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  August 2020

Protests Denounce Murders of Transgender
People in Racist, Capitalist U.S.A.

Internationalist Club at Hunter College held a speakout against racist repression on 2 September 2015, highlighting some of the African American and Latina trans people who had been murdered that year.   (Internationalist photo)

By Will

As we face a new school year in Fall 2020 amid the surreal realities of a society in crisis, Revolution recalls a protest at the City University of New York that has many echoes for us today. In Fall 2015, after a year of Black Lives Matter marches that were sparked by the police murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, racist cop terror continued unabated. In a rural Texas jail, lynch-law terror had cut short the life of education worker and activist Sandra Bland in July of that year, bringing a new wave of horror and outrage. Not long thereafter, the CUNY Internationalist Clubs brought students, teachers, workers and activists together to remember Sandra Bland and others of our sisters and brothers – particularly transgender women – who had been targeted by racist murder. At the protest, Revolution reported, “carefully made posters showed faces and names of transgender women, mainly African American and Latina, who have been murdered this year, including London Chanel, Taja Gabrielle DeJesus and Ashton O’Hara.” 1

Yet in the racist, capitalist United States of America, as we and millions more are continually reminded with each new name that police terror and murderous bigotry add to the list, “it never stops.” Since Minneapolis cops murdered George Floyd on May 25, mass demonstrations against police terror have swept the U.S. Amid this upsurge, protesters have called attention to the fate of African American and Latino trans people killed at the hands of police, prison guards and reactionary bigots. In New York on June 14, roughly 15,000 gathered outside the Brooklyn Museum for a rally and silent march remembering those lives and highlighting the threat of violence, especially state violence, faced by transgender people in general and black trans people in particular.

As of early August – according to a study tracking documented cases in this horrendous death toll – 25 transgender people had been killed in the U.S. so far this year, outpacing last year’s total of 27.2 Of those killed in 2019, 91% were black. Moreover, a 2014 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that transgender people who survived violent attacks were seven times more likely than non-transgender people to also experience police violence when reporting those attacks.

The capitalist dystopia called the United States is a living hell for the oppressed, triply so for black and Latino trans people. Endemic, structural racism is key to how capitalism operates in this country. Added to the deadly mix is backlash and bigotry against anything deemed “threatening” to bourgeois society’s institution of the nuclear family. Emerging from the whole history of class society’s subjugation of women, the nuclear family is central to the ways property is passed down by the ruling class and new generations of workers are brought up to be exploited. Upholding and “defending” the sanctity of this key institution of women’s oppression means demonizing as “unnatural” and dangerous anything outside the rigid boundaries of traditional gender roles.3 For many, being an African American or Latina trans person can mean finding oneself in the crosshairs of racial oppression, the oppression of women and deadly bigotry against transgender people.

In his classic work on building a revolutionary workers party, What Is To Be Done? (1902), Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin emphasized that such a party must be a tribune (defender) of all the oppressed, “able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression.” Revolutionary Marxists seek to expose the roots of oppression as part of our struggle to bring the power of the multiracial working class into the fight to uproot all forms of social oppression.

To win that fight, the workers and oppressed will have to take power away from the oppressors and exploiters in a proletarian revolution to open the way for a classless socialist society on a world scale. Unlike reformist leaders and groups that claim “justice” can be achieved by voting Democrat or relying on capitalism’s (in)justice system of cops, courts and jails, the Revolutionary Internationalist Youth emphasizes: Only revolution can bring justice!

Rem’mie Fells, Jayne Thompson, Layleen Polanco – We Remember

From left: Dominique Rem’mie Fells, Jayne Thompson, Layleen Polanco.  
(Photos: Swiger Photography; Samwel Leopardi; Facebook)

Every time this sick society steals someone’s life for the supposed “crime” of being transgender, this is an attack on us all – workers and oppressed people everywhere who are subject to the violence and exploitation of the same ruling class that decrees “thou shalt not transgress our gender norms.” Remembering those cut down in this way – together with Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many more –  and bringing their names into the marches and protests, we help make the point that they are not nameless, faceless statistics. They were our sisters and brothers with friends, families and aspirations, whose lives were criminally cut short.

Dominique Rem’mie Fells, Jayne Thompson, Layleen Polanco – these are just some of the names we remember today.

27-year-old Rem’mie Fells was a black trans woman; a dancer and artist, remembered as “a social butterfly who was very close to her mother” with “dreams of being a fashion designer” (Philly Voice, 12 June). According to the Philadelphia Inquirer (12 June), “Fells made outfits and wigs for people in her freelance fashion work and also organized the ‘Rock the Runway – A Trans Empowerment Fashion Show’ that took place last year….” She was brutally killed in Philadelphia only a couple of weeks after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. Rem’mie Fells’ body was found in the Schuylkill River on June 8, badly beaten with multiple stab wounds and her legs cut off.

