new york’s #protecttranskids protest went from the stonewall inn to macy's makeup counters
Last night, New Yorkers made their voices heard — on the streets of the West Village, and in the cosmetics section of the Herald Square Macy’s.
Photography Emily Manning
As the sun was setting in the West Village yesterday evening, New Yorkers gathered for an emergency rally at The Stonewall Inn to protest the Trump administration's decision to rescind the Obama-era guidelines affirming the rights and safety of trans students in public schools. Though the rally was organized quickly, it's estimated that around 3,000 people convened on Christopher Street.
Stonewall has served as a place of protest and resistance for our city's LGBTQ+ community for the past 50 years. It's where — as Hari Nef reminded us in her speech at another Stonewall rally earlier this month — Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman of color, reportedly threw the first brick at the Stonewall Riots of 1969. And while the West Village was a fitting place to begin the demonstration, it wasn't the only space members of the trans community and their allies occupied in resistance last night.
Protesters marched from the West Village up 8th Avenue, carrying signs and musical instruments while chanting "Trans rights are human rights!", "Hey! Ho! Transphobia has got to go!", "When trans rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!", and a personal favorite, "Build a fence around Mike Pence!"
We marched past bodegas, nail salons, sex shops, Irish pubs, and ritzy restaurants where unseasonably warm weather meant wide open windows and packed outside seating. Many business owners and customers wordlessly took out their phones and began filming (like that Black Mirror scene). Some seemed puzzled by the rainbow parade, which included New Yorkers from all walks of life coming together to protect and defend trans youth. Others clapped and cheered along with us as a show of solidarity.
We made our way through Chelsea and rounded the corner at Madison Square Garden, before flooding into the Herald Square Macy's on 34th Street. A flashing jumbotron screen inside proclaimed it to be the city's biggest department store. "It's fitting," one march leader cried, standing among a constellation of makeup counters, "that we've taken over the cosmetics section! Because whether you like it or not, this is where trans people have found our identities for a very long time." Many women working in the department cheered right along with us.
The floor was open to anyone who had a message to express; once someone stepped up, fellow protesters then repeated their words in order to amplify the voice as a collective. So every person shopping in the Macy's — where Trump products are still being sold — could hear us. Some demonstrators spoke about the prison industrial complex, others about Islamophobia and the policing of women's bodies. The overwhelming message was that the Trump administration's policies affect each and every one of us, and the bathroom debate is just one of many crucial issues.
In other parts of the country, New Yorkers are often thought of as loud, uninhibited, confrontational, creative freaks. Not only are these stereotypes largely accurate (c'mon, admit it), they have proven to be among the LGBTQ+ community's greatest strengths. Were it not for ACT UP's hugely visible, inventive, jarring direct action demonstrations throughout the 80s and 90s, far more of us would have died from AIDS under a sluggish, bigoted neo-conservative government that doesn't look terribly different to the one we've got now.
Last night's organizers took a page out of that colorful playbook, and forced everyone from West 4th to 34th to pay attention. "We are on the right side of history," the smallest speaker with the biggest voice screamed as if to shake the entire lipstick display. "And when we unite, we will not lose."
Text and photography Emily Manning