You would think that we, those of us belonging to the LGBTQ community of faith would be mourning you and conspiring towards how we can work to protect you and cherish you in our communities. However, the silence around your death, Chyna Gibson, is deafening.
As a black queer cisgender woman, I know that pain of feeling like only other cisgender black queer woman love me and desire to fight for my life. Only we love us like we love us. Many of us know this.
Not only do we know this, we FEEL it.
We feel it in our bones. We feel it in the tiredness of our bodies and the ache of our hearts. So often the LGBTQ+ community, whether secular or belonging to the Church, continues to ignore us and our needs.
I do not say these things in order to tell Chyna’s story, nor the story of the other women of color who have been murdered. Her story is not mine to tell, and I do not know what it is like to be a black trans woman.
Rather, I write about these feelings, as a black cisgender woman, because I do not want what I’ve experienced in terms of lack of solidarity to continue to be true for Chyna and for other black trans women.
The Church has not even begun to see Chyna Gibson.
Neither does the LGBTQ Church see the myriads of black trans and non-binary people who go to school with us, work with us, and worship with us. I see a Church that continues to be seized by its anti-blackness, its sexism and its trans-phobia. We are seeing the fruit of this sin when we continue to see black trans women be killed by social hatred or by state violence all before she has turned 35—only two years older than Jesus was believed to have been crucified.
Like Jesus, Chyna became a victim of social sin and cultural violence in her early 30s. Chyna was only 31.
This Lent, we must begin to wrestle with and to reconcile how we continue to deny that black lives matter. That black TRANS lives matter. Those of us who are cisgender cannot continue to only love and protect ourselves. Those of you who are white cannot only love white bodies.
If we only deem those like ourselves worth protecting, we deny part of our humanity and we deny the image of God in all our bodies. When we refuse to put our time, minds, hearts and bodies on the line to protect black trans women from these unnatural deaths, we continue to crucify Christ over and over and over again.
We are wasting our time if we believe that we can be liberated without black trans women.
We must stop centering the lives of white cisgender gay men. We must stop centering white gay men in our LGBTQ Christian conferences and our Pride festivals. We must stop centering them period, and look further over at the margins. Many of us know that the Stonewall Riots were spurred on by a then 17 year-old trans woman of color named Sylvia Rivera and a 25 year-old black trans woman named Marsha P. Johnson.
But do we really value the women of color who have and continue to lead the way? Or do we only use their legacy as edgy talking points?
We must repent from our apathy. Lent is the season of repentance, of self denial, and of preparation. How will you turn away from the sin of racism, of misogyny, of transphobia?
How can (white) cisgender Christians prepare to show up for trans people of color during this season? Let me suggest some ways.
Remember trans and non-binary people of color.
Remember them in your liturgical, prayer and spatial practices. Many churches of various denominational and racial backgrounds have created alters in remembrance of the black individuals lost to hate crimes or police violence. However, often these alters only include the faces and names of cisgender black men, and if we are fortunate, cisgender black women like myself.
We must cultivate the desire to protect black trans and non-binary lives, and that begins with our spiritual lives. And not only when they are dead, but most importantly while trans women are ALIVE. #BlackTransLivesMatter to God. They should matter to you, too.
Include trans women when you remember and celebrate black lives, both the dead and the living.
Learn about the issues that trans and non-binary people of color face.
Learn about the issues that affect them specifically. Often, the wider Church makes it out to appear as though the only desire that LGBTQ Christians have is to be accepted and affirmed. If you are a gay, lesbian or bisexual person who believes that all you need is affirmation and marriage equality, consider how much of a privilege this is to not have to worry about having your basic needs met, or to not need institutional protections.
Black trans individuals do not only have to reckon with interpersonal violence from peers, families, fellow students, and co-workers, but many also face dangers related to institutional racism in the United States.
Housing discrimination. Work instability. Hiring discrimination. Police brutality. Healthcare discrimination. Criminalization due to sex work. Reproductive injustice. These are a few of the injustices black trans people face. Learn how trans women of color are uniquely affected and show up accordingly. Consider supporting a fight that aligns with the work that you already do.
For instance, if you fight against police brutality, center black trans people in your protection efforts. If you are an educator or teacher, consider incorporating and citing black trans individual’s writings, knowledge and histories into your curriculum.
Fund black trans women.
As a black cisgender woman, there are many times when I am expected to work for progressive organizations and am requested to educate white Christians for free. I believe this exploits my emotional and intellectual labor and is connected to white people’s legacy of using black bodies for their personal wealth and advancement.
I am sure that black trans women experience similar exploitations. Fund them. When they ask, find ways to give directly to black trans women.
Many black trans and non-binary individuals struggle to have their basic needs met. Many organizations that claim to advocate and support black trans and non-binary individuals allow them to fall through the cracks. We must do all that we can to cease exploiting all black individuals. Especially trans women.
Believe black trans women.
And trust black trans women. Listen to them. Be willing and ready to take their leadership. None of us are free until black trans women are free.
I cannot take the credit for all that I have learned. Black trans women, men and non-binary individuals in North Carolina have taught me all that I have learned. They are leading the way for us through this violent administration.
Many of us, such as myself, have trans and non-binary individuals who we deeply love and desire to protect. Chyna Gibson was deeply loved by the people around her and brought immense joy to them as well. During this Lenten season, may God transform our hearts, so that we might embody solidarity and extend mobilized love towards the black transgender and nonbinary individuals in our midst.
If you would like to take immediate action, please consider having yourself or your congregation donate an offering to the Trans Kindred Emergency Collection. In doing so, you will be helping to meet the immediate needs of Trans activists of color fighting in the frontlines against HB2, the anti-trans and worker “bathroom bill” passed last year in North Carolina.
Photo by Meshae Studios
Presbyterian Church in America