“A matter of life and death.” That was the message demonstrators conveyed Friday afternoon during a march and rally through downtown for non-discrimination protections of LGBTQ people.
The action was a response to the recent reversal of a rule that protected transgender people from discrimination in housing and health care. The Trump administration changed the Obama-era policy, making it possible for medical facilities and housing officials to deny equal treatment to LGBTQ people.
“What they did was they took away the rights for people to discriminate against so people can discriminate against us if we go into a hospital and if we go into any type of medical facility,” said Dena Stanley, founder of Trans YOUuniting. “[And] during a pandemic, that shouldn't happen.”
In addition to the policy reversal, the Trump administration also sent out a memo last week that would allow single-sex homeless shelters to prevent transgender people from facilities that align with their gender identities. The document included language on how to allegedly identify transgender people based on their appearance, including the presence of an Adam’s apple, height and facial hair.
That blatant discrimination, Stanley said, puts lives at risk.
“You're saying it's OK to kill a trans person. We are human just like everyone else,” Stanley said.
Attendee and self-identified trans ally Dalen Michael said he’s worried that the change will discourage people from seeking medical care and help with housing.
“I’m afraid that in the middle of this pandemic that my trans brothers and sisters are not going to be able to go to the emergency room, are at risk of getting kicked out of their house,” Michael said.
The several dozen protesters began the event near the U.S. Steel Building, currently occupied by UPMC. Leaders said they had reached out to the health care organization, along with Gateway Health and Highmark Health. Highmark, Stanley said, had responded with what she considered an unsatisfactory response.
WESA has reached out to all three companies and will update this post when they respond.
Allegheny County has an ordinance in place that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in housing and health care, but organizers said the policy should extend beyond the region.
“A lot of trans folks live in rural areas and are affected by this,” said Dalen Michael.
Demonstrators did not allow local television stations KDKA and WTAE to film nearby or conduct interviews based on what they called “dangerous” stories from the media organizations in the past. The organizations have been criticized recently for posting stories about police looking for specific protesters in the past, as well as identifying transgender people without their consent. The Post-Gazette was also asked not to request interviews, based on their controversial coverage of protests and treatment of Black reporters who would cover such demonstrations.
The crowd made their way to the City County Building, where several organizers and advocates made speeches. Among them was Mahogany Asunción Ríos, who read the names of transgender people who have been killed.
“They mattered yesterday, they mattered three years ago, they’re going to matter in five minutes,” Asunción Ríos said. “They’re always going to matter. Whether you like it or not: Black trans lives matter.”
One speaker, who is seen at many Black Lives Matter protests, was Nique Craft, an individual who recently faced protest-related charges, along with several other prominent leaders. Nique spoke about the conditions at the Allegheny County Jail, and warned protesters that they should be conscious about the ways in which local officials monitor such demonstrations.
“You guys are all very unique-looking and this city is very small,” Nique said. “They know what you look like.”
Nique, who recently was in jail for protest-related charges, speaks about time spent there. Activists say Nique is being targeted. “You guys are all very unique looking and this city is very small. They know what you look like...we’re public energy no.1 for being dope.”@905wesa pic.twitter.com/dTTPJWUngB
— Katie Blackley (@kate_blackley) July 31, 2020
At one point, a group wearing t-shirts that read TrooGang Records attempted to approach the crowd and film as part of what they said was a music video documenting the local demonstrations for Black lives. The transgender rally organizers questioned them, saying the fight for LGBTQ equality was not for entertainment.
“People are going to jail for this,” one organizer shouted. “I need allies with umbrellas to block them.”
After a brief interaction, the recording group left and the march headed toward Market Square.