CAN’T PARTY WHEN WE BELONG IN THE STREETS
Today was supposed to be OutRight's 30th anniversary gala. Oh, the dreams we had! Our board and staff worked incredibly hard on the gala, which was designed to celebrate decades of advocacy for LGBTIQ communities around the world and finance our global programs. We postponed it several weeks ago due to COVID, and for the first time, I'm relieved. I cannot imagine celebrating tonight. Since the brutal killing of George Floyd set the US on fire, since we learned of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, Americans have taken to the streets to protest institutionalized racism and a fundamentally flawed criminal justice system. Of course, these terrible acts are not new; they join a long list of atrocities that have taken far too many Black lives. After a night’s sleep interrupted by police helicopters whirring loudly overhead as they tracked, photographed, and intimidated protestors across Brooklyn, I'm tired, furious, and heartbroken. I'm also reflecting on what I and we can learn from these simultaneous milestones.
OutRight has learned much from the struggle for Black liberation in the US and globally. Much of our own work has been motivated by the critique of the legacy of colonialism, including the debt burden held by majority Black nations, keeping them under-resourced compared with wealthy former colonial nations in the Global North. We have invested programming in majority Black nations in part to offset this inequality. This work has been shaped by a long history of Black leaders in and around OutRight. To name but a few, I am thinking of FannyAnn Eddy (Sierra Leone), Joel Nana (Cameroon), Kagendo Murungi (Kenya), David Kato (Uganda), Charlot Jeudy (Haiti), may they rest in peace and power. Black staff, board, international advisors, and partners past and present have emphasized and influenced our allyship, often by challenging us and holding us accountable.
Thirty years of movement work by a movement organization is an important milestone, but the protests in honor of George Floyd remind me that 30 years has never been enough time for any liberation struggle to achieve its goals. Not movements for LGBTIQ rights, women's rights, disability rights, indigenous rights, or any other. Look at how many decades the Black liberation struggle has demanded radical transformation; look at the overwhelming evidence of inadequate access to housing, healthcare, jobs, and safety for African Americans; and look at the facts and know that all of us in movements for justice have many more years of struggle ahead.
A dream of the LGBTIQ movement is that "it gets better", but my faith is shaken. If the Black civil rights movement cannot achieve in so many decades the full citizenship that is rightly theirs, what will be the fate of other movements, and what is our obligation across movements to ensure we all rise together? What does this mean for the safety of Black LGBTIQ people, who live at the intersections of both forms of intolerance? I am searching for answers.
Thankfully, I have found a few precious glimmers of hope. Americans who had been staying at home to save people from COVID have taken to the streets; they are risking their own lives to protest the pandemic of racism. The news cycle has pivoted to address why people feel powerless and what the solutions are. New York City bus drivers refuse to permit police to commandeer buses to transport arrested protestors to jail. Friends and neighbors are donating to bail funds and Black-led social justice organizations. White people like me, hopefully, are listening to Black community leaders and scholars; I pray that we are learning. Globally, there are protests against the mistreatment of Black Americans, yet another reminder of how the US reputation as a land of promise has tarnished.
There’s a principle that animates our work at OutRight: LGBTIQ people of color globally matter. We should be able to take this principle for granted, but in this ugly world, its simplicity amounts to a radical statement of solidarity. We state this out of conviction that the intersections of race, gender and sexuality mean that all too often, LGBTIQ people of color globally are overlooked, forgotten, and disregarded. At OutRight, we know that the test of the rule of law is not how it serves the most privileged but by asking the most marginalized. We ask, and we hear: LGBTIQ people of color know exactly what they need and how to be safe; they simply need the rest of us to take our knees off their necks. I’m not sure yet how the recent murders of George Floyd and other Black Americans will change OutRight, but I know that they have left their permanent mark and challenged us to think more deeply about what we can do to challenge the systems of inequality that oppress LGBTIQ and all people of color.
What do these simultaneous events teach me? That our rage disrupts the status quo. That our liberation movements are powerful. And that when we organize, for 30 years and much longer, we change the world around us. But even the most resilient get tired of waiting. In honor of George Floyd and many others, let change happen now.
Published on June 1, 2020 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization