ST. LOUIS - Fifty years after the Stonewall riots sparked between police and protesters outside a gay bar in New York, local advocates marched through the streets of south St. Louis on June 28 to show support for transgender people.
On the anniversary of the riots, members of the transgender community and allies gathered for a march without a police presence to highlight those who have fought and those still fighting for equality and to celebrate trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming (GNC) St. Louisans.
"We need trans-expansive folks to take up space in beautiful ways," said Sayer Johnson, Executive Director of the Metro Trans Umbrella Group. "We need to have things for us, and about us, and by us, and this is a perfect opportunity.”
MTUG is a grassroots non-profit organization working to build social and emotional support networks for transgender St. Louisans.
Organizers said Friday's march through the Benton Park neighborhood had been scheduled for months but became even more important for visibility after disagreements over uniformed police officers marching in the St. Louis Pride Parade prompted MTUG, the parade's grand marshal, to back out. MTUG was supposed to lead the parade and asked officers in uniform to not participate in honor of the Stonewall anniversary.
"Police represent a very particular threat to our community as opposed to the ideas of safety that other people have," said Jay-Marie Hill, Trans Justice Organizer for ACLU of Missouri.
In the spirit of inclusion, Pride St. Louis reached an agreement with city leaders, and, ultimately, uniformed officers were invited to participate in Sunday's parade.
"(Friday's) march is a chance for us to kind of take back our narrative and say regardless of whether institutions, cities, mayors, keep promises to us as a community, we're going to keep our promises to ourselves and remind each other that we deserve spaces for joy, that we've survived another year, and that we're excited to just spend time together," Hill said.
John said transphobia is a concern in St. Louis, and transgender St. Louisans struggle with hunger, and accessing housing, employment, and healthcare.
"We need support, we need our allies behind us, and we need to keep on having conversations way broader than a parade," said Johnson. "We need to have conversations about trans lives and how we experience the world."
Johnson and Hill encourage aspiring allies to attend events for the trans community, help fund trans organizations and hire trans people.
Hill challenged local media to help change the narrative about the transgender community by covering positive stories featuring transgender people.
"When people see news about trans folks, it's often about murder or violence, and we really implore you all to get into a relationship so that's not the only time you're hearing about or connecting with trans folks," Hill said.
The ACLU of Missouri offers additional suggestions for supporting trans and GNC people on its website.