Existing and resisting: Annual Trans-Latinx March powers through Jackson Heights

Cecilia Gentili marched with members of Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo.  Eagle  photo by Rachel Vick

Cecilia Gentili marched with members of Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo. Eagle photo by Rachel Vick

By Rachel Vick

More than 500 trans-Latinx individuals and their allies marched through the streets of Jackson Heights Monday to denounce violence and discrimination against the trans community, and to advocate for equal rights and protection for transgender/gender non-conforming (TGNC) communities. 

The 8th Annual Trans-Latinx March, organized by Make the Road New York, also called attention to the continued detention of TGNC individuals.

“It’s been about ensuring that we’re protecting every single one of our neighbors,” said State Sen. Jessica Ramos, the march’s grand marshal. “We want to make sure we’re fighting for resources not raids. There’s a lot of work to do but there’s a lot of willingness to do it.”

Jackson Heights has the highest population of trans-Latinx individuals in the United States. Despite significant progress toward equal rights, trans women of color continue to experience violence at a rate that far exceeds other communities.  

Last month, for example, Norma Ureiro and Bianey Garcia were attacked with pepper spray by two transphobic assailants in Jackson Heights. Hours after the march, another trans woman was pepper-sprayed in an alleged hate crime, the NYPD reported.  

Throughout the march, powerful chants of resilience echoed through the gathering, rising above the sounds of Roosevelt Avenue.

The vibrant demonstration attracted the attention of passersby. Pink and blue balloons, flags and signs decorated the street. A display of photos and stories of trans women who died by violence or suicide served as a somber reminder of the risks that trans women face just by being themselves.

Many of the attendees have remained committed to the cause for years — and in some cases, decades.

“I started with the Summer Youth Program 20 years ago; it’s been my life,” said volunteer Julie Bisono.

The event began with a series of presentations from members of the community. Speaking mostly in Spanish, leaders and volunteers shared their stories, resources and words of resistance.

Cecilia Gentili, an activist and advocate, was one of the speakers.

“What are we doing if we’re not taking care of each other? That’s all we have at the end of the day,” Gentili said. “Each other.”

Ramos was joined by other local elected officials, including Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer. 

As the first official grand marshal of the march, Ramos called for a shift in priorities, highlighting the need for safety. Her support for the legalization of sex work was met with cheers of support from the crowd. 

Multiple trans Latinx women have died while in jail or prison, and march attendees said they were determined not to let them be forgotten. 

Activists carried signs honoring Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old, who died in a Rikers Island jail on June 7; Johana Medina Leon, 25, who died in an El Paso, TX medical center after almost two months in an ICE detention center; and Roxana Hernandez, who died in May in an Albuquerque, NM hospital after a week in an ICE detention center.

Lorena Borjas and other members of Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo wore shrouds. They carried traditional items from Dia de los Muertos rituals, including Copal incense and several coffins painted with the hashtags #translivesmatter, #fuckTrump and #fuckICE. 

“If we don’t walk together they’ll kill us separately,” said Andrea Molina, from Houston.

Karen Satin, who was recently named Community Hero of the Year, walked with the New York City Anti-Violence Project. The Anti-Violence Project offers 24/7 bilingual support for the LGBTQIA community.

 “It’s been very hard for me,” Satin said. “I don’t want it to be that hard for anyone  else.”