Not everything is about politics. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that living in Sacramento.
But listening to two fresh-faced, millennial activists explain why they spent so much time organizing the “Ain’t I A Woman March,” which begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at Crocker Park, and then listening to a grieving mother who will share the story of her murdered transgender daughter at a post-march rally, I remembered.
“We want to empower black women,” Sarah-Michael Gaston, one of the founders of Black Women United, told me over coffee this week.
“California is known for being a liberal state,” added the group’s president, Imani Mitchell, “but there are a lot of microaggressions that can make black women feel like they’re not valued or not respected or heard. We wanted to create a space for all black women from all walks of life to feel like they can come together to rejoice, to heal, to cry – and that it will all be OK.”
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I’m sure some people will read those words and view them through the narrow lens of identity politics, comparing the Ain’t I A Woman March to the Women’s March in January that was overtly anti-President Donald Trump.
“Haven’t liberals figured out that’s why they lost the election?” they’ll ask. “If Democrats really want to beat Trump and Republicans in Congress,” they’ll chide, “it’s time to focus on the economy, not these niche issues.”
Maybe they’re right.
But there are also far more important things than how one is perceived politically – such as, how one is perceived as a human being, worthy of equal rights and equal value.
It was abolitionist and suffragist Sojourner Truth who famously made this point at the Women’s Rights Convention in 1851, held in my old stomping grounds of Akron, Ohio.
“And ain’t I a woman?” she asked the mostly white audience. “Look at me. Look at my arm. I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me. And ain’t I a woman?”
More than a century later, black women are still asking that question, reassuring ourselves of our worth, and trying to make sense of consistently lower wages, higher barriers to health care, plus your garden variety racism and sexism.
But for black transgender women, the answer to Truth’s rhetorical question is particularly perilous.
At least 15 transwomen – all of them of color – have been murdered this year, according to GLAAD. That’s well ahead of last year’s pace, which already ranks as the deadliest on record thanks to a toxic mix of racism, misogyny and transphobia.
Chyna Gibson, a 31-year-old transwoman from Sacramento, was among those killed this year. I wrote about her death in April. New Orleans police found her slumped between two parked cars, bleeding profusely from several gunshot wounds. Her gender reassignment surgery had been scheduled for the following week.
Her murder has yet to be solved.
It’s important to Tammie Lewis that Gibson, her adoptive daughter, be remembered for the woman she was. That’s why she agreed to speak at the Ain’t I A Woman March on Saturday, alongside a packed schedule of activists, poets and, yes, politicians.
From the kitchen of her modest home in South Sacramento, where Gibson’s room remains decorated in hot pink and smelling of perfume, Lewis told me about how she came out as gay at 13 years old and started fashioning breasts out of pillows by age 15.
“She was like, ‘So you’re not mad or whatever?’ ” Lewis recalled in a thick Southern drawl. “And I was like, ‘Nope. I don’t love you no less.’ I didn’t care. She still was her.”
Gibson came into her own after the family moved from Louisiana to California after Hurricane Katrina. She appeared in a Beyonce video and performed drag not only across California, but at nightclubs in Texas and Florida. In fact, Gibson had been scheduled to perform at Pulse the night in 2016 that Omar Mateen burst into the Orlando club and opened fire, killing 49 people. But there was a last-minute change of plans.
It was only after Gibson’s death in April that most people – relatives, church members, neighbors – found out that she was transgender.
Ain’t I a woman? Lewis always knew the answer.