No rational person condones the shooting of officers, but that doesn’t mean things don’t have to change with how African-Americans are treated by police. All LGBTs should empathize with that sentiment.
I am always worried, to the point of nail-biting, when my spouse leaves in the morning for Boston Medical Center. I don’t know if she’ll return home to me, because she’s always stopped by the Cambridge or Boston police. They don’t see Dr. Thea James; her gender-nonconforming appearance and her brand-new BMW, which many cops derisively dub a “Black Man’s Wagon” make her a constant target of suspicion. When gender identity and sexual orientation come into play, the treatment by police can be harsher. And when the police realize my spouse is a woman, and a lesbian at that, their unbridled homophobia often surfaces.
I regularly nag my spouse about being safe, but she told me — with the recent killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, five Dallas police officers, and now three Baton Rouge officers — that she worries about me too. African-American women combating police harassment is an ongoing struggle as well. My spouse sees Sandra Bland in me, the African-American woman who was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in July 2015 by a state trooper and three days later was found hanged in her jail cell.
A gay Washington Post columnist asked me what is it that white LGBT people don’t get about the Black Lives Matter movement as well as racism within the queer community. I told him, “This is a time when we need the community front and center in this struggle for both our survival and change, because their African-American LGBTQ brothers and sisters stood by them with marriage equality and other issues. We now need you front and center because we are hurting.”
But the queer politics of discussing race in the LGBTQ community is as unresolved among us as within the dominant culture. However, unlike the larger culture, white LGBTQs can offer advice to communities of color from their own experiences of abuse by law enforcement officers, including discrimination, harassment, profiling, entrapment, and victimization that’s often ignored, and based on our actual or perceived sexual orientations and gender identities.
The fact that some police officers, who swore to serve and protect the law, have become assailants to people of color is not news to the LGBTQ community. The modern queer rights movement was sparked by a homophobic police raid.
Long before the Stonewall riots of 1969, liquor licensing laws were used to raid establishments and bars patronized by LGBTQ people. Bar raids continue to target LGBTQ people, especially in the South, where many still vehemently oppose Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Boston, a city known as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly spots on the globe, continues to have its own police problem with our community. In 2013, the Boston PD settled a case brought by a transgender woman arrested for using the women’s lavatory at the homeless shelter where she was staying . When officers took her to the police station, they forced her to remove her shirt and bra and jump up an down.
No rational person condones violence against the police, but that doesn’t mean things don’t have to change with how they treat minorities.
Black Lives Matter started as a call to action after the killer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was acquitted of all charges, based on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. It was founded by three African-American straight and queer sisters, and its ideals — to address police violence as well as poverty, homelessness, unemployment, gentrification, and community policing, which all intersect with systemic racism — is a now a global cause with solidarity protests in Canada, Germany, Britain, and the Netherlands.
But BLM continues to receive harsh criticism whenever riots break out or police officers are targeted and murdered by deranged killers, like in Dallas and Baton Rouge. These incidents exploit motives that are not only antithetical to the movement but also undermine BLM’s intent to exercise its First Amendment right to peacefully assemble.
Of all people to speak out on race and the recent violence between the African-American community and law enforcement officers was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (yes, the Republican from Georgia).
“It took me a long time, and a number of people talking to me through the years, to get a sense of this: If you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk,” Gingrich said during a CNN interview.
When the dominant white culture doesn’t see and hear African-American voices concerning our pains, fears, and vulnerabilities, our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of stereotypes. So too is our suffering.
The Black Lives Matter movement is our present-day Stonewall. I’m calling on my white LGBTQ brothers and sisters for help because my spouse and I don’t know where our black bodies are safe in this country.