As temperatures dipped to 17 degrees on Friday (Feb. 1) night in New York City, dozens of demonstrators stood in the cold at Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza to denounce hate crimes and hateful rhetoric, and to stand in support with Empire actor Jussie Smollett.
Organizers from the New York City Anti-Violence League, Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL) and Queerocracy, among many other supporting organizations, urged the crowd to let their voices be heard on Friday night. “When queer people are under attack, what do we do?” demonstrators chanted, with the crowd responding “stand up, fight back.”
“I want people to challenge their preconceived notions about these communities,” Queerocracy member Jake Nill told Billboard. “I want them to challenge their perception … We want our people to have their own political agency, to be able to change narratives and norms, and to challenge what the state throws at them.”
The protest comes just days after Smollett was attacked in Chicago, where he says two individuals hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, tied a noose around his neck, poured a liquid on him and beat him. Since the attack, Smollett has released a statement saying he is in good health. “My body is strong, but my soul is stronger,” he wrote.
While many of the speakers spoke out for Smollett and called the attack on him “domestic terrorism,” much of the focus at the rally was also on the numerous cases of transgender violence that have already occurred. The speakers especially highlighted the death of Dana Martin, a 31-year old black transgender woman who was shot and killed in Montgomery, Ala. in January, and Candice Elease Pinky, a black trans woman who was chased and shot in Houston and is now recovering from her injuries.
Tanya Asapansa-Johnson Walker, an activist and co-founder of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG), condemned the actions of President Trump and his administration, saying that their rhetoric is what led to these attacks.
“They wanna take all of our rights away, and we cannot live our lives,” Walker yelled into the crowd. “His policies are genocidal. If you can’t get a job, you can’t go to the store and eat, you can’t fight for your rights, it is genocidal.”
The crowd at the rally was emotionally-fueled, with many carrying different protest signs speaking out for their communities. “Build hate crime prevention centers, not walls,” one read. “Black queer lives matter,” read another.
Tabytha Gonzalez, an activist and office manager for the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, shared statistics with the crowd showing that transgender women of color are still the most affected by incidents of hate-related violence. Gonzalez told the crowd that while this demonstration was necessary, resistance should not only come when a celebrity is involved.
“I need to see your righteous indignation when a transgender woman’s blood dries up on this concrete! You do your tweets and you think that is enough, but that is not enough,” Gonzalez yelled into the crowd. “If they come for me at night, they’re gonna come for your ass in the morning.”