BY: MELINA JUÁREZ PÉREZ
June is PRIDE month, a time for LGBTQ+ communities to gather and celebrate their existence and resilience. However, while popular depictions of PRIDE festivities focus on the joyous celebrations of queerness, there is a strong push from LGBTQ+ communities to re-establish it to its origins in the gay liberation movement. Each year, the radical history of PRIDE is diminished by increasing corporate and state influence and funding. These forces play a regressive role by embracing color-blind, capitalist ideologies that obscure the intersectionality of queerness.
For example, groups like No Justice No Pride in Washington D.C. and Young Women United(YWU) in Albuquerque, New Mexico have spoken out about this corporate takeover of PRIDE. Both organizations, along with many others across the country, provide alternative gatherings that are inclusive of indigenous, people of color, and families.
While many are now familiar with the Stonewall Riots of 1969, which are seen as sparking the gay liberation movement, few are aware of the role women of color played in these events. Figures like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, transgender women of color, fought tirelessly for years to bring forward the issues facing queer and trans people of color. They understood that fighting for gay liberation also meant tackling racism and sexism operating within their queer communities and broader society.
However, almost 50 years after this first uprising against LGBTQ+ oppression, the sociopolitical conditions that Rivera and Johnson fought against persist. On June 12th we commemorated 2 years of the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. On that day, gunman Omar Mir Seddique Mateen murdered 49 people and injured 53 others sending shockwaves through queer and communities of color. The attack occurred on Latin Night, indicating that this attack was not only influenced by homophobia but also anti-Latinx sentiments.
There was an outpouring of support for the Pulse victims and their families as thousands gathered across the states in vigils and gatherings. This year, hundreds gathered to remember the victims and call attention to gun violence. Survivors of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Parkland High School also paid tribute to the victims of the Pulse Massacre.
The massacre did not mark a change in national politics towards LGBTQ+ issues. Instead, there is an escalation of hate crimes and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. The Human Rights Campaign tracked 129 anti-LGBTQ+ laws across the states in 2017 alone. There was also a record 52 anti-LGBTQ+ homicides in 2017, up from 28 in 2016. Only 18 states have hate crime laws that include protections for both sexual orientation and gender. The federal government has yet to explicitly protect Americans from sexual orientation or gender identity-based discrimination.
And although the current SCOTUS decision on Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018) did not rule that religious freedom overrules civil rights protected by public accommodation legislation, the narrow decision can be easily misinterpreted and utilized to perpetuate discrimination. Immediately following the decision, owners of the popular health club chain CrossFit cancelled a PRIDE event at their gym arguing that homosexuality goes against their religion. Days later, Representative Michael Clark, a Republican lawmaker from South Dakota argued that business owners should have the right to “turn away people of color.”
Despite declaring support for LGBTQ+ communities during his campaign, the Trump Administration has instead scaled back protections and services for these communities. In the fall of 2016, the Trump Administration announced that there was “no federal need” for a sexual orientation question in the American Community Survey (ACS). A few months later, the question was also dropped from the Census Barriers, Attitudes and Motivators Survey (CBAMS), limiting the collection of demographic data on LGBTQ+ communities in the 2020 Census. Following pressure from LGBTQ+ advocate organizations and allies, the federal government reinstated the CBAMS question.
While public attention is focused on legislation, however, the material and social realities of LGBTQ+ communities of color continue to be overlooked by national politics and academics. Finding themselves under the yoke of multiple, intersecting systems of power, LGBTQ+ people of color are among the most marginalized sectors of the U.S. population. Violence against queer and trans people of color is at crises levels. There were 27 known murders of transgender people in 2017. The current politics surrounding immigration and asylum also highlight this repression against LGBTQ+ communities is at a systemic level.
