“It’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.”
-Malcolm X, Human Rights Advocate
The following is written in response to a FB post from a friend of mine. She posted an image with the words: “Why Queer Rights and Black Rights are Inseparable.“ Below the image she wrote: “Is this true?”
There were roughly 120 comments, many of them expressing disagreement with this sentiment. While not surprising, it was still hard to read. This very topic had been on my mind. It’s been central to the work of CWC as we continue to widen and deepen our scope of what a “just” society actually means. This post, and the ensuing conversation it started–gave me the kick in the pants I needed to finally write.
I’ve often heard it suggested that any simultaneous discussion of patriarchy and/or LGBTQ+ rights with the rights of Black folks is counter-productive. I empathize with the sentiment, for it comes largely out of the fact that when America talks about “the LGBTQ+ community”, they are, in fact, talking specifically about white, cis-gendered, gay men. However, you don’t hold the whole LGBTQ+ community responsible for that.
That’s white supremacy in action. It shows up in every community, every movement. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights is no exception.
Every time we respond to another life lost at the hands of the state, we have another opportunity to be better than these oppressive forces. Too often, we squander it. With each movement, I hope we’ll seize the chance to show the world a different way.
We have historically silenced Black women and Black LGBTQ+ folks since the days of the UNIA. The SCLC and the CRM made that mistake. The BPP made that mistake (although Huey Newton came around). Academia continues to make that mistake.
“Homosexuality is a sickness, just as baby-rape or wanting to become head of General Motors.”
-Eldridge Cleaver, Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party
“…the women’s liberation front and gay liberation front are our friends, they are our potential allies, and we need as many allies as possible.”
-Huey Newton, Co-Founder of the Black Panther Party
Today, Black men too often sacrifice Black women and/or Black LGBTQ+ folks at the altar of patriarchy—attempting to reassure systems of power that we don’t want an end to white supremacist patriarchy. We just want “next.”
We will protest to the point of endangering ourselves in order to make the world understand that Black lives matter. But when we lost Breonna Taylor to the same sort of senseless violence that killed George Floyd, too many of us shook our collective heads and kept it moving. When we lost Riah Milton and Dominique Fells–two Black transgender women, I didn’t see so much as a #hashtag outside of the LGBTQ+ community.
When we collectively think of women as half our population, and not half a heterosexual man’s popularity, we will have gotten closer to the mark.
We are demanding that white America take us as we are, while refusing to accept ourselves as we are. I fear we are doomed to repeat the shortcomings of every social movement that has come before.
We have the chance to demonstrate that when you say “BLM” you mean it—without exception. You don’t ask some members of our community to “wait their turn.” You don’t say to them, “let me get mine first.”
You intuitively understand that if we get that Black, queer, disabled, muslim woman in the heart of Mississippi secure, then the rest of us gucci af. In other words, we can see ourselves “whole.”
You amplify those very voices. You move them to the front of the line. You demonstrate to the world the very cultural conditions you want to see for yourself. You show white America what solidarity looks like, instead of fighting for freedom using their “me-first” playbook.
Don’t worry. Black LGBTQ folk won’t “replace” you. This ain’t an alt-right march in Charlottesville. Is it?
Do we just go ahead and order our tiki torches and khakis rn?
Freedom is, by definition, collective. When Malcolm X said it’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody, he wasn’t making a threat. It was an observation.
If BLM, let’s accept the nuances that come with Black identity. All of them.
I identify as a heterosexual, able-bodied, Black man (a label that I recognize as outdated, and yet still subscribe to). And in order to ask the world to truly see me, I HAVE to truly see that aforementioned sista in Mississippi. And every sista. And every brotha. And see them whole. The way I want to be seen. Hear them whole. The way I’d be heard. Otherwise, I risk a highly visible hypocrisy that could undermine my movement before it even begins.
Understanding any and all plights in our community gives me greater context for the struggle ahead. Elevating every voice strengthens my own. Centering every story makes mine all the more powerful. Then, perhaps, the world will be moved.
It will one day ask us why we did that. And when we respond that we looked within and saw only ourselves, the world might finally begin to understand what equity means.
Peace to the LGBTQ folks who organized BLM rallies across the country. Peace to those who used their PRIDE parades to center BLM. Peace to those disproportionately forgotten despite your best efforts. I see you.
Peace to my ancestors, elders, and contemporaries: Bayard Rustin, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Moms Mabley, Marsha P Johnson, Alvin Ailey, Lori Lightfoot, and to BLM founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, & Opal Tometi….
And to all the other Black LGBTQ+ folks who reminded us of our whole beauty even as we denied parts of your own.
Peace to those who think l’m full of shit. I see you too.
Delma is a Senior Fellow with CWC. His focus is on facilitating system change on campuses and in institutions through transformative practice and the power of story. He received his undergraduate degree in African-American Studies and Psychology, and his Masters in Liberal Arts with a concentration in American and African American Studies at the University of Michigan. He regularly lectures on a variety of socio-political topics with a special emphasis on intersectional approaches to social justice.