When I got the news that I received the award, I was ecstatic. But then, I was also deeply troubled at the same time. It actually took me awhile to figure out why I was sort of toggling between feeling really, really pumped up and also having a lot of regret or pause to being able to accept the award.
The truth is I think that this is a great opportunity I’m deeply honored by it, maybe because I get to take it back to the folks who’ve poured into me; to say look at what we did, we did this amazing thing. The “we” being my family, it is my mother who transitioned earlier this year, it is my grandmother, my baby, my other co-parent, it is my movement family Freedom, Inc., Take Back the Land, the Movement for Black Lives and many other radical formations that I’ve been a part of. It is friends who are family to me, where I grew up – shout out to Milwaukee.
On the other hand, the reason why I was struggling with this because what was coming up for me was almost sort of a guilt. Here I am celebrating, here we are celebrating and many of us are dying. So I really struggle with being able to be happy about it, being thrilled about it and also being like, ‘Oh man, have I done enough, have any of us done enough’ to be honored in this time? I do believe that people should be honored, that is my belief, and I do believe we should find joy. This whole movement is about the preservation of love, of happiness and joy. So I do believe those things. When I was thinking about what I was going to say, I knew whatever I had to say had to be that true, so I had to speak to you from that place.
Right now, in North Carolina there is an urban rebellion happening, there is an uprising happening. I thank folks for putting together that presentation where we got a chance to honor together – in shared space – all the folks we have been losing, that are being taken from us due to violence that can be ended. I do believe we can end it; we come from a people who’ve stopped many atrocities before.
I come from a people who’ve built movement against child enslavement. I come from a people who’ve built movement against lynching as an institution. I come from a people who’ve built movement against Jim Crow, apartheid and other forms of institutional violence, cultural violence, and also interpersonal violence. So when I say this, I know that we can win. But I do say with urgency. So I’m going to spend the rest of my time talking about not what I did, but about what I am going to do and challenging you all to do it with me.
The first piece is this word, “intersectionality.” You’ve probably been hearing it, many of us are actively trying to practice it in our daily lives. It was coined by Patricia Hill Collins, an amazing radical Black feminist. Intersectionality is that many of us live and have multiple identities that are oppressed all at the same time. And it’s the idea that we center people – who are living out or having those multiple forms of oppression – so people who are oppressed based on race, class, gender, et cetera. The value to that is that we actually built a movement of all people.
Queer people are all people. There is no kind of person we are not. We are every race, every gender, we are every class background. We are every nationality. We are undocumented, documented. We are able, we are disabled by the state. We are alive. We are taken by the state. We are all of those identities. So if we’re really going to build a queer movement, we’ve got to build one that holds everybody. So we need to really look at intersectionality and take that seriously.
The second piece of intersectionality – which, I don’t always think we do the strongest – which, I really think is sort of the most exciting point, if you will, about it. Intersectionality says we can then begin to imagine this one community – this queer community – as a coalition of multiple communities.
So what happens if we thought of ourselves as queer LGBTQ people, not only as one people, but as many peoples. What if we imagined ourselves to be a coalition of all different races fighting for gender justice? What if we imagined ourselves to be a coalition of all different class backgrounds fighting for sexual orientation liberation? What if we imagined ourselves to be a coalition of all different spiritual, religious or non-spiritual, non-religious backgrounds of different abilities fighting for queer liberation? And if we do that, then what does that mean for every issue that we’re fighting?
And if I am serious about my intersectionality work, it means that I am just as outraged at Orlando as I am in North Carolina. It means I show up to pride, but I also showed up when they killed Tamir Rice. And if I understand this intersectionality that means that not only am I thinking about how do I queer the community that I am in with the people I’m in, but it’s also how do begin to queer an issue? So intersectionality tells us not only is oppression interlocked, but also the freedoms then, must be interlocked. So that reveals to me there is no queer liberation without Black liberation. There is no Black liberation without queer liberation.
They mentioned that I did do some work called “Why Police Killing of Unarmed Black People is a Queer Issue” and I think it’s extremely timely to talk a little bit about that.
The first reason: queer folks, we are defenders of human rights. Our claim to our families, to being able to love who we want to love, to be able to walk in the street, free of violence, to be able to exist is because we are human. Human rights are to be applied for everybody, not just us. So if we really believe in human rights, then we have to fight for human rights for everybody. Because what we do know is that if we don’t fight for everybody then the least of us – which, is often queer folks – will be left out. And so if we really take that seriously, then we have to fight for human rights not just for us, for queer people, but also Black people.
The second reason: which is probably the most obvious, is that Black people are queer people too. When they come and get me, I’m queer and Black, I’m really both. So if we’re really going to build a movement of queer folks, of which we’re every kind of people, we’re really going to have to be sharp and astute on every kind of issue or around our different facets of identity.
And the third point: which I don’t think we do enough around, is I think it is our job to defend the ability and the right for people to present their genders in any way possible. What that means to me, whether or not it needs to be stated, many black folks who are murdered by police – specifically black cis men are murdered based on gender presentation – for what is perceived as hypermasculinity; ‘this peron’s wearing this, therefore, they are criminal.’
We must defend anytime any person is attacked based on how they’re presenting a gender, that is our business, that is queer business. So we can’t just be fighting for people to have the right to be in drag, we also have to fight for the right for people to sag. Gender is our business. Anytime there is violence against a group of people based on a gender presentation, whether that presentation is considered hypermasculine or feminine, that is our business and we have to defend that. Because if we don’t, they’re going to come for us, too.
But that’s the work that I’m going to do. I’m going to fight for liberation, which means everybody. And it means centering those most impacted. And I challenge you all, I call you all into that work, deeply and every day even when it’s hard, to do that work with me.
But I’m going to end with a chant that you may have heard all across the country, given to us by Brother Assata. She wrote a letter to folks while she was incarcerated, inspiring hope, she said, “though they may have my body, they have not jailed the revolution.” Her speech is called “For My People” written in 1974.
It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and protect each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
(Photo by Jason Bucklin)