Featured Artwork: Damian Alexander
The Black Lives Matter movement is not new, but this is the largest it has ever been. In the last few days, all fifty states and an additional 18 countries took part in protests to demand justice for George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer. Additional demands for justice have also been made for other victims of not just police brutality, but also the institutional racism of the criminal justice system that failed them. They are Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Kendrick Johnson, Kenneka Jenkins, Tamla Horsford, and so many others. While Floyd’s death has tipped the scales and fueled international outrage, which has now been organized into a dedicated resurgence of the BLM movement, some divisive opinions have emerged online.
While these opinions are on the margins of the movement, they are noticeable, especially on social media platforms such as Twitter. With the onset of Pride Month, there have been some claims that the global struggles of Black people are incompatible with those of LGBTQ+ people and that they are unrelated. Another homophobic idea that divides the Black community is the idea that Black queer people are “Black before they are gay.” This idea is incredibly harmful to the Black LGBTQ+ community. It completely ignores the existence of Black queer people and this does a complete disservice to both the LGBTQ+ and BLM movements. Historically, Black queer activists have done the physical and intellectual work to achieve social progress for the LGBTQ+ community. Marsha P. Johnson and Stormé DeLarverie, a Black transwoman and Black butch lesbian respectively, have both been credited for being instrumental in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Audre Lorde was a Black lesbian whose work revolved around civil rights, feminism, and lesbian issues.
It also does a disservice to the BLM movement because it ignores so many people who have lost their lives for being both Black and queer. Just over a week ago, Tony McDade, a Black transman, was fatally shot by a police officer in Tallahassee, Florida. It has also been less than a week since a large group of people were filmed violently attacking twenty-one-year-old Iyanna Dior, a Black transwoman, in Minneapolis. This is the same Minnesota city where George Floyd was killed. Violence against LGBTQ+ people disproportionately affects Black people, including from the police. Black transwomen face the highest levels of fatal violence within the LGBTQ+ community but are less likely to go to the police for help because they fear being revictimized by them.
We have to highlight stories like that of Tony and Iyanna within the BLM movement. For Black women, the social media hashtag #SayHerName has done incredible work to repair this. It emerged in 2015 following the tragic death of Sandra Bland. #SayHerName deliberately draws attention to female victims of police brutality and has been successful in doing so. But there is definitely still work to be done for Black women within the movement, just as there is so much more to be done for Black LGBTQ+ people.
With that said, it should be noted that this is an issue for the Black community to handle. Afro-Taíno actor and model Indya Moore, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, took to Twitter to discuss this. They wrote that “transphobia and queerphobia is a complex social issue in our Black community. White folks should not instruct black folks to or how to accept black trans folks in the movement for black likes b/c [because] queerphobia & transphobia in our communities stems directly from white colonialism.”
Ultimately, the goal of the BLM movement is incompatible with misogyny, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and all other forms of discrimination that impact Black people across the world. In order to say that Black Lives Matter, we have to acknowledge, respect, and fight for all of them. Otherwise, the movement becomes extremely limited in its scope. You cannot pick and choose which Black lives matter. Intersectionality has to be central to the movement, and right now, during Pride Month and mass international protest, and in the face of homophobic and transphobic opinions, it seems like the best time to draw more attention to it. This conversation has been had several times before, but we have to keep having it. Black LGBTQ+ people have long been overlooked and disrespected for their identity beyond their Blackness, but they are just as important to the movement and need to be fought for, too.