shameful fact that for too long the LGBTQ movement has not done enough to protect, empower and listen to the transgender community—particularly those who are black and brown. Last year, a few weeks after I joined the Human Rights Campaign and before COVID-19 shut down much of the country, I embarked on a listening tour to hear directly from community leaders. Trans leaders of color told me of the violence, harassment, discrimination and utter indifference they faced. They told me how they had been treated as disposable by those who were supposed to be protecting their interests. These advocates made it clear that both our movement and our nation had failed them.
This heartbreaking reality is compounded by the fact that our movement simply would not exist as we know it without transgender and gender non-conforming women of color. It was Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and countless others who refused to bow before police brutality and oppression at Stonewall and changed our nation forever in the process.
The fight for liberation has always required all of us. Bayard Rustin, a close collaborator of Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the March on Washington and was a key figure in the civil rights movement. Pauli Murray, a black gender-nonconforming legal and spiritual leader, laid the intellectual groundwork that brought us that much closer to gender justice. The Black Lives Matter movement was established by leaders like Alicia Garza and Charlene Carruthers whose transformative leadership was founded in a black, queer, feminist praxis. And in this moment of crisis, there has been so much healing and hope brought by the leadership of two transgender black leaders in Minneapolis—City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and City Council member Phillipe Cunningham. Jenkins and Cunningham were the first and remain the only openly transgender black leaders serving elected public offices in the U.S.
The fight for liberation must go on with all of us together. As we mourn George and BB and Breonna and and Tony and Ahmaud and Nina and all the black victims of violence known and unknown, we carry them with us. We may come to the struggle from different backgrounds and carry different experiences with us—but our fight for liberation is one and the same. We are the beloved community we need. Their lives mattered. Black Trans Lives Matter. And we must never give up or be divided on these truths.
Alphonso David is president of the Human Rights Campaign. Alphonso is an accomplished and nationally recognized LGBTQ civil rights lawyer and advocate. He’s the first civil rights lawyer, the first black man and first person of color to serve as president of HRC in the organization’s 40-year history.
Updated: 6/9/20, 2:10 p.m.ET: The story has been slightly edited to update the story to its final version.