Essay originally appeared on AfterEllen.com
The best way to repair a family is to repair the family. In theory, the LGBTQ community is a family. In theory, the Black Lives Matter movement is a family. Individually, these two families have similarities, but they are far from identical. In order to understand any kind of intersectionality, one has to understand what is right (and less so) about them. In essence, the struggle for gay rights was a human rights issue, but now it is a civil one. The struggle for black lives, while part civil, is vastly a struggle for humanity. This is a human rights issue. The struggle to be not only fully recognized, in all of our faults and greatness, as humans, but to not be slaughtered (by anyone) as animals.
In practice, even in the bisexual culture, I identify with, there are “isms.” Too femme. Too butch. Too left. Too right. Too…gay. Too…straight. It makes my head spin. When do we begin to understand that a little struggle is a lot of struggle? When can we put theory into practice? Another interesting and disheartening fact is that being gay doesn’t make one more tolerant of other groups. There are racist gays. There are sexist gays. I’m sure if we think hard, we can uncover instances of prejudice about gays, by gays. As a bisexual woman who happens to be black, I have to say I am discriminated against damn near everywhere I go. Even the gay club.
As a black woman, I also feel discriminated against within the black culture I so love. I love my blackness. For the most part, other black people love my blackness, too. But there’s this “dark little secret” about being gay. The black community, generally speaking, overwhelmingly does not care about my gay life. They look down on my gay life and (black) Christians have violently oppressed gays in the name of what’s “holy.” It comes from everywhere. In the non-black gay community? I am overlooked and discriminated against often. So, friends, while we as the LGBTQ community thrive, and as the BLM movement gains power, there is still much work to be done. To repair the family, we must honor and repair other families within the struggle for civil, basic and human rights.
So when we speak about the intersectionality of the BLM and LGBTQ families, what are we really speaking about? It has to begin with the notion that while we’re different, we can be true allies. And if you didn’t know: being part of the Black Lives Matter movement has nothing to do with discounting other lives. We ALL know blacks in this country have been systemically oppressed, and while we have our own problems within our own community, we have been treated as less than human, historically. We cannot hide our blackness, and it’s insulting when people try and discount the need for everyone to understand that our lives DO matter.
Humanity. Race. Sexual Orientation. Religious Affiliation. Which do you identify with first? And why is it necessary for hierarchies within identity? Do you think there is a “gay” agenda? What do you consider the agenda of the BLM movement? I’ll take a whirl at these questions; I posed these same questions to people within my communities, and it’s been a strain to get answers. So I’ll take the lead. I am human, then black, then gay, then spiritually based in Christianity, yet I do not conform to many Christian practices. I cannot hide my humanity or my blackness. Being bisexual is not a choice for me, yet I could be “straight” I guess. At least in society. And as far as Christianity, it was pseudo-forced on me as a child. Now I pray to God every single day. I even prayed for God (Him, Her, It) to bless my hands and mind as I type these words.
I think there are natural hierarchies to identity. Society pressures us to be “something,” and when we are, we are dealt with accordingly. I do not think these totem poles are necessary, but I am all too aware they exist. I believe there have been many gay “agendas.” Most recently the fight for marriage was won, and that is monumental. I can marry my girlfriend if I want. I’m not quite ready for that (lol) but it’s comforting to know I can. As far as the BLM movement, I believe far and above anything, we want accountability for those who police us, and to not be literally slaughtered at the hands of those whose job it is to “serve and protect.”
Malcolm London is a Chicago activist and a rap friend of mine. He has been a face of Chicago’s struggle with police, BLM, and he’s a straight black man. I asked him the aforementioned questions as well as a few more about the intersectionality of BLM and the LGBTQ families. As far as identity hierarchy goes, he believes his blackness is political. It’s more than an identity, and he believes the hierarchy exists but it’s not necessary. He also believes some identities are realized simultaneously, i.e. black, hetero and human, equally.
As a young man, growing up black in Chicago didn’t mean growing up “normal.” Malcolm also had very different views as a teenager and hung with a very heteronormative crowd. He believes trans lives are absolutely part of the BLM movement and should be at the center of it, considering our trans family have been some of the most affected by discriminatory violence. He expressed to me that as far as BLM goes, some of the “realest people” in the movement are queer. He has been immersed in the movement for as long as I can remember, and it is refreshing to hear his perspective. Queer activism doesn’t bother him; he is not, however, part of the majority. We are looking to change that.
To Malcolm, the “gay agenda” is to be alive and able to exist without scrutiny and without violent oppression; this is not a scary thing. As far as his agenda for BLM? He wants accountability for police, and ideally for that system to be abolished. He wants to live in a world where police aren’t killing folks, a world devoid of racism, and a world where his nieces and nephews can grow up safe in their black skin. He also believes having a mate is comparable to fighting for freedom. He wants to figure out how to love as a cis-straight-black-male without replicating oppressive systems. And free love, to put it poetically, is freedom.
“Straight black people should know they have privileges queer blacks do not have, and they should be intentional about recognizing the LGBTQ community. We need to support ALL black folks. You can have your personal views and still fight for the protection of all of us, because when racist cops see any of us, regardless of sexual identity, all they see is BLACK. And as far as queer white people, they should know that just because you’re queer doesn’t mean you are devoid of prejudice. You’re not exempt from harming because you’ve been harmed, so please be more aware of the oppression of us all.”
