By Meg Fair
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor
A crowd gathered at Penn Ave. and Main Street on the evening of October 4th. Some people brought signs, and others passed out bright signs prepared for the march that read “Black Trans Femme Women Womyn Nonbinary #UsToo” and “A Black trans woman was killed in Pittsburgh. Elisha Stanley. Say Her Name.” The group of marchers came together for a march and rally to #ProtectBlackWomen.
They stepped out into the street and marched down to the intersection of Millvale and Penn Ave., forming a circle and halting traffic.
Candles were lit, and the names of murdered Black women and femmes were read, women from Pittsburgh as well as all around the country. The list was uncomfortably long to hear–but an unsurprising reality to any Black woman or femme or any person who has been listening to the voices of Black women and femmes.
Chants of “Protect Black Women” and “Black Trans Lives, they matter here!” echoed down the street, and more people joined the crowd.
Speakers took turns with the megaphone, speaking to their own experiences of loss and discrimination and offering organizing suggestions to combat violence against Black women and femmes, calling on allies to step up and do the work too.
This event was a response to a number of disturbing news moments this past month. Elisha Stanley, a Black trans woman, was killed in Pittsburgh on Sept. 16. The Allegheny County Medical Examiners office has not released a cause of death, however, many speakers and march attendees say they believe Stanley was murdered, as have several of her friends on social media. However her death has barely been acknowledged by city government and Pittsburgh Police haven’t released any additional information since a statement sent out weeks ago. Two Black women were brutally beaten by three White men at a gas station in the North Side, and the attackers are being charged with simple rather than aggravated assault.
The event was also in response to the first part of a four-part report from the city’s Gender Equity Commission and Mayor Bill Peduto’s office. This first release of research reveals that Pittsburgh is the worst city in the United States to live in as a Black person, but especially as a Black woman. The research was done through the lens of race, gender, and class, but this first set of data exclusively focused on binarily categorized “men and women” since it utilized a specific set of census and medical data.
Here are just a few disturbing data points from the first packet of information, “Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race”:
- “Black women and men in other cities have better health, income, employment, and educational outcomes than Pittsburgh’s Black residents.”
- “Fetal deaths are 2 times more likely among Pittsburgh’s Black women compared to White women.”
- “Pittsburgh’s White women make 78 cents to every dollar made by Pittsburgh’s White men; Black women make 54 cents.”
- “Black women’s poverty is higher in Pittsburgh than 85 percent of cities.”
- “Pittsburgh has more Black women out of the labor force than 97 percent of cities.”
- “Pittsburgh is arguably the most unlivable for Black women. Interventions should strive to improve life in the city by targeting these indicators.” [i.e. fetal death rates, maternal death rates, child poverty, etc.]
The city of Pittsburgh is known for its amazing medical facilities, so why is a whole section of the city’s population suffering exponentially more from preventable medical emergencies? And if the city of Pittsburgh is “up and coming,” who is it up and coming for, given that many Black women and femmes are underemployed, underpaid or unemployed.
Systemic sexism, racism and classism are realities for Black women and femmes. Some speakers, like Ciora Thomas of SisTers Pgh, called for action from the crowd to stand up against the capitalist oppression that affects Black women and femmes.
“When I lived in Garfield, there were no white people that lived here. This was a Black neighborhood,” she said. “My history as a Black trans woman in this city has been erased though this neighborhood.”
“The gentrification has erased our neighborhood, but you come out here every Friday and spend your money at these businesses, and that feeds the gentrification,” said Thomas. “The way to stop feeding to gentrification is to stop putting your money into it. Put your money into things that truly demarginalize Black people in Pittsburgh.”
Tresa Murphy-Green echoed that sentiment, suggesting later that allies put their money into non-profits and community organizations like SisTers Pgh and Garden of Peace Project, groups that are Black and LGBTQ led.
“I want to encourage allies to use your money, use your money for Black folks, we fucking need it. You see this city is trash for us?” said Murphy-Green. “Reparations. It’s a real thing.”
A list of demands that related to these issues–health, class inequity, safety, sexism and racism, was presented, and there was space on the paper for more demands to be added after the crowd dispersed.
The following are the list of demands presented at the #ProtectBlackWomen march and rally:
- “We want the city to take the same initiative that Black women and femmes are taking in regards to the Race & Gender Equity Report.
- We demand that the D.A. appropriately charge the men that attacked and assaulted two Black women on the North Side with aggravated assault.
- We demand that the city work with corporations and non-profits to raise the wages of ALL Black women and femme-identifying people.
- We demand that the assault and murder of Black women be investigated fully and the perpetrators be prosecuted at the fullest extent of the law.
- We demand that Black women/femmes and femme-identifying people be included in EVERY discussion/initiative/agenda that directly impacts our livellihood, socioeconomic position, education and health because we are NOT an afterthought.”
Chants of “We are not an afterthought” ignited, an assertion that there’s no way to solve the problems thrust upon Black women and femmes without giving them a seat at the table. It’s part of an organizing principle: “Nothing about us without us.”
This chant exploded right before the final song of the event: “We are not an afterthought. Protect Black Women. It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and eachother protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our changes.”
The event ended with the singing of “Which Side Are You On?,” a powerful protest song with each verse given to a freedom fighter called out by the speakers, organizers like Elisha Stanley, Marsha P. Johnson. Hugs and kind words were exchanged as everyone stepped out into the night in groups and pairs, upholding their promise to protect and take care of each other.