October 10, 2019 at 9:27 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Trans Lives Matter protesters disrupt CNN town hall on LGBT issues
Buttigieg protest, gay news, Washington Blade, trans lives matter
(Los Angeles Blade photo by Daniel Sliwa)

Protesters demanding attention to ongoing violence against transgender women Thursday night disrupted the CNN town hall on LGBT issues multiple times as several Democratic candidates were on stage.

The first time protesters interrupted the event was just as an audience member was about to ask the first question of Pete Buttigieg.

Three protesters approached the stage as cheers were heard in the audience. The demonstrators carried two large transgender Pride flags, one saying, “We Are Dying,” the other, “Do Something.” When they reached the stage, they started chanting, “Trans Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter,” before they were escorted away.

Anderson Cooper, who was serving as moderator for Buttigieg’s town hall, sought to tamp down any objections to the protesters, saying “It’s OK, it’s OK,” and “be cool.”

“Let me just point out there is a long and proud history in the gay, lesbian and transgender community of protest, and we applaud them for their protest,” Cooper said. “They’re absolutely right to be angry and upset by the lack of attention, particularly in the media, on the lives of transgender people.”

In response to something off stage, Cooper said. “I agree,” then, “I was not applauding.” Regaining control of the forum, Cooper returned to the questioner, Robbie Goldman, a Ph.D. student, who asked Buttigieg about meeting the LGBT community’s expectation for how a gay man should be.

Buttigieg took the opportunity to affirm the protesters’ concerns before addressing the audience member’s question.

“Thank you for your question, and before I turn to it, I do want to acknowledge what these demonstrators were speaking about, which is the epidemic of violence against black trans women in this country right now,” Buttigieg said. “And I believe, or would like to believe, that everybody here is committed to ending that epidemic.”

A CNN spokesperson said they were initially removed by the Los Angeles Police Department for disrupting the event but were allowed to return after agreeing to respect the expected conduct of the audience. 

Another dramatic incident took place and lasted for several minutes when Beto O’Rourke was on stage. Just as moderator Don Lemon was about to take a question from a mother of a transgender child, a woman who identified her as Blossom C. Brown took the microphone from her.

“Let me tell you something, black trans women are being killed in this country,” she said. “And CNN, you have erased black trans women for the last time. Let me tell you something. Black trans women are dying. Our lives matter.”

Lemon sought to calm the protester, asking her for the microphone and telling her the event was being held “to validate people like you.” Although she initially handed the microphone, he returned it when she continued shouting.

Brown, who said not one black transgender had the opportunity to speak at the forum, responded by saying the incident was an example of black people silencing other black people before returning the microphone.

“That’s how anti-blackness works, amongst people of color,” she said. “That’s what anti-blackness looks like, the erasure of black trans people.”

When Kamala Harris was on the stage, another incident took stage in which someone who was unseen on camera shouted from the balcony, presumably about anti-trans violence. Harris responded she feels the concerns of the protester, telling the story about how she worked to ban gay and trans panic defense as a prosecutor in California.

“And we brought in, and this was in the early 2000s,” Harris said.  “I say with pride there are a lot of early leaders in the trans community who came from San Francisco, and so we brought in these leaders to talk about the community, to talk about how the issue is playing out, to talk about the injustices. And it ended up being a model for what needs to happen around [elsewhere], also, what we do around public safety to make sure that it does not go without consequence. I hear you.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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