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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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3 Responses to “An Open Letter to White Queer People”

  1. Rowan Ve

    Amazing, and an important message for people (like myself) who didn’t realize how bad it is. Thank you for writing this.

  2. jonah jones

    “Just because you belong to a marginalized group does not give you the right to marginalize others .”

    In what context does one hear or read “no blacks, no femmes, no trans ” ? , because I never see it nor hear it.

    Queerness is ” NOT ” a construct originally built and described by white people for white people. It is an extremely vile epithet ( like the N-word ) that was thrown at gays and then ” ADOPTED and claimed ” by gays as a way to dilute the ” sting ” of the word and turn the tables on those who used it to disparage them.

    The only way that I can conceive of this phrase ( “no blacks, no femmes, no trans ” ) being used is when highly selective and ignorant people are soliciting sex partners . Please tell where else one can read or hear this phrase.

    Blacks are generally the ones who are judging and victimizing and marginalizing each other , not gay white men . The terms that blacks often use for their own are “sissy” and ” bull-dyke ” and there are probably many more .

    When one projects positive energy and enters a room not judging others , one is usually swamped with new acquaintances and has no time to worry about what others think .

  3. Daddy D.

    Jonah, your response sounds like that of a Caucasian man, trying to deny his use of white privilege, as well as his knowledge of such. If you do not see the ads, and see the non-verbal racism, as well as the verbal, it is because you choose not to see.

    I am German-Jew/Afrikan, mixed-race, and no, I don’t look like my father, skin wise. When I receive a phone call from Germany and I speak, read, and write German fluently, it is never other brown skinned person who asks me what language I am speaking, it is always a white male, and it is generally followed with laughter, looking around over the shoulder with the question of why would an Afrikan-American speak German, must have been military. When I say that I am not Afrikan-Amerikan, but German/Afrikan, immediately I am asked how could an Afrikan-Amerikan not identify as one? I am told I am denying my race, then I have to become explicit and step by step put their ignorance in their face.

    Your comments remind me of a white classmate in my doctoral psychology program who looked at me and told me that there was no prejudice in our program, because he had never experienced it.

    I have rarely seen no black, femmes, trans either, but I have seen it before. But its generally not the name calling that Caucasian people engage. Its the look you give one another, the look you give brown skinned people, the little comments. As someone who was born out of this culture I am very aware of it, still, in its many different formats.

    Should you respond by saying you are not Caucasian, then you have a very different issue that you need to address.