I am always worried to the point of nail-biting when my spouse leaves in the morning for Boston Medical Center if she’ll return home to me, because she’s always stopped by the Cambridge or Boston police. They don’t see Dr. Thea James. Her gender non-conforming appearance and driving a brand new BMW, that many cops derisively dub as a “Black Man’s Wagon,” make her a constant target of suspicion.
When gender identity and sexual orientation come into play, the treatment by police can be harsher.
And when the police realize my spouse is a woman, and a lesbian one at that, their unbridled homophobia surfaces.
Though I’m always nagging my spouse about being safe, she told me—with the recent killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five Dallas police officers—that she worries about me, too. She flatly stated she sees in me Sandra Bland, the black women pulled over for a minor traffic violation on July 10, 2015, by a state trooper. Three days later, she was found hung in her jail cell. Black women combating police harassment is an ongoing struggle, too.
A gay Washington Post columnist once asked me what is it that white LGBTQ people don’t get about the Black Lives Matters movement and racism within the LGBTQ community. I told him: “This is a time when we need white LGBTQ people with us in this struggle for both our survival and change.”
I told him: “We need you with us now because we are hurting.”
But the queer politics of discussing race in the LGBTQ community is as unresolved among us as it is in the dominant culture. However, unlike the larger dominant culture, white LGBTQ people can empathize with communities of color from our shared experiences of abuse by law enforcement officers, including discrimination, harassment, profiling, entrapment, and victimization that was often ignored—all based on our actual or perceived sexual orientations and gender identities.
The treatment Black Americans experience at the hands of police officers who swore to protect us but yet often become both verbal and physical assailants is neither news nor new to white LGBTQ people.
Long before the Stonewall Riots of 1969, liquor licensing laws were used to raid establishments and bars patronized by LGBTQ people. Bar raids continue to target LGBTQ people, especially in the South where many of the southern states still vehemently oppose “Obergefell v. Hodges,” the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Even Boston, which is internationally known for being LGBTQ-friendly, continues to have its own problem with police.
In 2013, the Boston Police Department settled a case against them with a transgender woman. The women was arrested for using the women’s lavatory at the homeless shelter where she was staying. When taken to the police station the woman proved her legal grievance “that the officers forced her to remove her shirt and bra and jump up and down to humiliate and laugh at her.”
The Black Lives Matter started as a call to action after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted of all charges based on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law. As an ideology and movement working for the validity of Black life, BLM is now a nationwide network of local state chapters that operate independently.
Founded by three Black queer women and straight women, the ideals of Black Lives Matter, which address poverty, homelessness, unemployment, gentrification, and community policing that intersect with systemic racism, are a now a global cause with solidarity protests in places like Canada, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands, to name a few.
But Black Lives Matter continues to receive harsh criticism.
This criticism rises especially when civil unrest breaks out or violence occurs, like the shooting by the Dallas sniper. These incidents are antithetical to the Black Lives Matter movement and the intent to exercise our First Amendment right to peaceful assembly.
Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a staunch conservative Republican from Georgia, has spoken out on race and the recent racial violence between Black communities and law enforcement officers in this country.
“It took me a long time, and a number of people talking to me through the years, to get a sense of this: If you are a normal, white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively under-estimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk,” Gingrich stated during a recent CNN interview.
When the dominant white culture doesn’t see and hear Black voices concerning our pains, fears, and vulnerabilities, our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist, homophobic, and sexist stereotypes.
So, too, is our suffering.
I’m calling on my white LGBTQ siblings for help because my spouse and I don’t know where our Black bodies are safe in America.
Photo via flickr user Joe Brusky