The LGBTQ+ community is one that boasts acceptance, kindness, and love. It consists of people who for a lot of their lives have been told they were outsiders, or different—that none of us truly belonged.
For the most part, members of the LGBTQ+ community are accepting of one another. We’re like one big chosen family. But we must also face the reality of what is happening inside our community—where racism, transphobia, biphobia, and ableism (which is by no means an exhaustive list) are taking place and are not being recognised by those who perpetrate these harms. The LGBTQ+ community, and subsequent events such as Pride Month, are supposed to be welcoming and accessible, yet are starting to become anything but.
Many LGBTQ+ spaces are centred around white, cis, gay men, and above that, white people in general. LGBTQ+ BIPOC have been highlighting discrimination in so-called LGBTQ+ ‘safe spaces’—but who are they really safe for?
Research conducted by Stonewall shows that three in five black LGBTQ+ people experience discrimination from other LGBTQ+ individuals. A large problem across white members of the LGBTQ+ community is that we think our queerness cancels out our whiteness. White supremacy is still active in the LGBTQ+ community to this day, just like it is active across society as a whole.
In an article for Metro, written by Mishti Ali, Yaseen, a Pakistani gay man, described his first Pride. Yaseen was sixteen at the time, and after rejecting older men who were hitting on him, he started being subjected to slurs and was called “a dirty P*ki.”
More Stonewall research also found that 36 per cent of trans people and 26 per cent of disabled people have experienced discrimination from within the community. When speaking about transphobia, I remember being at London Pride in 2018, waiting with my youth group to march in the parade. Unbeknown to us until later that day, the parade had been delayed by anti-trans protesters. For those unaware of the incident, a group of anti-trans protesters laid down on the ground carrying banners that claimed, “trans activism erases lesbians.”
Pride is supposed to be a place of love and acceptance, yet that day started with hate and intolerance. Unfortunately, anti-trans sentiment is nothing new in the community. Trans people have been an integral part of queer liberation, most notably the Stonewall uprising where Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson became significant figures in the LGBTQ+ community. However, post-Stonewall trans people, in particular trans women, were quickly disregarded in the community.
Three years after the Stonewall riots, in 1973, Rivera took to the stage at the New York City Pride, and was met with boos from the audience. This audience was predominantly cis, white, and middle-class. In response to their boos and cries, Rivera said to the crowd, “I have been beaten, I have had my nose broken, I have lost my job, I have lost my apartment for gay liberation—and you all treat me this way?”
Ableism is also widespread among the community. With access to LGBTQ+ events often not being available to disabled people, making these spaces more exclusionary than accessible. It’s interesting that LGBTQ+ spaces often fail to consider the needs of disabled people when its own community’s demographic is far more likely to experience mental illnesses, which often manifest themselves in physical ways. Just highlighting the interlinking of it all.
Biphobia within the LGBTQ+ community is yet another problem we need to tackle. Bisexual people are often ‘too gay’ for the straight community, and ‘not gay enough’ for the LGBTQ+ community. Causing us to be in a weird limbo of not belonging anywhere. Bisexual friends of mine have been told by lesbians to just “admit they’re gay already.” When bisexuality is constantly displayed as a stepping-stone from straight to gay, it’s hard to accept yourself—you constantly feel like a fraud.
When bisexual people date one gender, they are often told “oh, so you’re gay/straight now?” As a bisexual person myself, it feels as though the root problem here is a lack of understanding about bisexuality that manifests into biphobia (whether intentional or not).
A 2002 study conducted by Daniel Welzer-Lang, which sought to look at the biphobia displayed by some gay and lesbian people, found some shocking results. The study interviewed 93 people with a range of identities. When one participant was asked what he would say about bisexuals, his response was, “they’re hypocrite, unfaithful, two-faced, uptight, cold, pains in the neck, turncoats, self-important, trendy, heterosexual, capricious, frigid.” He concluded: “they don’t exist.”
This biphobia and lack of acceptance can lead to the development of mental health problems in victims. Despite research suggesting that bisexual people are more likely to suffer from mental illness compared to their lesbian and gay counterparts, there remains a significant lack of studies surrounding mental health and bisexuality.
Those arguments have only skimmed the surface of prejudices and divisions that are alive and well within our community. We cannot expect to achieve true global queer liberation until we are advocating for all members of our community. We must fight for change within our community first, because no one else will.
Last week, two black transgender women, Dominique ‘Rem’Mie’ Fells and Riah Milton, were murdered in the US, just as protests against racism continued to spread throughout the country. The killings of Fells and Milton, however, went largely ignored by mainstream media outlets and had failed to inspire collective outrage—indicating that rampant transphobia remains a roadblock on the path to racial justice and equality.