The particularly gruesome nature of her murder underscores the deep-seated prejudices and dangers facing so many who do not conform to bourgeois gender norms today. While talking-head hypocrites give endless speeches to glorify “the land of the free” (sic), and politicians parade for votes today in Pride marches, let us recall that the murder of Rem’mie Fells occurred fifty-one years after Stonewall. That is, more than half a century after the “riot against police” that the big-business media and politicians of both parties denounced – in which Marsha P. Johnson and other courageous African American and Latina trans women were in the forefront of repelling violent police attacks right here in New York City.

On May 9, 33-year-old Jayne Thompson was shot and killed by a state trooper in Orchard Mesa, Colorado. A newly transitioning trans woman, Thompson has been described by her close friend Samwel Leopardi as an “amazing person” who was “thoroughly loved and cared for” (them, 19 June). She was frequently harassed and targeted for being transgender and had children from a previous relationship whose mother was not accepting of Thompson’s gender identity, according to Leopardi, who noted the adverse effect this had on her mental health. On the day of her murder, Thompson was found unresponsive outside a local grocery store, where she had remained motionless for hours. State trooper Jason Wade claims that when he arrived on the scene to confront Thompson, she lunged at him with a knife, so he proceeded to shoot her dead.

Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco was a 27-year-old black transgender woman from the New York City area. Polanco was a participant in the local ballroom scene, a member of the House of Xtravaganza, where largely African American and Latino transgender people compete in runway competitions and dance performances. One of her fellow house members described her as “so spunky, so full of life ... and positive, always, never, ever, ever drama” (The City, 10 June 2019). In April 2019, Polanco was arrested for an alleged assault and held on $500 bail on drug and prostitution charges stemming from a 2017 arrest. She was kept in solitary confinement on Rikers Island, where she became suicidal. On 15 May 2019, Polanco was sent to Elmhurst Hospital, where she was confined in the psychiatric prison ward. When she returned to Rikers, she was put back in solitary and left unattended for 47 minutes despite suffering from epileptic seizures and being at risk for suicide. Polanco died on 7 June 2019 of an epileptic seizure. Recently released surveillance footage shows guards laughing at her as they approached her cell where she lay unresponsive. They waited about an hour and a half before calling for help.

No Justice in the Capitalist Courts

Internationalist contingent at June 28 march in NYC. (Internationalist photo)

On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin, applies to sexual orientation and gender expression. In a 6-to-3 ruling that came as a surprise to some, given the recent confirmations of reactionary justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the former wrote for the majority that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law” (New York Times, 16 June).

Marxists defend any actual reform or measure that benefits people oppressed by the capitalist social order. At the same time, given illusions constantly pushed by liberal representatives of that same order, we underline the basic fact that any kind of reliance on the Supreme Court is a recipe for defeat. As the Internationalist Group wrote at the time of Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 Supreme Court confirmation hearing (see “Kavanaugh Confirmation: You Can’t Fight Supreme Court Reaction with Democrats” in The Internationalist No. 53, September-October 2018):

“From its inception, the Supreme Court of the United States has been a bastion of reaction. It was intended as a check on Congress (a ‘barrier’ to the ‘encroachments and oppressions of the representative body,’ as Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist Paper 78), and thus inherently anti-democratic.
“The reality, as we have insisted on issues ranging from abortion rights to freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the foremost class-war prisoner in the United States, is that there is no justice in the capitalist courts. To defend our rights, working people and their allies must mobilize our class power.”

Just as the Supreme Court issued a ruling against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender, it can as easily reverse it. That is in the nature of a body set up by the “Founding Fathers,” when slavery was the law of the land, as one more anti-democratic barrier to the exploited and oppressed.4

Moreover, just days before the Supreme Court issued its ruling, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services implemented a new rule removing discrimination protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people under the Affordable Care Act. “Under the new rule, a transgender person could, for example, be refused care for a checkup at a doctor’s office,” the associate director of HIV policy at Kaiser Family Foundation told National Public Radio (12 June). This is the latest in a string of attacks on the rights of trans people by the Trump administration, from banning transgender people from openly serving in the military to mandating that prisoners be placed in housing units based on their biological sex, effectively sentencing them to continual sexual assault or being beaten or killed. The working class and all defenders of democratic rights must actively oppose discrimination and attacks on transgender people.

You can’t rely on the bourgeois state to protect the rights of the oppressed. Whether Democrat or Republican, the capitalist politicians in control of the state, upholding the core interests of the ruling class, wage attack after brutal attack on the oppressed.

To put an end to this terror requires putting an end to the capitalist system itself, which in the U.S. was built on the backs of slaves and today continually wields racist terror to uphold the class rule of the bourgeoisie. What’s needed is a complete break with Democrats, Republicans and all parties of capital, and the formation of a revolutionary workers party that can lead the multi-ethnic, multiracial working class to power. ■

  1. 1. See “CUNY Internationalist Speakout Against Racist Repression,” Revolution No. 12, March 2016. The speakout also featured the reading of a special statement sent to the rally by parents of the 43 Ayotzinapa teachers college students abducted in Mexico.
  2. 2.See “Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in 2020” at hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-trans-and-gender-non-conforming-community-in-2020.
  3. 3.See “Gay Rights and Socialist Revolution,” Revolution No. 4, September 2007.
  4. 4.See “Slavery and the Constitution” on page 15 of this issue of Revolution.