Throughout the month of June, the 50th anniversary of Pride Month is being boldly and unapologetically celebrated by members of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies across the globe. As Pride has become a widespread protest and celebration internationally, the United States government has made some major strides in granting basic human rights to LGBTQ+ identifying people, like the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 and the recent Supreme Court ruling protecting the LGBTQ+ community from employer discrimination. Despite these historic events, the traction made hasn’t applied to all members of the community. In 2019 alone, “advocates tracked at least 27 deaths of transgender or gender non-conforming people in the U.S. due to fatal violence, the majority of whom were Black transgender women,” according to The Human Rights Campaign.
As the Black Lives Matter protests continue, many activists are calling for justice for Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, two Black trans women killed during the month of Pride. Furthermore, on June 12, the Trump administration finalized a rule to reverse nondiscrimination protections for trans individuals in the Affordable Care Act. The rule is set to go into effect this August. When over half of the U.S. public already believes that gender is determined at birth, this rule sets trans people up to face even more harm at the hands of the U.S. healthcare system. These inequities are often particularly worse for Black trans individuals, who experience the racial disparities of the U.S. healthcare system exacerbated by COVID-19 in addition to transgender discrimination.
In order to understand the significance of Pride month and the Black Lives Matter movement, one must comprehend the inherent definition of intersectionality — while there is variation in definitions, a key explanation is coined by American law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. Crenshaw’s intersectionality theory essentially allows users to see how categories of analysis (race, class, gender) coalesce. She believes those who are at an intersection of identity, for example being both Black and a woman, tend to be failed by institutions of law or medicine and overlapping experiences of systemic oppression — for example, a combination of racism and sexism. Crenshaw heavily argued that the social institutions and policies in the United States create and exacerbate women of color’s vulnerability to violence and abuse, and this situation is equally as applicable to the LGBTQ+ community and Black people. The history of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights has been heavily whitewashed and has unfortunately erased much of the efforts by people of color, especially trans Black women, who paved the way of American LGBTQ+ rights.
While many credit the Stonewall riots as the spark of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, the first clear event that placed the transgender community on America’s political history originated in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, at Gene Compton’s cafeteria in 1966. In a community where many trans women and drag queens lived openly, with full self-expression, individuals would consistently face harassment, abuse and arrest from local police officers. While the specific date of the riot is unknown, it is said that a trans woman, fed up with the constant aggravation and use of force by the police, threw a cup of coffee at an officer, igniting a riot.
Three years later, in New York City, police raided one of the few places people of the same sex could dance together without harassment, the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall riots quickly erupted as patrons fought to defend themselves against police violence, throwing bricks and bottles, marking the tipping point for the LGBTQ+ liberation movement. However, instead of crediting LGBTQ+ activists of color who were heavily involved and constantly fought against unjust police raids, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, people often focus on the mystery of who threw the first brick, or if Judy Garland, a white cisgender actress, was the inspiration for the riot. On the one year anniversary of the Stonewall riot, the first Pride march was held. These historical events that paved the way for future activism are often mistold, whitewashed and misunderstood, yet are somewhat collectively acknowledged as the origin of Pride Month.
There continues to be major disparities in rights for the trans community, especially in medical care. There is a higher prevalence of clinical depression, anxiety, somatization, current smokers, former alcohol or drug use to cope with mistreatment and attempted suicides. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, about a third of trans respondents reported having a negative experience in the previous year with a health insurance provider related to being trans. Also, as a result of America’s history of muting the contributions made by Black trans women for modern LGBTQ+ rights and silencing these women’s voices, Black trans women struggle the most in the trans community. Over a quarter of Black trans respondents reported avoiding a healthcare provider when they needed it in the past year due to fear of mistreatment and 40 percent reported avoiding a healthcare provider because they could not afford it. About 20 percent of Black trans individuals are uninsured, compared to 14 percent of trans people overall and 11 percent of the total U.S. population. Over 40 percent of Black trans individuals reported experiencing recent psychological distress, over eight times the rate of the U.S. population. Black trans individuals also reported higher rates of suicide attempts.
At the same time, Black trans individuals reported experiencing elevated rates of discrimination and verbal, physical and sexual assault at the hands of police officers. Overall, 22 percent of trans people who have interacted with police have reported police harassment, which jumps to 38 percent for trans people who are Black. These high numbers strongly point to implicit bias law enforcement holds against both trans and Black individuals, and makes it no surprise that many trans individuals and Black LGBTQ+ individuals, in particular, do not want police presence at Pride celebrations and in other LGBTQ+ spaces meant to be safe for all members of the community.
And as people of color who are also in the LGBTQ+ community, Black trans people are at the intersection of racism and homophobia in institutional systems. The Center for American Progress shows how only 35 percent of LGBTQ+ Black women have had mammograms in the past two years, compared to the 57 percent of all LGBTQ+ women and the 62 percent of all heterosexual women. The distrust in the medical system creates a higher risk for people of color in the community, as 30 percent of LGBTQ+ Black adults are likely to delay or not get needed medication compared to 19 percent of all Black heterosexual adults. These health disparities also apply to other communities of color, as 25 percent of LGBTQ+ Asian or Pacific Island adults experience psychological distress at a rate four times higher than heterosexual Asian and Pacific Islanders, and 2.5 times more than the general heterosexual population; and 60 percent of LGBTQ+ Latinx adults report more alcohol abuse in comparison to the 33 percent of the Latinx heterosexual population.
As university students and as members of The Michigan Daily Editorial Board, we urge our fellow students to examine these systems of oppression and to analyze their own biases that may impact the lives of minorities one day. We stand in solidarity with all individuals celebrating Pride Month and we urge those individuals to continue to fight for the most oppressed, marginalized and intersectional communities within each space. Understanding the complexities of each identity is essential to building a progressive, inclusive and worthwhile society for each individual. This conversation must continue beyond the month of June and after celebrations adorning rainbow flags and colorful outfits fade. Realizing the real trauma and pain, while also acknowledging the radiance and individuality of each community member, is critical to gaining a deeper understanding of the importance of intersectionality.