SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — “Black Lives Matter!” “Queer Lives Matter!” These words were shouted June 7 by more than a thousand protesters, who marched from Ivy Hill Park in Newark to Spiotta Park in South Orange. The Black Queer Lives Matter protest surged down South Orange Avenue, with cries for peace and an end to hatred, with declarative signs held aloft, and with a determination to bring change to this nation.
During the protest, law enforcement stood peacefully to the sides, protecting protesters from traffic. Upon reaching South Orange Village Center, the protesters were met with a sea of blaring car horns — not out of anger for the delay, but in solidarity.
“We are here to acknowledge that racism and transphobia exists within the LGBTQ community. We understand that to proclaim black lives matter is to proclaim that the lives of all black people matter,” Montclair resident Laura Hoge, who helped organize the event, told the crowd alongside a sign language interpreter. “I stand before you with the privilege of rage,” she said, addressing the white people in the audience.
“Black people have been unsafe for centuries; white people can be uncomfortable for a few minutes,” she continued, urging white people to be self-reflective and to act for change. “White people, your signs are impressive — I don’t care about your signs. I want to hear what you’re willing to do about your racism.
“I believe you all have wonderful intentions. They’re not enough. We need action today and every day,” said Hoge, who is affiliated with Unity Fellowship Church in Newark.
Hoge and many other speakers urged those gathered to act by voting. Behind the speakers was a voter registration table.
Theodore Vegas Longlois, a transgender medical school student and community activist, spoke out about how LGBTQ members of the black community are often ignored in the fight for equality and safety. He and many others drew specific attention to Tony McDade, a black transgender man who was fatally shot by Tallahassee police on May 27.
“We have been erasing the narrative of Tony McDade because he does not fit our picture of a perfect victim. We need to be in bed begging for our mothers to bring outrage,” Longlois said. “I’m sure you’ve heard ‘No justice, no peace!’ Well it’s time we said ‘No justice, no pride!’”
The crowd quickly took up the new chant.
In addition to McDade, the protest honored the lives of members of the LGBTQ community who have been violently killed: Nina Pop, Mya Hall, Dana Martin, Chynal Lindsey, Bee Love Slater, Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Claire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle Washington, Paris Cameron, Chanel Scurlock, Zoe Spears, Brooklyn Lindsey, Denali Berries Stuckey, Tracy Single, Bubba Walker, Kiki Fantroy, Pebbles LaDime Doe and Bailey Reeves.
Reading a statement from the National Association of Black and White Men Together, Beatrice Simpkins, director of the Newark LGBT Community Center, said: “Demanding not to be killed for being black is something that should not be controversial. It is something that shouldn’t even have to be done.”
Nurse practitioner Dana Delgardo, one of the first transgender men to retire from the U.S. Air Force with full veteran’s benefits, spoke about the effects that the Stonewall riots in 1969 brought for the LGBTQ community — with much thanks to persons of color like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
“That was our beginning. The revolutionary riots of Stonewall were led by many transgender people of color,” said Delgardo, who was joined at the protest by his children. “When we hear people say ‘All Lives Matter,’ it is not a hashtag we need to hear, because not all lives are in danger, black lives are.”
The final speaker was Pastor Kevin Taylor of Unity Fellowship Church in Newark.
“If we are saying anything in this place, in this space, it is that all black lives matter! Black gay lives matter! Black lesbian lives matter! Black bisexual lives matter! Black trans lives matter! Black queer lives matter!” Taylor said to much applause. “If you’re not with all of us, then you’re against all of us.”
Photos by Yael Katzwer