The horrific murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minnesota police officer on May 25, 2020, illuminated for the entire world the pestilence of police brutality and systemic racism in America.
Sadly, it didn’t end there. Since the death of George Floyd, there have been even more incidents of bodily harm and death visited upon Black and Brown people at the hands of out-of-control police officers.
Tony McDade, a Black trans man in Tallahassee, Florida, was killed on May 27. Sean Monterrosa, a 22-year-old Latinx man in Vallejo, California, was killed on June 2. Rayshard Brooks, a Black man shot in a Wendy’s restaurant parking lot in Atlanta, was killed on June 12. And then there are the numerous documented and video-recorded episodes of physical violence directed against activists, protesters, and private citizens by police across the country.
These police-involved killings are not the only cause for outrage. In the last month, the lives of two Black trans women have been lost—Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, age 36, and Riah Milton, age 25. According to the Human Rights Campaign, this brings the number of transgender or gender nonconforming people killed this year to at least 15. Black trans women are being disproportionately impacted by this violence.
And as if that weren’t enough, attention has now turned to a suspicious pattern of hanging deaths among Black men, supposedly due to suicide. In all of the four known cases, the victims were found hanging from trees in plain sight. The body of a Houston Latinx man was discovered hanging from a tree limb on June 15.
Given the terrible legacy of lynchings in this country, it isn’t hard to imagine why people might be suspicious of the details surrounding these recent hangings. At a minimum, it speaks to how the lens of racial identity can complicate our understanding of events. It also highlights the need to promote mental-health and wellness resources, as well as suicide-prevention hotlines, in marginalized communities.
This current iteration of the Black Lives Matter movement has developed against the backdrop of a community already reeling from the medical, economic, and psychological fallout of a worldwide pandemic. Now, with the near-constant focus on racial injustice, people are feeling ‘all of the feelings’—overwhelmed, infuriated, exhausted, and terrorized.
LGBTQ people have been asking themselves what they should say and what more they can do to fight racial injustice. Despite our reluctance and fatigue, pressing forward with these conversations is vitally important. We must come to terms with the systemic racism that has festered within our schools, organizations, and companies as we work for real change, because lives are at stake.
While our LGBTQ+ community may have sidestepped conversations about racial injustice in the past, we are again being called to reckon with the ways that racism impacts us, both as individuals and as a community.
It is no longer sufficient to simply say that “I’m not a racist” or acknowledge the privileges from which we benefit. Frankly, this mere lip service is what has gotten us to this point. The work of anti-racism requires action. Ask yourself: What am I willing to do to actively dismantle the entrenched systems of racism?
Walking the Walk
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Black community is exhausted from hearing so many empty promises made for so many years. Talk isn’t enough. There are concrete steps we can take to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
• White people should stop calling or texting Black people to ask them if they are okay. Simply put, they are probably not okay. Avoid telling them that you didn’t know how bad the racism really is, or that you feel bad about the injustices. This creates additional emotional labor for Black people while they are doing the necessary work of coping with and healing from the actual traumatic events brought on by out-of-control racists.
• See color. Acknowledge that racism within the LGBTQIA+ community exists. And while you reflect on this truth, also acknowledge the sexism, xenophobia, transphobia, body shaming, and ableism that runs rampant within our community. We won’t be able to truly address racism without addressing the ways in which so many members of our own community are also disenfranchised.
• Recognize that simply being LGBTQ is not enough to understand the full experience of bias and oppression that is a part of being Black in this country. Yes, there are no doubt similarities with the LGBTQ experience of systemic oppression. But practicing the radical empathy necessary to adequately appreciate the Black experience requires significant time, effort, and education.
• Many of us have made the important first step of acknowledging our various types of privilege. From not having to worry about public-restroom confrontations to being fully able-bodied and debt-free, privilege has been a topic of conversation for some time. But how can you leverage your privilege and make it work on behalf of those without it? How can you use your privilege for the benefit of others?
• Speak out against racist views that you hear being expressed by your friends and family. Oftentimes, offensive views expressed when Black people aren’t around go unchecked. Rather than avoiding difficult conversations, think through ahead of time how you might engage someone who has offensive opinions about anyone who looks different. Silence is complicity, and merely “agreeing to disagree” contributes to the overall toxicity of racial injustice.
• Work against the sexual fetishizing or diminution of Black people. It is far from a compliment to glorify the Black cisgender female body or express sexual interest in a Black man by invoking demeaning sexual stereotypes. On the flip side, proudly stating that your romantic or sexual preferences completely exclude an entire ethnic group is a sure sign of white-supremacist leanings.
• Show up for the movement to support and protect Black trans women. Stop using offensive terminology regarding gender-nonconforming persons. Black trans men and women should not be forgotten in the fight for LGBTQ equality.
• Educate yourself, rather than asking your Black friends to educate you. Google first, then ask those Black friends for recommendations later. There is no shortage of books, movies, and podcasts that can provide us with the motivation and resources we need in order to dismantle racism and anti-blackness.
• In your everyday conversations, tell your friends that “all Black lives matter.” And if speaking that phrase makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why that is. It should not be a stretch to acknowledge the humanity of your Black friends and neighbors.
This article appears in the July 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.