Powerful memorial remembers the Black trans lives taken far, far too soon

Black trans memorial

Hundreds of Black trans people lost to violence have been honoured in a powerful street mural painted by local artists in Chicago.

The words ‘Black Trans Lives Matter’ stretch across the street in Catalpa Avenue, Andersonville. It was created by 22 artists or art groups, with the help of neighbours who donated $4,000 to pay the artists for their time and materials.

Last weekend the whole community came together to add names and portraits to the artwork, giving faces to those who have died.

“It is vital that when folks see that Black Trans Lives Matter [mural] they understand the context of why it matters,” said David Oakes of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, speaking to Block Club Chicago.

Each participating artist decorated an individual letter in the mural. One artist, Bailey Funk, painted the words “say their names” in the letter B, prompting the chamber to consider giving more prominence to the names of the dead.

Now the names encircle the mural, each one colour-coded to give context to the deaths.

The names in pink are people whom police killed in the last five years, while the names in yellow identify unarmed people of colour killed by police since 1975. More names are being added this week, according to the chamber.

Among those honoured in portraits are Merci Mack, a Black trans woman killed by a gunshot to the head, Tony McDade, a Black trans man shot by police, and Marsha P Johnson, a Black queer rights activist instrumental in the Stonewall uprising of 1969.

“Transgender women of colour were leaders in LGBT+ activism and throughout time, but they have been erased,” Laura Austin, associate director of the Andersonville chamber, said in a statement.

“We wanted to give them space. We wanted to make them a priority. It is long overdue.”

The Black Lives Matter movement gave rise to several memorials to the trans community, including a huge art installation on Hollywood Boulevard. Last week it was announced that the huge letters reading ‘All Black Lives Matter’ will remain there permanently.