June marks LGBTQ Pride Month, and this year — as anti-racism protests sweep the country — the focus of the annual time of queer celebration and reflection has been on the relationship between the fight for LGBTQ equality and the struggle for racial justice.
To explore this connection, NBC Out and NBC News NOW hosted a special report Thursday titled “Pride and Protest,” during which advocates and leaders at the intersection of the Black and queer communities discussed issues from the work of historic gay and trans icons like Bayard Rustin and Marsha P. Johnson to present-day anti-transgender violence.
MSNBC anchor Joshua Johnson moderated the special report, whose guests included “Pose” stars Angelica Ross and Dominique Jackson, Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, Minneapolis City Council member Andrea Jenkins, Tagg Magazine Editor-in-Chief Eboné Bell, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, journalist Tre’vell Anderson and activists Tiq Milan, Ianne Fields Stewart and Ashlee Marie Preston.
Merging and broadening the movements
Reflecting upon the “merging” of the LGBTQ movement with the anti-racism protests sweeping the country, David said, “True liberation is the goal, not only for LGBTQ people, but for Black people and all people of color in this country.”
Kenyatta, a Democrat who represents North Philadelphia, said protest movements in Pennsylvania have been critical to efforts to push for change in the political arena.
“We create a hierarchy of identity in our various circles, and in some cases … if you’re a queer person, you have to leave your sexual orientation or gender identity at the door if you want to focus on your race or vice versa; we need to create an environment where you don’t have to choose.”
Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign
“Because of folks who, for 19 days now in Pennsylvania, have been out every single day demanding that we disrupt these systems that have treated folks who are Black and brown, who are LGBTQ, who exist on the margins absolutely horribly … we know that we need big change,” he said.
After a recent protest in Brooklyn, New York, drew an enormous crowd and highlighted the growing intersections between the movements for Black lives and LGBTQ rights, panelists discussed the need to make both movements more inclusive of each other.
“We create a hierarchy of identity in our various circles, and in some cases … if you’re a queer person, you have to leave your sexual orientation or gender identity at the door if you want to focus on your race or vice versa; we need to create an environment where you don’t have to choose,” David said. “We need, as a society, to recognize identity and not assign value on certain identities and devalue others.”
David and Johnson, the moderator, referenced as an example the case of Rustin, the Black gay civil rights icon who organized the March on Washington in 1963 but was shunned by some fellow civil rights leaders due to his sexual orientation.
That means no intersecting identity cancels out or outweighs any other, Bell said.
“We need spaces where we can relate to people,” Bell said. “That’s what Black pride does for Black queer people.”
Jackson said one way she tries to be more inclusive is by referring to the community using the broader LGBTQIA+ community — referring to queer, intersex and asexual.
“Taking the time to just say the QIA+ will give those people who don’t identify under the L, G, B or the T to feel included,” Jackson said.
“Black transness has existed for far longer than we have had language for it.”
Ianne Fields Stewart
Bell agreed: “It’s time to bring in our other brothers and sisters and siblings and be inclusive, because we can’t ask for the same thing and leave out a whole other section of our community.”
Fields Stewart said that language, or the lack of it, can work to obscure the contours of the Black LGBTQ experience.
“Black transness has existed for far longer than we have had language for it,” Fields Stewart said.
“There’s always that person, that auntie, that uncle, that someone … there’s always someone who’s in the community who’s ‘got a little extra sugar in the tank,’ or whatever words we use, so I think there is an indigeneity in queerness and blackness that we aren’t ready to talk about yet,” Fields Stewart said. “It has always been there.”
‘We have to name that’
Even so, many panelists spoke out against the forces that lead many Black transgender women’s being victimized by Black men, which Jenkins called a “huge problem.”
“I have been on the front lines for Black liberation for as long as I can remember,” Jenkins said. “The fact remains that many of the murders you described leading up to this conversation, here in Minneapolis, Iyanna Dior … this violence is being brought upon our community by Black people.”
“If we are going to have an honest discussion, we have to name that,” Jenkins said.
Tiq Milan said he often passes as cisgender, “which offers me a level of autonomy and safety that sometimes trans women do not get.”
“Oftentimes that is because what happens is we are more inclined to investigate femininity and investigate women in a way that we don’t do to men,” Milan said.
Ross echoed the sentiment, saying that despite her “privilege,” gained from her access to Hollywood, “I have come to understand that my privileges, whatever they may be, will not protect me.”
Ross said she still feels unsafe walking down the sidewalk “through a group of Black men who go from catcalling me to examining my femininity a little bit closer and then they saying, ‘Wait a minute, that’s a man,’ and all of a sudden, my heart rate goes up and I’m not sure if those are the last words I’m going to hear.”
Even so, Ross said, the idea that Black families are more conservative is “rooted” in white supremacy.
“I know that what’s really happening is that so many mothers and fathers are so concerned about their Black child’s safety, cis or trans,” Ross said. “That’s why every Black child gets a talking to about how to survive in America: what not to do, how to dress, how to talk … and that extends to the LGBTQ community. They tell us, ‘Why would you want to put one more layer of oppression or one more difficult thing to get into this world? Don’t you understand how the world is going to treat you?'”