In the face of the current administrations continued assault against transgender and gender nonconforming people, I have engaged in a number of conversations with Black people who simply do not understand why they must care about and be engaged in the fight to ensure that the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people are protected, at every level, here are three facts you should consider when contemplating the question “why transgender issues matter to me”.
Fact #1: Black people with intersectional identities are the most marginalized when legal and social attacks against LGBTQ people take place. Intersectionality is the term created by scholar Kimberlee Crenshaw to refer to multiple overlapping marginalized identities, like those of people who are Black and LGBTQ or same gender loving (SGL). Intersectionality is important to consider when appreciating that when the Black community catches a cold the Black LGBTQ/SGL community catches pneumonia. Black LGBTQ/SGL people live in the South, with other Black people, in the states where it is legal to discriminate against people in the areas of housing and employment. Legal discrimination compounds the everyday forms of racism and oppression that Black people feel. We should be clear that attempts to police the bodies of Black transgender people will also result in additional terrorism inflicted upon all Black people.
Fact #2: The work of ensuring intersectional social justice is Black people’s work. I am not referring to some fictive, overimagined monolith but the fullness of our diversity as African descendants. The work of making space for all Black people, through our words and our actions, is uniquely our responsibility. Consider the following, this year alone, we have already seen at least 22 reports of transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. Of the 22 transgender people whose murders have been reported, at least 16 of those individuals were Black (15 Black transgender women and 1 Black transgender man). In the state of Florida alone 5 Black transgender women have been killed just this year. These statistics are consistent with trends in previous years. Each year, in the United States, Black transgender and gender nonconforming people are murdered and we seldom acknowledge it. How many non-queer Black people have ever heard of or observed Transgender Day of Remembrance or Transgender Awareness week? Even with the popularity of queer themed shows like Pose and Empire too few among us have the language required or feel equipped to engage in conversation about the many wonderful ways transgender and gender nonconforming people have always improved the spaces they move through as well as the extreme challenges they face. All Black people are capable of learning how to build better relationships with the members of our community who are most neglected and ignored, which leads me to my third and final point.
Fact #3. Sister Angela Davis reminded us some time ago that “if they come for me in the morning, they will come for you at night.” Too many of us think that the work of ensuring the fundamental human and civil rights of Black transgender and gender nonconforming people is someone else’s work. While the National Black Justice Coalition, the nation’s only civil rights organization intentionally and unapologetically dedicated to the intersections of racial justice and LGBTQ equality accepts the unique responsibility to lead in this space we must remember that none of us are free until all of us are free. If there is any lesson to be learned from the fact that someone who has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan occupies the oval office (beyond voting in every election) is that not one among should rest comfortably feeling that the rights that have been fought for, over generations, are entrusted to us. The continued attacks against the human and civil rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people are but the first in a series of continued attacks against all individuals with disabilities as well as all racial/ethnic, religious, gender, and sexual minorities. We should understand this. We’re all better together. Until we, as Black people, understand this fundamental fact, and work better together to ensure the safety and protection of all members of our beloved community another none of us will be free.
While we work through this opportunity among leaders, elected and appointed, here’s what YOU can do:
Here’s what you can do, today:
- Improve Your Competence. Familiarize yourself with the proper terms or pronouns to use to refer to and engage in conversations about transgender people.