The cause of the protestors is intrinsically linked with the cause for queer liberation.
On the evening of the 4th of July, I went to a downtown Atlanta protest for reparations for racism. I went for a number of reasons — because I think reparations for racism and all the harm done by white supremacy are necessary, and because there is no good in conviction without action — and that reparations will help the queer community. That may seem like an odd claim, but the argument behind it is quite simple, and the reason is tragically on display nearly every time a trans woman is murdered.
Lately, there have been any number of calls to remember the spirit of Stonewall, and to bring back to the fore the figures of Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera against the whitewashing of that uprising’s history. Phrases like “the first Pride was a riot” now circulate more than ever, and with a vengeance against the commercially sponsored parades of recent years. While the election of Trump not long after the success of the fight for marriage equality marked perhaps the formal rebuke against the “end of LGBTQ history hypothesis,” it now seems to be the moment when the emotional weight of that backlash has hit us. It has done so with a sharp reminder that our community is not composed solely of its most privileged members and that it extends across boundaries of race.
Queer equality could never be possible by addressing homophobia and transphobia alone, and as we approached the position of having nominally the same legal rights as straight people, racism and xenophobia catapulted Trump into the presidency with disastrous results. At the same time, the most oppressed in our community were, and are doubtless still, facing systemic racism, transphobia, and homophobia under circumstances in which it is likely a mistake to assume they can be disentangled from each other and solved piecemeal.
Which brings me back to the protest for reparations and the current moment, where we find ourselves in the midst of perhaps the greatest uprising since the sixties.
As we chanted, marching down the streets and blocking traffic, I could not help but think about some of the issues I have covered for this publication and the ways in which racism must interact with transphobia and homophobia beyond the mere addition of prejudice. The problem goes beyond the sad fact that Black transgender people face so much more danger than white transgender people. It extends to systems of policing that target Black transgender women, and other transgender people of color, on suspicion of being sex workers, assaulting them, arresting them, and extorting sexual services from them on threat of arrest. It extends to jails and prisons where trans people are deliberately treated as the wrong gender, as a kind of cruel punishment that exposes them to great danger. And it extends to ICE detention centers where HIV-positive LGBTQ people have died after being beaten and denied their medication. Transphobia and homophobia must be at their worst when in the company of racism.
I do not make these arguments in order to falsely claim that white transgender people are the direct victims of racism, only that the racism all too systemic within the United States operates in tandem with the structures violently enforcing hetero/cisnormativity, in such a way that the latter cannot be addressed in isolation from the former.
In a world where we have abolished white supremacy, fewer trans people would be murdered each year. For that matter, defunding the police would drastically improve the lives of LGBTQ sex workers. The end of mass incarceration would mean greater safety for all LGBTQ people, since there would no longer be the threat of prison and its omnipresent prejudice, violence and degradation. And yes, reparations for racism would help our community as a whole. It would be a boon to a major portion of our community, reducing inequality among queer people by repairing the harm done to those who are the most discriminated against. In other words, it would substantially reduce the total burden of discrimination upon our community as a whole.
But if we fail to acknowledge and take action against the racism that harms so many in our community, we will never be able to achieve true equality for all queer people.
After all: only when Black trans lives matter, do trans lives matter.
Rest in power John Lewis. We have lost a hero of unequaled moral character — the conscience of our times.