Pride month meets Black liberation movement

Wednesday, June 17, 2020 - 1:12pm

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Graphic by Hibah Chugtai

June 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the LGBTQ+ Pride traditions, which annually celebrate freedom of sexual identity and commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Now more than ever, June is the intersection point for Pride Month and the Black Liberation movement. There have been many unofficial intersections between historical Black Liberation movements and LGBTQ+ progress and vice versa, however the amplification of the LGBTQ+ Black community is reaching a possibly unprecedented level of recognition and support worldwide. Since the end of May, protesters from all 50 states and at least 40 other countries in six continents have taken to the streets to demand an end to systemic racism and police brutality.

Tony McDade, a Black transgender man, was shot and killed by a police officer in Tallahasee, Fla., on May 27. As a being whose identity is dually-oppressed, McDade is among the many Black transgender people who have been a victim to anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-Black violence. Less than two weeks after his death, two Black transgender women, Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, were killed on the same day. In 2020 alone, there have been at least 15 violent deaths of transgender or gender non-conforming people in the United States — the majority of which were women of color, particularly Black transgender women. 

The names George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have been plastered across hundreds of headlines and memorialized by anti-racist allies over the past few weeks. As always, the energy put towards supporting the Black transgender community pales in comparison. Black transgender people are disproportionately discriminated against in housing, employment, healthcare and policing systems. Nonetheless, mainstream media and political leaders are complicit in this discrimination and perpetuate the racist, sexist and transphobic harrasment they face on a daily basis.

The Trump administration announced it will eradicate protections for transgender patients from sex discrimination two weeks into Pride month. The announcement occured on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting and during the current COVID-19 pandemic, when the Black LGBTQ+ community is being exposed at large. Healthcare is a fundamental right all humans should have access to, yet 1 out of 5 transgender or non-conforming people have reported being denied healthcare on the basis of their gender. The ruling is not only a direct attack against trans rights but is also one which disproportionately affects Black transgender people. Over 20 percent of Black transgender people reported to be HIV-positive compared to 2.64 percent of transgender people of all races. Black transgender people are also affected by HIV in far greater numbers as opposed to the general Black population and the general U.S. population, 2.4 percent and 0.60 percent, respectively. 

Removing protections against discrimination in healthcare worsens the health crisis of Black transgender people. Their access to medication would become more limited if denied treatment by medical professionals, and they would have to resort to using illegal or non-prescription drugs, which can put their physical and mental well-being at a higher risk, while forcing them to practice criminalized survival. 

We must fight for Black LGBTQ+ lives and LGBTQ+ lives must fight for Black lives. In order to dismantle systemic racism in all degrees of civic life, we must not pick which battles are worth fighting for. All Black lives matter: It can not be exclusive of the non-conforming gender orientation nor any other marginalized demographic group to which a Black individual belongs. 

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Graphic by. Hibah Chugtai

The LGBTQ+ community must not turn a blind eye to Black liberation either. To celebrate Pride Month, it’s important to understand its Black roots and honor those who defied societal norms even when punishable. 

Bayard Rustin, chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, was an openly gay man and was arrested many times for being so. Though criticized by several civil rights leaders, pacifists and segregationists for his sexuality (and his former communist affiliation) he continued to fight for Black civil rights behind the scenes as a key advisor to spokespeople and leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. During the later portion of his life, Rustin became an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.

Marsha P. Johnson, a Black self-identifying drag queen, played a prominent role in the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and spearheaded the gay liberation movement alongside Puerto Rican trans activist Sylvia Rivera. In spite of being homeless from time-to-time and suffering from mental illness, she continued to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and speak up on behalf of sex workers and HIV-positive youth. 

Black LGBTQ+ activist Ashlee Marie Preston says it best: "There's this notion that BLM and LGBTQ+ culture are worlds apart, but BLM was founded by black queer women. The LGBTQ community needs a crash course on intersectionality and the opportunity we have to build a cross-cultural coalition that satisfies our collective interests." 

During a month when Black LGBTQ+ voices should be amplified, it is our duty to listen and seek liberation for both communities. Black rights and LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. It’s time to work towards racial and sexual equality in spite of our differences and for the good of the unheard.

Jenny Chong can be contacted at jenchong@umich.edu