Em-URGE-ing Voices

Your urgent thoughts, urging action

An Open Letter to White Queer People

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February 25, 2014

In 1969, in the early hours of June 28th, in a small corner of New York City, police raided Stonewall Inn. It’s been close to fifty years since that day and a lot has been lost and convoluted to fit the more dominant discourse of queer activism. Now, I am not claiming to be an expert on the Stonewall riots in any way. But let me be clear about what I do know. I do know that a budding concept of trans* identities were coming to fruition in the late 1950s and 60s. And that a lot of these people, men, women, and non-binary, began their transitions through drag.

And I do know that on June 28, 1969, it was a black drag queen that picked up the first brick and gave us the modern LGBTQ movement. And as a black queer woman, I will never ever forget that.

The concept of intersectionality is probably not new to most of you. You must be able to understand that our identities mingle in ways that produce specific ways of understanding and viewing the world around us. So you must see that race and sexuality and gender are forever intertwined and cannot be unwoven.

I write you this letter today for two reasons. First, this Black History Month is as much a celebration of black determination and fortitude as it is a celebration of black queer achievements. And second, a black drag queen did not risk her life throwing the first brick to have her sisters and brothers told almost half a century later “no blacks, no femmes, no trans*”.

The aggregate of the queer community is ours just as much as it is yours. This movement is not your own, it belongs to all of us. To everyone who has had to struggle with who they are because we are told we should not exist.

As black queer people we should not fear our white counterparts. But some of us do. As black queer people, we should feel welcome in spaces for queer bodies, but most of us don’t. As a black queer woman I should not be made into a caricature or turned into a trope by white gay men.

As black trans* women are murdered in the streets and sent to prisons where they are denied their hormone therapy and placed in prisons that do not match their gender identity, you cannot sit by, fingers in your ears, chanting “no blacks, no femmes, no trans*”.

As black people make up the largest segment of the queer community, you do not get to stand there and make us feel uncomfortable in our own brown skin.

Something has to change. And don’t misunderstand me that that something has to be with you. A very good friend of mine once said “Just because you belong to a marginalized group does not give you the right to marginalize others.”

Your queerness does not exempt you from being actively or passively racist. Queerness is a construct originally built and described by white people for white people. And once you allow this reality to permeate some of your thicker skulls black queer people will be able to feel comfortable not just being in queer spaces, but identifying as queer.

As a child I experienced a lot of inner struggle regarding my own sexuality and ethnicity because the dominant discourse told me that queerness was a “white thing.” As a ten year old who was having feelings that didn’t match up with what I was told my sexuality and ethnicities were supposed to produce I felt scared and lost and completely alone.

And almost nine years later I should not have to walk into a room full of queers and feel the same as I did at ten.

It’s time for something to change. And it has to be with you.

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