- Yohana Green
The Intersectionality of the BLM Movement and the LGBTQ+ Movement
Updated: Jun 27, 2021
The Black Lives Matter movement was founded by three black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, two of whom identify as queer, in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012.
Since then, many of the largest Black Lives Matter protests have been fueled by the violence against black men, including Mike Brown and Eric Garner in 2015, and now George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.
However, behind the scenes of it all, straight men and women are not the only ones affected by police brutality. Black members of the LGBTQ+ community take on the double burden of racism and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. A report on hate violence in 2016 within the black LGBTQ+ community states that black survivors of hate violence were 1.3 times more likely to experience police violence than their non-black counterpart.
Additionally, black transgender women face the highest levels of violence within the LGBTQ+ community and are less likely to turn to police for help for fear of revictimization by law enforcement.
According to the “National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” 38 percent of black transgender people who interacted with police reported harassment; 14 percent reported physical assault from police and 6 percent reported sexual assault.
A 2017 survey of a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults found that LGBTQ+ people of color (defined as those who identified as black, Latino, Asian, and/or Native) were twice as likely to report discrimination because of their LGBTQ+ identity when applying for jobs and when interacting with police, compared to white LGBTQ+ people.
As Black Lives Matter protesters continue to remember George Floyd and others killed at the hands of the police, transgender model and poet LaBeija asks, "Are you including black trans women in that list of black names?"
Though active in the Black Lives Matter movement from the beginning, black trans women have not been prioritized. At no point have black trans people fully shared in the gains of racial justice or LGBTQ+ activism, despite suffering disproportionately from the racism, homophobia, and transphobia these movements exist to combat.
However, as the two movements are becoming linked together by extraordinary circumstances regarding the protests sparked by the murders of black men and women as well as the killings of two black trans women (Dominique Fells and Riah Milton), black trans people are mobilizing more visibly than ever before. But it is still not enough to protect our black LGBTQ+ members.
Last year, 91 percent of the transgender or gender-nonconforming people who were fatally shot were black women, according to “Human Rights Campaign.” This year, at least 16 trans people have been killed, certainly an underestimate, because many cases go unreported and many victims are misgendered.
Violence against trans people increased after President Trump was inaugurated. Trump has singled out trans people in his policies since the beginning of his presidency. His administration reversed Obama's protections for transgender students and re-imposed bans on trans people serving in the military. He has also sought to define gender as an immutable trait assigned at birth which would define trans people out of legal existence.
Historically, mainstream LGBTQ+ rights groups have focused more on white gay people and lesbians than on trans people or trans people of color. As a result, black trans activists are calling for the redistribution of resources within LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations that have usually been led by white, cisgender people.
Despite black trans women facing more discrimination than any other member in the LGBTQ+ community, iconic advocates have continued to stand in solidarity with the BLM movement, starting with gay rights (and liberations) and trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, who was a prominent figure in the Stonewall Uprisings of 1969.
Marsha P. Johnson is an example of how black trans women have been and are still being invalidated for their struggles against the racism and discrimination of being in the LGBTQ+ community while black. In 1992, Marsha’s body was found dead, drifting in a river with a wound on the back of her head and it was an immediately assumed suicide due to her mental state at the time. But it was not until those who were close to Marsha came forward and stated that she would have never committed suicide, no matter what she was going through.
Several people came forward to say they had seen Johnson harassed by a group of "thugs" who had also robbed people. A witness even saw a neighborhood resident fighting with Johnson on July 4, 1992. During the fight, he used a homophobic slur and later bragged to someone at a bar that he had killed a drag queen named Marsha. The witness said that when he tried to tell the police, but his story was ignored.
Locals stated that law enforcement was not interested in investigating Johnson's death, stating that the case was about a "gay black man" and how they wanted little to do with it. In December 2002, a police investigation resulted in reclassification of Johnson's cause of death from "suicide" to "undetermined."
In November 2012, activist Mariah Lopez succeeded in getting the New York police department to reopen the case as a possible homicide. In 2016, Victoria Cruz of the Anti-Violence Project tried to gain access to previously-unreleased documents and witness statements, however, the reason of death has still not been determined prior to 2020.
Actor Billy Porter states, "The black community's relationship with the LGBTQ+ community is appalling at best and eerily similar to that of white supremacists versus black folk."
Porter calls us to stop inflicting the same kind of hate and oppression on the LGBTQ+ community that racist white people have inflicted on African Americans. It is our duty to support all black lives and to stop restricting the rights of people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.