Fells was murdered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to local authorities, Fells’ body was found on the banks of the Schuylkill River on 8 June, with both legs dismembered. The motive and circumstances behind her killing are still being investigated and no suspects were apprehended thus far.
On the following day, 9 June, Milton’s body was found in Liberty Township, Ohio. Local investigators reported that Milton was fatally shot during an attempt to rob her and steal her car. Two suspects were arrested in connection with her murder, one of them a 14-year-old girl, and a third suspect remains at large.
News coverage of the murders was sparse and conspicuously absent from mainstream media outlets. And while some prominent political figures, such as Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, did condemn the killings and call to escalate the fight against transphobia, acknowledgement of and outrage over the murders largely came from within queer circles and activist groups.
“Her name is Dominique ‘Rem’mie’ Fells and there shall be no peace until justice is had!… #SayHerName #blacktranslivesmattertoo,” read an Instagram post by Sisters PGH, a Philadelphia transgender advocacy group.
The deafening silence in the face of the brutal killings of Fells and Milton can’t be rationalised by the turmoil unfurling across the country and the world right now, or the dizzying pace of news cycles. Rather, it should be acknowledged as a pattern of public indifference and permissiveness around what has become a global pandemic of violence against trans and gender non-conforming people of colour.
“While we’re talking about racism, while we’re talking about the changes that need to be [done] in this country, we need to talk about the hate towards trans people… particularly towards Black trans women,” said Deja Lynn Alvarez, a trans activist and advocate, in an interview for TIME.
According to Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBTQ rights advocacy organisation, at least 26 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed in 2019, most of whom were black trans women. Since the beginning of 2020, at least 14 trans women have been killed, including Fells and Milton, HRC reports.
This pandemic of violence does not exist in a vacuum, and is a direct manifestation of a culture that actively erases, marginalises and abuses trans individuals in virtually every sphere of life—healthcare, housing, employment, and civil rights. The situation has markedly deteriorated since Trump took office, as his administration has launched an onslaught on trans rights.
Just last week, on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre and during a global pandemic which disproportionately affects LGBTQ people of colour, the Trump administration had announced the official erasure of protections for LGBTQ people in the healthcare system—a move that would open the door for insurance companies to refuse coverage to trans people. A plea by the Department of Justice to reverse a lower court ruling and permit employment discrimination against trans people is currently being deliberated on by the Supreme Court.
And then there is Besty DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary, who took it upon herself to deprive trans students of every vestige of dignity and recognition by, for instance, forcing schools to discriminate against trans athletes as a requisite for federal funding.
Even within the queer community, trans people, and especially trans people of colour, continue to be discriminated against and abused, and although LGBTQ rights as we know them today exist largely thanks to the sacrifice and courage of trans women of colour, their monumental contribution to the movement is only now beginning to, gradually, be recognised.
Policy solutions that would protect trans people and secure their rights are critical—but would not be enough. It would take a complete transformation of the discourse around trans visibility, trans liberation, trans history, and trans rights, and a drastic shift in who gets to shape such narratives, in order to create real, long-lasting change in their status and circumstances.
A quick look at the social media and news landscapes reveals that the discourse the public is exposed to concerning trans rights is heavily dominated by cisgender heterosexuals, primarily white ones. This was most recently exhibited by Daniel Radcliffe’s letter condemning J.K. Rowling’s series of transphobic tweets, in which he, shrewdly, remarked that “transgender women are women.” The letter instantly went viral, had made numerous headlines and was extensively covered by a wide range of publications.
While Radcliffe’s allyship is certainly important, and although (some) media outlets’ attention to his letter was undoubtedly well-intentioned, they nonetheless highlight the ways in which we get it all wrong and, paradoxically, contribute to trans erasure while trying to eliminate it.
As opposed to placing the limelight on cis heterosexuals and waiting for them to grant their stamp of approval or make trans people more palatable to mainstream society, we should clear the way for trans people, particularly of colour, to dominate headlines and magazine covers, lead conversations, speak on news channels, host news programs and have a path to hold political offices both locally and nationally.
To uplift black trans women, as is the case with any marginalised group, means investing resources directly in their endeavours and giving them the platform to tell their own stories, voice their own experience and make their own demands.
“When it comes to serving and protecting trans people, the conventional way of doing things and thinking about these things will not work. It’s time to invest in actual trans leadership,” said Deja Lynn Alvarez to Insider.
The momentum being built against racism could never be fully ceased, and the movement for racial justice reform would never effectuate meaningful change as long as only some black lives matter.