Feature Image: Dublin Pride Parade (Source: Wikimedia Commons by SebDooris)
By Miguel von Fedak
Tiya Proctor-Floyd summarizes her experience these past few weeks: “Not going to lie, I’m just really tired.” As a half-Asian, half-Black, bisexual woman, Tiya has been fervently supporting the Seattle Black Lives Matter (BLM) uprisings through “writing, donating, curating resources, organizing, day after day.” She describes her recent activism as a “sprint”–a rapid-fire production of material to educate, and empower others in the Seattle community she lives in. She, like many, has recognized the recent protests’ unprecedented momentum. Since George Floyd’s murder, support for the BLM movement and discussions on the nature of policing in the United States have become widespread.
A recent class of 2020 graduate, Sarah–name changed for anonymity–laments that she has not done much to physically aid the protests. With an immuno-compromised father and elderly grandmother living with her, she does not want to take any risks with the current pandemic. Her position is different from Tiya’s for an additional reason: her small, rural community has little to no active engagement in the current movement. As she explains, “Even though I live in a majority-Black town, there hasn’t been much of a local response to the news. This is largely–I think–because most people in this town are poor, and a lot of people weren’t following the social-distancing rules as is–so a lot of places of employment stayed open.” She also laments that as a white-passing native woman, she has always benefitted from privilege, and now, in an intense moment of protest, she isn’t taking advantage of it. Despite her past work in confronting subtle racism, she still feels guilty of performative advocacy. She sees that emotion as unhelpful: “This pandemic… made me realize that often when we protest in support of someone else, we’re looking to excuse/forgive/signal for forgiveness for our own shortcomings. And that’s not what we should be doing.”
Manas Sharman, an incoming first-year of Indian descent, describes his own support for BLM as having gone from “lazy” to “invigorated.” He credits the shift to the now world-famous video of George Floyd’s murder. Manas, from the same rural town as Sarah, hopes that the same kind of explicitly insidious evidence does not have to go viral for the LGBTQIA+ movement to gain widespread support. As a gay high schooler from a rural town in the deep south, Manas has never felt supported in his ethnic, racial, or sexual identity. The responsibility for building his self-esteem and unconditional positive regard has fallen solely on his shoulders: “Experiencing hate for both my dark skin color and my sexuality, I have taken what others call my flaws to be my most beautiful features… Experiences that remind me every day of how thankful I am to be able to have the chance to live my truth in the future.”
Though first-years will be allowed to live on campus in the fall, almost all classes and extracurricular activities will take place remotely. Manas will not be allowed to interact face-to-face with the other LGBTQIA+ first-years he’s met through social media. He won’t get the chance to join the rural, South Asian, and LGBTQIA+ communities that await him at Yale, except through Zoom. He will be spending his first Spring semester as a Yale student at home, in the town where he has never felt fully accepted. I asked Manas how the quarantine had taken important resources away from him. His response: “You cannot lose many resources where none exist in the first place.” He does however underscore that he remains hopeful. The Yale LGBTQIA+ digital community has given him hope.
It’s hard to describe exactly how important June–Pride Month–is for the LGBTQIA+ community. The month sees corporations, governments, and the general populace make a conscious effort to show–if not positive regard for the community–respectful neutrality to it. Serendipity aligned George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent outcry it inspired with the beginning of Pride. The Black Lives Matter movement filled headlines, streets, and social media for the entire month. I don’t know of a single LGBTQIA+ organization, celebrity, or person that complained about this development. I didn’t see anyone write an Op-Ed decrying the lack of Pride-related media coverage. I didn’t hear anyone argue for replacing BLM protests with Pride parades. I didn’t read any hashtags putting Pride before BLM. Instead, I learned about the deep, intertwined roots both movements share. Tiya explains, “Both movements are fighting simply for the right to live, but also very fundamentally have to reconcile the fact that they are moving towards the same goal: liberation.”
Many remember the Stonewall riots, a series of anti-police uprisings led by LGTBQIA+ folx in 1969, as the “first Pride.” The riots have since become a legendary historical event in LGBTQIA+ activism. This last June, many social media users shared a quote reminding the general public about who began the riots: “Stonewall was a riot against police brutality led by Black and Brown trans women.” This statement made multiple rounds across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as the BLM protests gained momentum throughout the country. The quote accomplishes a lot in its few words, and yet it still fails to fully encapsulate the integrated history of BLM and LGBTQIA+ uprisings.
