It only took 15 minutes for “Free Speech Bus” to clash with counter-demonstrations in Center City on Saturday, April 1. Before the bus could fully circled City Hall, a crowd of more than 100 protesters quickly blocked traffic in the roundabout as a form of resistance.
The message reads loud and clear on the side of the orange bus: “It’s Biology: Boys are boys… and always will be. Girls are girls… and always will be. You can’t change sex. Respect all.” Generic boy and girl symbols with XY and XX chromosomes accompany the message.
Funded by the National Organization for Marriage, the International Organization for the Family, and the conservative activist site CitizenGo, the vehicle is on a national tour to voice opposition against same-sex marriage and transgender rights, with recent stops in Boston, New Haven, Conn., and New York City.
The Advocate reports the bus was vandalized while parked outside the United Nations headquarters on March 23. Just more than a month ago, a similar bus with a Spanish-language message was banned in Madrid, Spain.
Around noon on Saturday, the bus interrupted a “pop-up love party” centering transgender voices, particularly those of color, led by the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs. The ceremony ended with a raising of the transgender flag, which consists of five horizontal stripes including two light blue, two pink and one white in the center.
“The event went amazing, we had music and dancing,” explains Amber Hikes, the new executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs. “We were celebrating each other and the community and having the solidarity that’s provided in that space.”
The lineup featured the chair of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs, Sharron Cooks; poet and spoken word artist Sam Marks; Deja Lynn Alvavez of the LGBTQ Home for Hope and Mayor's Commission on LGBT Affairs; attorney running for Court of Common Pleas judge Henry Sias; and the ACLU of Pennsylvania Transgender Advocate Coordinator Naiymah Sanchez.
Additionally, Cooks is the first transgender person to chair a city commission in Philadelphia. She became the first Black transgender woman to serve as a state delegate at a national convention last year, but has served the community for many years through Equality PA, the Liberty City Democratic Club, the Williams Way LGBT Center and her own consulting business.
“Within the community, there’s a lot conversation lately about intersectionality, so it’s understanding our community is incredibly diverse in terms of race, gender, orientation, age and class,” Hikes adds. “Bringing everyone to the table to celebrate each other, this event was a perfect reflection of that.”
Another recent accomplishment is City Council recently passed a resolution to declare March 31 as a citywide Transgender Day of Visibility. The resolution’s text honored the eight trans Black women who were murdered in the United States this year: Mesha Caldwell, Jaquarius Holland, Ciara McElveen, Chyna Gibson, Keke Collier, JoJo Striker, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow and Alphonza Watson. Councilwoman Helen Gym, who co-sponsored the bill, attended the rally in solidarity.