Thousands of people demonstrated in London and Manchester on Saturday 27 June. There were two primary reasons people protested: to stand against the Tories’ attacks on trans rights, and to demand justice for Shukri Abdi. The two causes found each other on the streets.
In London, around 10,000 people marched from Wellington Arch to Parliament Square in a Black Trans Lives Matter (BTLM) demonstration called by LDN BLM and Trans Pride.
Thousands more gathered in Parliament Square for the Justice for Shukri Abdi demonstration. Shukri was a 12-year-old Somali refugee who drowned a year ago in Manchester. Another child had threatened to kill her if she didn’t get into the water, yet the police treated her death as an accident and her family are still fighting to find out the truth about what happened to her.
The BTLM march followed the example of a similar demonstration in New York earlier this month that was organised in response to the murder of two Black trans women, Riah Milton and Dominique ‘Rem’mie’ Fells. It was also a response to the recent leak of government plans to scrap reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (originally proposed under Theresa May) and introduce trans-exclusionary regulations into public spaces. The reform would have simplified the arduous process for getting a Gender Recognition Certificate.
Saturday was the day that Pride would have been if not for the coronavirus pandemic, and many people held signs linking the protest back to the Stonewall riots of 1969. The anti-racist grassroots demonstration was a world away from the ticketed, apolitical and corporate parade that Pride in London has become, where police and the Conservative Party are included in the march and queer activist groups have to have pre-approved wristbands to take part.
— Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century – rs21 (@revsoc21) June 27, 2020
The BTLM march was almost entirely led by Black organisers, with large numbers of white trans and queer people attending. A rolling PA system was pushed along near of the march, with speakers leading chants: ‘Black Trans Lives Matter’, ‘No justice, no peace’, ‘silence is violence’. The crowd was so large that different chants were organically led along the length of the march: ‘Do you know your history, Black trans women fought for me’, ‘one solution: revolution’. When the march passed by Scotland Yard, chants started up of ‘No justice, no peace: abolish the police’ and ‘White silence, cis violence’.
The march ended at Parliament Square, where the Justice for Shukri Abdi demonstration was already in full swing. A huge crowd, mostly led by young Somali women, chanted ‘Say her name: Shukri Abdi’ and ‘What do we want? Justice!’ The demonstration as a whole mobilised huge numbers of young people and teenagers, many of whom took to the megaphone to give speeches, lead chants, and energise the crowd. A small group of fascists had been present while the Shukri Abdi demonstration was gathering, but were quickly outnumbered and escorted away by police, who also took up positions guarding the statues of Winston Churchill and other figures in Parliament Square.
There seemed to be no formal recognition between the organisers of the two demonstrations, and no plan to bring them together. However, when the two groups converged in Parliament Square, they organically merged. Many of the Shukri Abdi protestors joined in the chants of ‘Black Trans Lives Matter’ while trans protestors joined the circles where young organisers led chants for Shukri Abdi.
When the Shukri Abdi demonstration left to march to the Department of Education, organisers approached some groups of BTLM protestors and invited them to join the march. Some did, but the crowd as a whole remained in Parliament Square to hear talks through the PA system. Some groups of protestors for Shukri Abdi also remained in Parliament Square until the BTLM demonstration dispersed. Despite the lack of organised merging between the demonstrations, and some divisive online rhetoric excluding Somalian identity from Black Lives Matter, this spontaneous show of solidarity between young Muslim organisers and trans protestors was a truly powerful moment of unity in the development of the movement against white supremacy.
The police presence in central London was almost entirely targeted at the Shukri Abdi demonstration, at which very few white people were present until the two demonstrations met at Parliament Square. Aside from guarding statues, some riot vans followed the march to the Department of Education. Despite this, the crowd was confident and energised, with protestors helping each other to climb onto bus shelters to lead chanting. By around 6pm, an increased police presence began to encircle the demonstration, and it seemed as though they might move in to a kettle. In the end, however, they held back and the protesters were able to leave safely.
Reporting by Charlie Powell and Jolliff Seville.
In Manchester, a march for trans rights joined up with a rally for justice for Shukri Abdi. A young crowd of around 1-2000 took part despite torrential rain and the need to wear masks and observe distancing – possibly the biggest protest for trans rights in Manchester so far. Organisers had worried at first they wouldn’t get twenty people.
The speakers emphasised the need for solidarity – linking the oppression faced by trans and non-binary people with patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism and attacks on workers’ rights – and arguing for broad coalitions with LGBT and BAME communities and the trade union movement to dismantle the power structures that maintain oppression. The crowd responded enthusiastically to those who wanted to go beyond just defending existing rights. As it stands, trans and non-binary people are forced to jump hurdle after hurdle, making it all but impossible for many to have their gender officially recognised. The process is legalistic, medicalised, expensive and time-consuming, and there is no right of appeal.
Many speakers gave personal accounts of the lived realities of transphobia: harassment, bullying, violence and loss of family, as well as facing bureaucratic systems intended to make transition as difficult as possible – from getting a passport in the correct name to accessing healthcare. One speaker had been waiting five years for an initial appointment. Another described being referred to as ‘it’ by their teacher when they came out as non-binary. People expressed exhaustion from dealing with prejudice and discrimination from trolls, state institutions and family on a daily basis, but people were determined and the mood was not dampened by the frequent downpours.
After the rally, protesters marched through Manchester’s main shopping streets to applause from shoppers and shop workers, and on to St Peter’s Square, to join a rally demanding justice for Shukri Abdi on the first anniversary of her death in the River Irwell in Bury. Speakers at the rally for Shukri Abdi expressed their appreciation for the trans community standing in solidarity and drew links between their shared struggles and the crowd applauded as the protests joined. Chants included ‘Black Lives Matter! Trans Lives Matter!’
Nearby at the other end of the square, a few white supremacists were intent on defending the war memorial from any vandalism. They were overwhelmingly outnumbered, and in fact nobody had any intention to damage the memorial.
Reporting by Ian Allinson and Feargal McGovern.
Follow the Justice 4 Shukri campaign on Facebook.