Mourning & Fighting for Black Lives in the LGBT Movement

Leaders of Local & National LGBT Organizations

Today a group of queer and trans people of color disrupted business as usual in two bars in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco by conducting public ceremonies of mourning for Black people killed by police brutality, homophobic attacks, and transphobic violence.

Acting in solidarity with Black-led groups such as Black Brunch, the Blackout Collective, and Black Lives Matter, and with the support of white allies, this group of queer and trans people of color has come together to mourn the many Black lives cut short by police and vigilante attacks, celebrate the resistance and vision of queer Black organizers, and take direct action against anti-Black violence.

Even as we create unexpected space for collective mourning in white-dominated gay bars and neighborhoods, we also challenge mainstream LGBT groups to make real their commitment to racial justice.

Please join us in this project. Whether or not you are able to join actions in the streets, there are many ways to get involved. We invite all queer, trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, two spirit, same gender loving, asexual, gender-nonconforming, and intersex people to sign the open letter below.

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To: Leaders of Local & National LGBT Organizations
From: [Your Name]

An Open Letter to LGBT Organizations Nationwide:

Many of you signed on to a letter of support for Michael Brown and his family last August. A subset of you also signed a statement of solidarity against anti-Black police violence and a call to action in December.

How will you take action to guarantee that the safety of Black lives is central to your organization’s work, policy, and practice? Many of you have published heartfelt commentaries on Ferguson without taking any concrete action to center the struggle for Black lives—including the lives of Black queer and trans people. How will you shift your campaigns and programming?

It’s time to turn sorrow into action. The queer community as we know it today was forged through acts of collective mourning in the face of the HIV epidemic, police brutality, and bigoted attacks. Politicized rituals of mourning—from the HIV quilt to vigils and wakes for murdered queer and trans family—were once central to LGBT culture. But now that the HIV epidemic is wreaking its worst devastation within the Black community, and now that most reports of hate violence involve attacks on Black and Latina trans women, mourning has become nothing more than a footnote in many white-dominated LGBT spaces.

We must make space to mourn. Every 28 hours a Black person is killed by the police or vigilantes in the United States. The average life expectancy of a Black transgender woman is 35 years. In 2013, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence programs reported that 72 percent of hate crimes were against trans women, 89 percent of whom were transgender women of color.

Not long ago, police also openly targeted and beat white gay and gender nonconforming people, and the authorities ignored it. The government and social structures that made these beatings “normal” for all gays and lesbians are the same structures of violence that have made it “normal” for the state to rape, kill, incarcerate, and enslave Black people for over 400 years.

Today, we mourn the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, and too many other black people who have lost their lives to systemic violence. We mourn Mia Henderson, Islan Nettles, Kandy Hall, Yaz’min Shancez, Tiffany Edwards, Ashley Sherman, Deshawnda Sanchez, Eyricka Morgan, and the many other Black queer and trans people killed by vigilantes or police. We also lift up the names of surviving Black queer and trans brothers and sisters who are leading the overlapping struggles for racial justice and queer and trans liberation.

As queer, trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, two spirit, intersex, same gender loving, asexual, and gender-nonconforming signatories of this letter, we commit to do work in our own communities to end the assault on Black lives. We challenge you to make your stated commitments to racial justice real. We ask that you stand firmly on the side of justice and in solidarity with ALL our community including Black queer and trans people. In the words of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy: “In reality, Stonewall was a revolutionary riot in response to extreme brutality, not a whitewashed basket of happy rainbows or vanilla flavored wedding cake.”

We call on you to:

1) Insistently bring up issues of racial justice and respond to complaints within your membership with concerted efforts at raising consciousness about intersectional identities and oppressions.

2) Channel resources to Black queer and trans groups (such as the Trans People of Color Coalition, National Black Justice Coalition, Black Trans Women’s Lives Matter, Trans Women of Color Collective, and BreakOUT!) and support organizations that have for years been fighting for the lives of queer and trans people of color (such as the TGI Justice Project, FIERCE, the Audre Lorde Project, Freedom Inc., Branching Seedz, Southerners on New Ground, and others).

3) Shift resources and focus away from campaigns for marriage equality, inclusion in the military, and hate crimes legislation, which expands a prison system that targets Black and Brown communities.

4) Instead, find ways to support the safety and wellness of Black queer and trans people that do not rely on hate crimes legislation, incarceration, or policing. Build supportive structures for homeless youth of color and center the concerns of Black queer and trans people, and specifically Black trans women, who are most impacted by violence.

5) Fight for the demands that have come out of Ferguson, recognizing that all our liberation struggles are bound together:

i. The De-militarization of Local Law Enforcement across the country.
ii. A Comprehensive Review of systemic abuses by local police departments, including the publication of data relating to racially biased policing, and the development of best practices.
iii. Repurposing of law enforcement funds to support community based alternatives to incarceration and the conditioning of DOJ funding on the ending of discriminatory policing and the adoption of DOJ best practices.
iv. A Congressional Hearing investigating the criminalization of communities of color, racial profiling, police abuses and torture by law enforcement.
v. Support the Passage of the End Racial Profiling Act.
vi. The Obama Administration develops, legislates and enacts a National Plan of Action for Racial Justice.