The intersection is First and Spring Street. It is a Friday evening in mid-February and the commute home has begun for many on this busy corridor in Downtown LA. Most drivers continue on down First, but every so often, while paused at a red light, some glance over and fix their eyes on the scene unfolding in front of them.
Outside the headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Dept. is an array of young people, some lying on the sidewalk, others waving rainbow flags. It is a diverse group — Black, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander, multiracial. Most are middle and high school students.
At the center are two young men. One is dressed in a white t-shirt and wearing a brown beret. The other wears a black t-shirt, his fist up. They hold a sign that reads, “No More Family Rejection.”
Ronnie Veliz is the Southern California program manager for the Gay Straight Alliance Network (GSAN), which helped organize the Feb. 20 rally, coinciding with GSA’s Day for Racial Justice.
“Many trans and queer youth don’t get to turn 18,” he says. “So young people want to step forward … to denounce the pervasive violence targeting our communities.”
Veliz says that in the past two months six trans people of color had been murdered nationwide. “2015 is not even two months old and we are mourning more than six trans sisters, most [of them] trans and black.”
That violence, he says, is in part what is fueling a new generation of young trans people to speak out in greater numbers.
“Our youth continue coming out at earlier ages and they are familiar with the escalation of oppression and violence towards their lives,” he says. “So when you connect the assassinations of the trans adult versions of yourself to what’s happening to you …you are going to realize it’s time to speak up and organize.”
Veliz calls this upsurge in trans activism the “Transgender and Queer Youth Power Movement,” also known as TQYP, adding the movement is grounded in the leadership and experiences of trans and queer youth of color.
“Before we talk about marriage, I want to have a guarantee that I’m actually going to live to see that day,” said former GSAN leader Pat Cordova-Goff during the rally. Pointing to the youth on the ground, each one representing one of the seven trans people killed this year, she said, “These Trans and Queer youth of color on the ground are our future. We need to let them lead our movements. Stop the violence!”
GSAN began in 1998 amid heightened incidences of homophobia in schools. The organization went national in 2001 and currently operated 40 clubs across California.
Thanks in part to GSAN activism trans and queer youth across Southern California are now beginning to push the Trans Lives Matter cause, drawing connections to the Black Lives Matter movement. They are demanding that political leaders from President Obama down to California’s representatives speak out about the pervasive violence targeting trans women of color, and that investments be made specifically benefiting transgender leadership of color.
“When you are at the intersection of family rejection, school rejection, poverty, police harassment, racial profiling, deportation … you [become] easy prey for being brutalized and misgendered, even in death.”
The data bear this out.
A 2009 report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that LGBT youth were eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide and nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression.
A survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that nearly all transgender students experienced verbal harassment at school because of their sexual orientation and gender expression. More than half experienced physical harassment and more than a quarter experienced physical assault.
Under the hashtag of #TQYouthPower the GSA network is mobilizing an intersectional movement for safer schools and healthier communities. The LAPD headquarters action highlighted a continued commitment towards justice and an appeal for others to join their movement.
“How many deaths of trans and queer youth of color must happen before we get a law or policy passed,” asks Veliz. “We just need people to wake up…”
To read about the individual deaths of trans* people who were killed this year, check out the links below:
22-year-old Bri Golec from Akron, Ohio who was allegedly killed by her father.
20 year-old Lamia Beard from Virginia.
Ty Underwood who was 24, from Texas.
Jazmin Vash Payne, 33, from Los Angeles.
Taja Gabrielle de Jesus also 33, from San Francisco.
21 year-old Penny Proud from New Orleans.
46 year-old Kristina Gomez Reinwald from Miami, Florida who was allegedly killed by an intimate partner.
Here is how you can get involved with GSAN:
QUEERDOM Youth Council