Activists intercepted a Pete Buttigieg campaign stop in New York City on Friday, exposing a divide in the LGBTQ+ community between those who see themselves in the presidential candidate’s groundbreaking campaign and those who don’t.
The Democratic hopeful, who would be the first openly gay American president if elected in 2020, met with a group of activists at New York City’s LGBT Community Center on Friday to discuss HIV/AIDS policy, sources tell Out. The meeting continued as the group left the Center to walk to the NYC AIDS Memorial one block south.
Once underneath the memorial’s open-air enclosure, a second group of activists arrived carrying signs that read “BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER” and “STONEWALL IS NOW” and began asking the South Bend, Indiana mayor about Eric Logan, a 54-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by a member of his city’s police department. They also took him to task about violence against trans people of color more broadly.
“The purpose of this protest is to highlight that there are distinct issues that divide the [LGBTQ+] community, namely along color lines,” Kiara St. James, the co-founder and executive director of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group, tells Out. “He can’t use trans folks as talking points and not show up at the [Trans Day of Action] march happening in the city [that same Friday afternoon].”
Wearing a button with Marsha P. Johnson’s face on it, American Civil Liberties Union trans justice campaign manager LaLa Holston-Zannell told the 2020 candidate that, as a Black trans woman, she has “never” had a comfortable relationship with police.
“It is your responsibility to let [queer and trans people of color] know that you will have their back and that you understand police brutality,” she said. “Stonewall 50 — that’s what we fought for, six days against the police, and today we’re still doing it. Fifty years ago, it was a girl like me that fought for six days. Black trans women are the most targeted—”
At this, a white man in the crowd who appeared to be a fan of the mayor pushed back.
“With all due respect, it wasn’t just you there,” he said, suggesting that she was erasing white gay people from the Stonewall narrative.
His wasn’t the only interruption along those lines. After one of the activists said that “Black trans lives matter,” a white woman in the crowd countered that “all lives matter.” Later, another white woman, who thought she’d never see “a married gay man running for president,” thanked the mayor for “working for all of us, for trans, for LGBT—”
“You can’t say that,” said Holston-Zannell. “If you’re not Black and trans you can’t say that.”
“You know what?” the white woman responded, palpably frustrated. “My wife worked for marriage equality.”
“Which means nothing for Black and brown trans people,” Holston-Zannell replied. “We care about living. We care about not being killed.”
Despite the moments of tension that some of the mayor’s white supporters ignited, the surprise half-hour meeting between Buttigieg and the group of activists went smoothly, the latter making their case and the former listening intently and responding when appropriate. The activists asked the mayor, who is scheduled to speak at a Victory Fund event in New York Friday evening, what kind of policy he would propose to address police violence. He said his team is working on one that will be made public soon. They asked him to hire trans people, specifically Black trans women, to work on his campaign. He did not say in the moment whether he would make that happen.
“One thing I’m very mindful of is that I couldn’t be doing this if people hadn’t fought for me before I was born,” the Democratic hopeful said. “Some of them Black, some of them trans, people whose lived experiences were totally different than mine. But we’ve got to be lifting each other up. If you’re going to press me on doing a better job of lifting people up, I welcome that challenge.”