by Bea Esperanza Fonseca
In 1990, a group of gay activists crashed a church service at a Cathedral, while Roman Catholic Bishop John O’Connor was presiding over mass. They disrupted the service because the Bishop made off-hand comments about condom use and AIDS, and they staged the largest Church protest in history with 43 people getting arrested. A1990 New York Times article, recalled “one member crumbled a communion wafer, desecrating what Roman Catholics believe to be the body of Christ.” It is well-documented that ACT-UP was a group mostly comprised of white, cisgender, gay men.
ACT-UP and the other AIDS activists in decades past are largely celebrated for advancing the movement for gay rights in the United States. Is it any surprise that the gay white community celebrates their disruptive history but silences trans women of color when they speak up? Is it any surprise that gay white men fought tooth and nail when their lives were under attack, but now cowardly retreat into silence when trans women of color are dying at unprecedented rates? White gay men give themselves permission to be disruptive when they feel it necessary, but they silence and criminalize trans women of color for doing the same when our lives are being destroyed.
This past Wednesday, my trans latina sister, Jennicet Gutierrez, made national headlines when she interrupted President Barack Obama during the White House Pride reception. As a trans latina myself, seeing the way that the mostly white, gay community responded to her was the most painful and outrageous aspect of the event. Trans women of color like Jennicet have been on the front lines of the struggle for queer and trans liberation since the birth of our movement.
While many in our community post about how Caitlyn Jenner is so courageous for transitioning, they are somehow blinded to seeing the real heroes before them. Real courage is being the lone voice in a room full of fake allies and still speaking up. Real courage is putting your immigration status and life on the line to fight for your immigrant trans sisters. Real courage is crashing a party at the White House to demand liberation for your people.
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I am very concerned with the direction our movement is going in. It seems as if so many in our movement are willing to sell their souls once they are recognized by power. All it takes are a couple of crystal chandeliers and the Deporter-in-Chief shaking their hand and suddenly they forget about the blood of both our ancestors and our transcestors that was spilled to even allow them entrance to the White House in the first place. Our modern movement suffers from severe memory loss.
Those people who silenced my sister forget about Jasmin Vash Payne getting stabbed 18 times and then lit on fire in my own neighborhood. They forget about Deshawnda Sanchez getting shot to death while she was begging for help in Compton. They forget about 22 year old Bri Golec getting stabbed to death by her own father. They forget about 24 year old Ty Underwood being shot by her boyfriend and left for dead. They forget about Taja De Jesus who was stabbed multiple times and left to die in a stairwell.
They forget that Marsha P. Johnson, that Miss Major, that Sylvia Rivera were real heroes, and that mainstream gay and lesbian organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, pale in comparison.
I believe that there is a big divide in our “LGBTQ community,” to the point that I no longer believe we can authentically call ourselves one movement or community. There are those of us who want to enjoy privilege and exploit others just like white straight men, and there are those of us who seek liberation from the exploitative system itself.
This morning, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. But for those of us who seek liberation, I believe that we must destroy the notion that marriage will save us. Gay marriage, marriage equality—whatever you want to call it—is a distraction from what is killing us. We can no longer wait for the white gay establishment to recognize us, and instead do whatever it takes to take back our movement. We must leave behind respectability politics and take upon ourselves the following three demands.
We will never get free until black trans women get free. All individuals, organizations and collectives must center their work on black trans women. We need black trans women to have leadership positions, to have access to employment, and to guide our organizations in ways that are not tokenization. If you have no black trans women in your organization, it is not because there are none. It is because you are not taking the time to invest in their lives. We must also recognize the multitude of ways that we already benefit from the labor of black trans women, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major.
2) $15 minimum wage for trans and queer workers
Working class trans and queer people deserve access to jobs that start at $15 an hour. We need to fight for jobs that are unionized, provide healthcare, and have clear protections in the union contract from harassment, discrimination, and illegal firing. Trans people, especially trans women of color, report unemployment at twice the rate of the general population. If we are lucky enough to be employed, then we are living in severe poverty, as we are four times more likely to report a household income of under $10,000 a year. And, we have to deal with verbal and physical violence on the job, all the time. We need access to jobs, and jobs that pay us a living wage.
3) #Not1More LGBTQ Deportation
As Jennicet stated, trans women in detention centers are “misgendered, exposed to assault, and put in detention centers with men.” She reminds us that “transgender immigrants make up one out of every 500 people in detention, but we account for one out of five confirmed sexual abuse cases in ICE custody.” We need to demand the release of all detained trans women, and an immediate end to all deportations.
The future of our movement is in our hands. And we have a responsibility to use every platform we have to declare that black trans lives matter, that we need access to good jobs, and not one more queer or trans deportation. We can either continue to allow white gay male supremacy to silence us, or we can fight back and demand that we be treated with dignity. A line has been drawn and a question has been posed to all who identify under the queer and trans umbrella. Will you rise up and do whatever it takes to fight for our liberation?
Bea Fonseca (@mujermalaa) is a working class trans latina coming from Los Angeles, CA. She works to build trans power and worker power, always building connections between the labor movement and the movement for trans liberation. She is a writer, organizer, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to get free.
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