Kristen Kaza is Principal and Creative Director of Chicago-based event and cultural production company No Small Plans. She is also co-founder of popular queer dance party Slo ‘Mo. At the surface, she is a queer white woman, but the identities she most closely nurtures and professes are femme, queer and empath. She doesn’t believe identities should be hierarchal, but she thinks there is power in harnessing one’s identity. She also doesn’t think anyone has the right to impose an identity on another person they didn’t already profess for themselves. For her, and for many of us, identity is personal! She laughs when I ask her what the “gay agenda” is, and believes the fight for marriage equality dominated the focus of the LGBTQ movement for some time, while many critical queer issues such as youth homelessness, trans rights, and affordable access to healthcare have not received the same financial or societal support.
Her own “gay agenda” is focused on cultivating spaces and opportunities for queer women, femme-identified people and queer people of color. She is fighting against lesbian erasure. She is also particularly interested in community building in terms of self-care, which is still so needed. As far as what Kristen thinks regarding the BLM agenda, she doesn’t believe she can personally speak on what it is, but she is impressed, inspired and grateful to see how intersectional it is in its representation. She’s also impressed with a lot of the youth leading the charge. She recognizes the strong presence of leadership and representation of queer, women and femme-identified people; this is what sets it apart from many other social justice movements. Most movements have often been dominated by men. She says, “Femme presence just changes the tone and organization of everything!”
As a teenager, Kristen was always passionate about social justice and caring for others. She’s always loved to throw a good party, and she’s never been quiet or shy. Her core identity isn’t all that different now, and it shows.
“I think white LGBTQ need to work harder, generally, to advance the stories, experiences, voices and loves of our black LGBTQ community. The marriage equality movement had support in such epic proportions largely due to the fact that it relied on a fairly traditional American value, which is marriage and monogamy. As a country, we’ve largely abandoned caring for black people, and you see this reflected within the microcosm of the LGBTQ community as well. After the incredible support given to the gay community for marriage equality, it’s our duty to fight for the needs of our black community members—learning how we can fight against the prison industrial complex, reducing violence and harm, work to lower poverty and homelessness for youth, whom are largely black and brown. White LGBTQ people have privilege and a platform and need to use it. In terms of a message to communicate to straight black people, including the narratives and experiences of LGBTQ black people is so important—in culture, in the classroom, in families.”
It is interesting to note the spectrum of people I’ve interviewed for this article, and how many of the answers to this question connect. I reached out to some folks, gay and straight, black and white who refused to answer these questions, and I believe it’s because some people are uncomfortable with how they feel about all of this. The conversation right here is necessary and fruitful. There are no easy solutions.
Roy Kinsey is a queer-identified black rapper who stole my heart last year at a gig we played together. When asked some of the aforementioned questions, he begins with a deep sigh. I know this is due to the pressures of being a black male in America, coupled with being gay. It’s a lot, and his answers are eye-opening. As far as his identity and the idea of hierarchies, he believed we as people get so confused and caught up in this game. He likens it to a matrix. He says that when we “do (identity hierarchies) to ourselves, we carry on the work of the oppressors.”He remembers his humanity but more importantly his spirit helps him connect with the universe and the ancestors
Roy thinks the majority of his struggle with how to “be” in the world comes from wanting to honor his contracts with these figures. He says he acts on a human level until we as people receive rebuttals concerning black/gay/whatever lives, and he is reminded that he is black. And blacks, by and large, are treated differently than other groups. However, he prioritizes blackness because some people overwhelmingly misunderstand, undermine and mimic us. He seeks to honor his contract and his humanity while loving and embracing his blackness because many people don’t see us at all. He further explains to me that thanks to Freud, we believe being gay is the opposite of being manly, and that simply isn’t true. He says it is the “feminine” man, he who cannot easily put on a mask or blend into a stereotypical “masculine” role, who exhibits the manliest of characteristics. To live honestly and loudly is true bravery.
As a teenager, Roy was teased for having “feminine” qualities. Ironically, the machismo act of rapping gave him the confidence to come out and embrace those qualities more as an adult. This gives him a sense of pride, and he offers that we as a people need to change the conversation around femininity as if that’s the worse thing to be as a man. And as far as a “gay” agenda, he’s not sure what it could be. He jokes that black gays are the last to know anything, so if there is one we were not cc’ed on the memo, haha! Furthermore, he considers gay lives and trans lives part of BLM and says it would be a huge disservice to the movement if those voices were excluded. To quote, “[T]he movement’s loudest voices and strongest fighters have come from Queer Black folks. From Langston to Bayard, to Baldwin to Deray.”
When asked what he would want straight blacks and white LGBTQ people to know about the intersectionality of BLM and the queer movement, Roy professes he doesn’t necessarily want anyone to know anything. He says homophobia, racism and transphobia are not the problems of the victims, and for these issues to be solved the rogue cops and murderers simply need to be help accountable. The government must be more protective of people as a whole.
“[I]f anything, folks should know that once you allow anybody to be oppressed, you are inviting your own oppression. The liberties we all hold dear whether integration, voting rights or marriage equality would probably have not come to fruition if it wasn’t for the tireless work, demonstration and dedication of Black Queers.”
I agree with Roy that if you are against either movement, in any way, you are in turn inviting oppressors to turn against you.
Families are complicated. Families struggle and families are dysfunctional. If you take anything from the answers of the incredible people I interviewed here, it’s that there are no easy answers. Accountability, true acceptance and understanding are all threaded through this piece. Whether cis-straight, queer-identified or other, black or non-black, we need reform in our families in order to fight for the freedoms every person deserves. Whether fighting for gay rights or black rights, there are many ways our struggles intersect. It is at these intersections where we become our most powerful. And that kind of power will be our greatest weapon. Blessings.
Psalm One is a hip hop artist based in Chicago. Find her on Twitter: @psalmone