Cherno Biko Discusses Transgender Rights

Photo by Hannah Reasoner

On Friday, Sept. 18, Ramapo College welcomed Cherno Biko, a transgender advocate, to come and speak to faculty and students about issues surrounding the transgender community. Ramapo was the first stop on Biko’s "Mrs. Biko World Tour," during which she will stop at various colleges to talk about such issues.

Biko started off by saying how this time period is an interesting moment in the movement toward transgender rights. Biko brought up the 20 trans women of color who have been murdered this year. It was these women, she admitted, that inspired her to be an advocate for this cause.

“It’s important not to just remember the dead but to fight like hell for the living. Those girls inspire me to fight every day, because I always have this feeling that I’ll be next; I’ll be a hashtag, that there will be rallies for me,” Biko said.           

Biko’s message was that when the transgender community shows up as an authentic whole, it allows others to do the same. She stressed that both black transgender lives and black lives matter.

“We’re in a state of emergency when it comes to folks like us,” Biko commented. “We need all hands on deck to stop the genocide that’s happening. Somebody has to start changing these forces that are trying to make us believe that our lives don’t matter.”

Biko brought up issues including the lack of health care transgender people in prison receive, the corruption of certain therapists who "diagnose" whether one is transgender or not and the overall poor treatment of transgender people in prison.

Transgender people are often forgotten by the gay and lesbian community. There was a distancing in the '70s from the lesbian and gay community and the transgender community because the former wanted to be seen as "normal." Biko added that it seems transgender people get thrown under the bus often.

In regard to the fight for liberation, Biko had this to say: “I believe that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We know how to take care of ourselves. Keeping that in mind always gives me hope because no one’s going to do it but us.”

When asked why there’s such a fear of transgender people, Biko offered an insightful response.

“People are afraid of transgenders because of the change that we bring; we hold a mirror to society and once we begin to prioritize our most vulnerable, our community is at risk. Then people have to acknowledge their privilege and protest it, and people don’t want to do that,” Biko said.

She added that the students of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and we are the ones who will be deciding "who gets to live and who doesn’t."

Cheryl Schoch, a senior at Ramapo who attended the event, said she was impressed.

“I was really surprised to see the turn out in Friends Hall. Ms. Biko was incredibly well-spoken. She touched on some great topics, such as the ‘T’ in LGBT, health care and Stonewall, to name a few,” Schoch commented.

Biko sends a message of love to those who don’t have the support of their families. She urges those people to not give up, and to build a support system around themselves, full of people who are "like you and who understand you."