COMMENTARY: I am angry. I am angry that once again the white, cis, lesbian and gay rights movement is profiting off the pain, grief, and experiences of queer and trans people of color. I am angry that queer and trans people of color continue to be commodified and used as collateral to push a single-issue policy. I am angry, and as a queer, gender nonconforming Latinx, I am allowed to be angry.
When will the experiences of queer and trans people of color no longer be white-washed and used as a marketing strategy? When will queer and trans people of color be uplifted as leaders and honored for the knowledge that we carry?
That Sunday morning, in the wake of Orlando, I remember feeling paralyzed, enraged, fearful, disoriented, and with a heavy heart for the homophobic violence that had been inflicted on queer and trans people of color. This was not an act on all Americans — this was a homophobic hate crime that took the lives of 49 people and injured 53 at a gay nightclub on Latin night. The majority of people were Latinx, Black, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Salvadoran, and some were undocumented.
Similar to the way that Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Storme Delarverie, and Raymond Castro were white-washed, forgotten, erased, and lost, until recently, from our queer and trans history, the Orlando narrative was quickly moving in that trajectory. Only when the safety of the white LGBTQ community was threatened were we given permission to talk about how violence affects our communities.
For many days after Orlando, my healing and processing were connected to fighting for space to have my experiences heard and validated. There were no moments to just pause and sit with the pain and heal.
Rather than healing, I had to cope and work through the grief to fight the erasure of queer and trans people of color and ensure that narratives didn’t further fuel Islamophobia. I had to fight mainstream narratives that were intentionally dismissing the ways in which racism and homophobia are perpetuated, and I continued to elevate the complexity of those who live at multiple intersections of oppression. But, as a queer Latinx, I was being “too confrontational,” “too political,” or “talking too much.” My reaction was being policed in the same way that queer and trans people of color have historically been policed.
Not everyone is Orlando. The “next frontier” for the LGBTQ movement is not a single-issue conversation about gun control. Even before the fight for marriage equality was over, queer and trans people of color have known what needs to be done for equity, full access, self-determination, and liberation. As written by Essex Lordes in a recent Huffington Post article, “According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ 2015 Hate Violence report, LGBTQ people of color report experiencing the highest rates of bias in workplaces, schools, and housing, placing us at higher risk of unemployment and homelessness. These types of violence often intersect with an increased vulnerability to street harassment, physical violence, sexual violence, and intimate partner violence.”
The conversation about safety and violence is not a conversation that just began in the aftermath of Orlando. The most marginalized in the LGBTQ community, especially queer and trans people of color, have always carried these fears. Safety and violence do not exist in monolithic boxes – it is multifaceted and complex. We can’t talk about safety and violence without the lens of racial justice, gender justice, economic justice, and disability justice. We can’t have a conversation about violence without centering the lived realities of queer and trans people of color, with many intersecting identities, and allowing them to speak for themselves without having to create that space for themselves. Queer and trans people of color for too long have been told to not take up too much space, to hold our tongues, to not demand more, and to not challenge oppression.
We live in a culture that is complicit in this type of violence. Orlando is a product of homophobia, transphobia, racism, and misogyny that is perpetuated everyday though daily harassments, slurs, threatening gestures, and physical harm. We must acknowledge and uplift this analysis in our conversations of queer and trans liberation.
Violence is not only what happened in Orlando. Violence is being told you aren’t seen for your full authentic self. Violence is having a rainbow postcard in your room and watching a family member tear it up. Violence is the incarceration and deportation of undocumented immigrants — many who are also queer and trans. Violence is being targeted for who we love and how we love. Violence is having people in positions of power devalue, criminalize, and dehumanize LGBTQ people for using the public accommodations that are consistent with one’s gender identity.
LGBTQ liberation is more than marriage. Being LGBTQ is also being Muslim, undocumented, living with a mental health condition, living with a disability, living in poverty, and so much more. Having a pride sticker and wearing a rainbow bracelet is not enough. Support and respect cannot be limited to when it is convenient and easy.
Support and respect for queer and trans individuals cannot be conditional to LGBTQ folks who no longer challenge oppression and the status quo. White LGBTQ folks who work in solidarity with LGBTQ people of color, as well as straight and cisgender allies, must understand the ways in which intersectional oppression manifests. In order to have safety, the ability to thrive, self-determination, and liberation, we must stop putting LGBTQ folks in monolithic boxes. We need to honor and celebrate queer and trans lives in life — not just in death.
As a queer Latinx leader of color in a state-based LGBTQ equality organization, I have this to offer the national LGBTQ equality movement as a whole: Instead of moving ahead without queer and trans people of color affected by Orlando and the daily threats of racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and all our intersecting identities, take a moment to pause, step back, and sit in the discomfort of not having all the answers. Recognize that others around you have already been working on building an LGBTQ movement that is critical of oppression experienced by the most marginalized in our community. This kind of justice organizing is absolutely possible — policy work must be done in sync with cultural shift and political education. Policy cannot be effectively implemented and provide safety if there is no understanding of who will be most impacted and forgotten.
In order to disrupt and dismantle the violent systems that continue to kill, incarcerate, and deport queer and trans folks — mostly of color — we must not talk over, speak for, or silence the most most marginalized. No matter how many times the voices and experiences of queer and trans people of color are attempted to be made invisible and erased, I will speak truth to power. I will speak and take up as much space as needed because I know there are folks ready to pause, listen to the most marginalized, and build through the lens of racial justice, gender justice, economic justice and disability justice.
Myra Llerenas is the Southern New Mexico field director for Equality New Mexico.