Immigration is an LGBTQ+ Issue
The attacks on immigrants and refugees goes beyond the hostile and dangerous rhetoric from Trump, his officials, and right wingers. The Trump Administration has harnessed the expansive immigrant detention and deportation machinery inherited from previous administrations, including the Obama years, to terrorize immigrant and communities of color. The foundations for the current ‘legally robust and better resourced’ enforcement infrastructure were laid by the Clinton Administration through their series of reforms, including the 1996 Death Penalty Act that mandated all those going through deportation procedures to be detained. Since then, immigration enforcement and immigrant detention has boomed into a multi-billion-dollar industry.
The recent mandate from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to deny asylum to those escaping domestic and gang violence, particularly impacts LGBTQ+ asylum seekers. The recent case of Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender asylum seeker that died under ICE custody, especially demonstrates the inhumane and rogue nature of the current U.S. immigration and asylum system. Roxsana, along with approximately 25 other transgender women, arrived at the San Ysidro port of entry with the migrant caravan that had travelled from Central America through Mexico to the U.S. border. The caravan was composed of refugees escaping the violence in Central America. Roxsana had been repeatedly raped by members of the MS 13 gang in her home country of Guatemala. As a transgender woman, her life was under constant threat.
Roxsana was kept in the detention center known as the “ice box” because detainees are kept in severe cold and lights on 24 hours a day, and held for over a week before being transferred to the Cibola Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico. Because of her treatment, Roxsana experienced complications from HIV, leading to cardiac arrest and her death on May 25th, 2018. Immigrant and transgender rights advocates blame ICE for her death, considering it medical negligence. Roxsana is the 6th person to die under ICE custody this year.
Denying asylum claims based on gang and domestic violence means that many LGBTQ+ asylum seekers will be denied protection. Sessions is not only scaling back decades of progress on asylum law, but also decades of progress on LGBTQ+ rights.
A Call to Scholars of Conscious
Although the amount of research on issues facing communities of color is growing, there is still a lack of understanding and focus on the particular issues facing LGBTQ+ people of color. Scholars rarely engage in exploring sexual orientation or conceptualize gender in any way that deviates from the heteropatriarchal gender binary. Political scientists in particular have been slow in considering sexual orientation and gender identity as inherent facets of political life.
My 2018 Queering Latinidad Project (QLP) (N=24), a political study of LGBTQ+ Latinxs, offers an example of what such studies could look like. Specifically, I employ qualitative research that is community engaged as part a mixed-methods design, to study how race and ethnicity interact with gender and sexuality to shape the sociopolitical and economic lives of queer Latinxs. This included a community advisory board (CAB) composed of LGBTQ+ community members and institutional partners working on LGBTQ+ issues were included in order to create and validate the study’s instruments. Institutional partners in the CAB are given full access to the findings for their own advocacy work, and CABs role in the recruitment of study participants created a proxy for trust between hard to reach LGBTQ+ communities and the researcher.
Among the study’s findings is the importance of intersectionality in the political lives of queer Latinxs. Echoing the historical role of queer and trans people of color in political movements, queer Latinxs in the QLP rejected single-issue organizing. While they supported LGBTQ+ rights and participated in events related to them, queer Latinxs preferred to put their energy in fighting for issues like immigrant rights regardless of their own nativity status.
As I urged in my 2015 piece in the Politics of Color blog, academics of conscious must take a stand against the continued repression of marginalized communities. As researchers, our livelihoods are made through the analyses of politics. Yet, few academics give back to the communities they study or utilize their resources to aid in the cessation of this repression. This is exploitation of vulnerable populations and complicity in systemic violence.
Academics of conscious must utilize our research and institutional resources for the pursuit of justice, equity, and the betterment of our societies. I urge my fellow academics to think through the ways they are complicit in the perpetuation of violence and consult with the communities they study on how to best repay them.
Melina Juárez Pérez is Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Arkansas. Her work focuses on the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, nativity, and class.
Picture Credit: “Activists at the Santa Ana, New Mexico port of entry protesting the death of Roxsana Hernandez” – Christopher Rivera.