Che Gossett, a Black, trans, femme, writer, activist, and PhD Candidate in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University offers unique input on the matter. I asked Gossett how they felt about the recent work the Minneapolis City Council took towards defunding their city’s police department. Gossett answered with a detailed account of how police uphold and defend racist, capitalist systems:
One of the powerful features and signatures of the abolitionist demand for defunding the police is that it reveals and discloses the imbrication of police with other racial capitalist institutions and how municipal budgets are devoting literally billions of dollars to an institution that is inherently anti-black, anti-trans, anti-queer, anti-sex worker and designed for caging and killing. Research has shown how settlements are paid out by municipalities after police violence and killing and how Wall Street — banks and corporations and firms — profit off of this arrangement — such as Wells Fargo and others who already were embedded in the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. So this reveals the totalizing scope of racial and carceral state-capitalist operations and how abolitionist demands for defunding can interrupt these cycles and forms of dispossession.
Gossett provides a deeper understanding of police oppression as a systemic, constant redistribution of wealth and power to the oppressors–in this case, major corporate entities and the police. Gosset holds that liberating ourselves from these cycles of violence will require interrupting the system: “The struggle for abolition is one of building up community infrastructure… This is redistribution of resources, a preventative stopgap such that the prison stops being imagined as a panacea for social problems.” Gossett mentioned the police’s philosophy earlier: “Anti-black, anti-trans, anti-queer, anti-sex worker.” They provide clear proof of the carceral system’s inherent disregard for identity on axes of race, gender, sexuality, and income: “The carceral continuum of the gender binary bathroom where, especially in public bathrooms, houseless and transient Black and brown trans people face police violence and social retaliation.”
Gossett details policing, and the suffering that it produces, on multiple layers, and demonstrates how the axes of gender, race, sexuality, and income intertwine to create hierarchies, stratified subgroups meant to bicker with one another rather than truly seek liberation from the oppressor. The Yale students I interviewed–all of whom were queer people of color–experienced this bickering at an internal level. They were never encouraged to view their ethnic and racial identities as compatible and part of their sexual identities. Tiya recalls how she never felt comfortable expressing pride in her sexuality as she did her racial identity: “I have always worn being Black and Asian as a badge of honor, but I couldn’t say the same about my queerness.” Sarah laments that she feels the need to hide her sexuality from her native community despite the fact that her native ancestry’s rich history includes nonbinary gender expression. Manas describes how he has never found a space where all his identities are affirmed: his Hindu parents look down upon members of the LGBTQIA+ community while the queer community he has interacted with prefers those with lighter skin. These students have had to deal with systemic division within themselves, and they continue to do so today.
Tiya recounts her social circles’ attitude towards queerness: “The experience of being LGBTQIA+ in my community, a predominantly low-income and brown one, was largely tied to popularity. If you were well-liked and queer, it wasn’t at all a problem, but if you were less popular people were more prone to mess with you.” Those around Tiya were, on a small, subtle scale, policing queerness. They determined who lived in peace with their queer identity. In this case, “they” means the school community–a community driven by societal cues and cultural shifts. This example underscores Gossett’s claim that policing is itself a cultural phenomenon, ingrained in every structure of American life.
How to move beyond this carceral continuum remains a question of fierce academic debate and community-organizing, but the point remains that the LGBTQIA+ struggle involves understanding one’s place in the police’s “levels of societal woe” and working against the complex stratification which allows them to divide and conquer.
Moving beyond slogans, and phrases, and social media posts to encourage BLM engagement from the queer community requires understanding that all sexual and gender liberation also goes a long way for BLM liberation. That fact alone can assuage many concerns about performative activism or activism for the wrong reasons because it helps people recognize that the most fundamental goal is interrupting the system. In other words, LGBTQIA+ people have to understand that each time they support BLM activism they are supporting their own liberation. Queer folx don’t support the BLM movement solely because they hope to personally gain from doing so. We, as a community, see how the system fails us; it doesn’t take much to understand how it hurts others. All advocacy emboldens future advocacy. LGBTQIA+ members recognize the injustice, damage, and constant fear that the police produce. We recognize and fight against it on any and every axis we can.
Miguel von Fedak is a rising sophomore in Berkeley College. You can contact him at email@example.com.