In response to the 2012 acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, Patrice Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi created the Black Lives Matter movement. Their goal was to address the multiple forms of systemic racism within the United States and to protest the injustices African-Americans continue to feel living within a racist system. They sought an inclusive movement-one that spoke to the needs of all black people:
When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state. We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. How Black poverty and genocide is state violence. How 2.8 million Black people are locked in cages in this country is state violence. How Black women bearing the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families is state violence. How Black queer and trans folks bear a unique burden from a hetero-patriarchal society that disposes of us like garbage and simultaneously fetishizes us and profits off of us, and that is state violence. How 500,000 Black people in the US are undocumented immigrants and relegated to the shadows. How Black girls are used as negotiating chips during times of conflict and war. How Black folks living with disabilities and different abilities bear the burden of state sponsored Darwinian experiments that attempt to squeeze us into boxes of normality defined by white supremacy, and that is state violence.
Note the inclusion of black queer and trans people. Cullors, Garza, and Tometi clearly value the lives of all black people, no matter their gender identity, age, ability, or sexuality. That’s important, because African-Americans of all stripes experience discrimination, oppression, and marginalization because of their race. The blackness of a person is not diminished by virtue of them belonging to a particular group. For instance, even as I am an atheist, a feminist, and a gay man, I’m still black. So too are countless other African-Americans. Unfortunately, some members of the African-American community do not value the lives of all black people-often on the basis of gender identity:
In my hometown, sellout Black ministers allied with right wing Republicans have deployed anti-trans hatred to jaw droppingly attempt to keep the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance from passing for the ENTIRE African-American community. It is also galling to the Houston African-American trans community that our local NAACP chapter has been silent about the attacks. I watch as depressing videos surface of Atlanta trans women being verbally harassed and attacked as they ride the MARTA subways and people do nothing to stop the attacks. I’m not surprised the violence has begun breaking out in the ATL. For months ‘Queen of Mean’ Peggy Denby and her midtown acolytes have used anti- trans hatred and spewed epithets like ‘thugs in drag’ to grease the skids for passage of a stalled, draconian anti-prostitution ordinance that calls for repeat violators of it to be banished from Atlanta. And don’t even get me started on the Black gossip blogs that gleefully peddle transphobia for additional hits and views… The Black community needs to deal with the reality that transwomen of African descent exist and aren’t going away. The dehumanizing transphobic rhetoric needs to stop because anti-trans hate thoughts can morph into anti-trans hate speech that leads to anti-trans hate violence. Just as it is unacceptable for any cis man to put your hands on a cis woman, the same rule applies for a transwoman. You having transphobic hate for her doesn’t give you a pass on it or justify you taking a swing at her. Cis women also need to check themselves, stop shadily outing trans women and setting them up for anti-trans violence as well.
To make things even worse, when trans people-especially trans women-have participated in Black Lives Matter protests, they are made to feel unsafe by cisgender men and women, and even experience hostility:
Elle Hearns was hoping to share in the collective pain other black people were feeling during a Trayvon Martin rally in Columbus, Ohio, in April 2012. But instead of feeling embraced, she said both men and women around her engaged in very loud, transphobic conversations and encroached on her personal space. “It made me feel very unsafe because I didn’t know what people were willing to do in that space,” Hearns, a transgender woman, told The Root, specifically pointing out that most of the violent remarks were coming from black men. “There was this macho bravado of cockiness in that space where they were allowed to say and do whatever, when the focus for me was utilizing my voice to stand up for something I believed in, which was honoring Trayvon.”
The hostility, ignorance, and loathing directed at trans people is also present online. The above link-which is an online African-American publication-has comments from people like the following (while I am not 100% certain of the ethnicity of these commenters, given the nature of the site, it is quite likely that most of the commenters are black):
I feel sorry for people who are so detached from reality that they actually think they are women despite the fact they were born as men. Noody should be beating them up but...nobody should be humoring them by going along with their madness.
And to recognize that the whole "transgender" thing is a psychological illness is NOT being afraid of it - as in phobia - it's just calling a spade a spade.
For whatever reason, homosexuals and men and women who have mutilated their bodies ("transgender") prefer to believe than anyone who disagrees with their lifestyle choices do it out of fear and not because they/we see such a lifestyle as an abomination against nature.
Can you imagine dealing with one of these things?
That creature is an IT just like Chaz.
These people make me want to puke. No human being is an “it”. “It” is a word you use to refer to non human creatures or inanimate objects. Human beings are people. Trans people are people. They are not non living creatures or inanimate objects. They are not “things”. They are people who have experiences that differ from those of the bigots above, but those differing experiences do not make them any less human, nor any less deserving of and entitled to the same human rights that every other human possesses. It is frustrating to the Nth degree that there are black people who would so quickly dehumanize trans people…who would call them things…who would deny them their right to self-expression. Trans people who elect to undergo SRS are not “mutilating” their bodies. They are modifying their bodies to reflect their sense of gender. And those are their own bodies to do with as they please. It’s called ‘bodily autonomy’. The disrespect and dehumanization shown to trans people by the commenters above, and so many more within the black community shows me that many people do not understand the importance of intersectionality. When it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, intersectionality is an important concept because African-Americans experience discrimination across multiple axes of oppression:
- Black cisgender women experience racism, misogyny, and sexism
- Black lesbians experience racism, homophobia, sexism, and misogyny
- Black bisexual women experience racism, misogyny, sexism, homophobia and biphobia
- Black trans women experience racism, sexism, misogyny, and transphobia
- Black cisgender men experience racism
- Black gay men experience racism and homophobia
- Black bi men experience racism, homophobia, and biphobia
- Black trans men experience racism and transphobia
How can one advocate for making the lives of black people better, if one does not address all the ways African-Americans experience suffering, discrimination, and injustice? Trans people experience some forms of oppression and discrimination that differ from those experienced by other African-Americans. But they experience that oppression and discrimination as black people. Their identities as trans people coexist alongside and are intertwined with their identities as black people. You cannot advocate for the lives of trans people to be made better along only the racial axis of oppression. You must also address other axes of oppression that affect the lives of black trans people if one is to truly believe that all black lives matter.
It behooves all of us who seek to advance the causes of the Black Lives Matter movement to understand intersectionality and how important the concept is in fighting to make the lives of African-Americans better and reduce the level of suffering they experience. If an individual claims to be a Black Lives Matter activist, but does not support the right of all black people to exist on their own terms, free from oppression and discrimination, no matter what group they belong to then that person does not truly believe that all Black Lives Matter. And they need to either get with the program or sit the hell down and shut the fuck up.