When the Supreme Court decided it was fine for gays to get married, and trans people got the chance to enlist in the US war machine, LGBTQ political issues mostly disappeared from our computer and TV screens, as the corporate media declared the gay liberation movement a success, and determined that we could all move on to issues beyond gender and sexuality.
As it turns out, the corporate media were wrong. If anything, 2018 showed that LGBTQ liberation is a long, drawn-out process that’s going to take much more than policy change and a narrow focus on one particular identity. The many queer and trans people who organized around LGBTQ issues over the past year also worked to curb capitalism, end deportations and challenge police violence — issues that affect marginalized people everywhere. Here are eight battles we fought.
Palestinian Queers Overcome the Silent Treatment at “Creating Change”
Creating Change, the “nation’s largest LGBTQ activist conference,” happens every January, but this year’s Washington, DC, “social justice movement” convergence was particularly notable for its failure to include promised discussions on queers and Palestine, rejecting all proposed panels and workshops that involved anything close to touching on the Zionist and Israeli violence that Palestinian LGBTQ people experience every day.
Still, queer anti-Zionist organizers showed up en masse, meeting in the lobbies and hallways of the Marriott hotel, where the conference was held, to spotlight the problem of bias that exists among gays and lesbians who get to decide what counts as a worthy social justice cause. Keynoter and beloved community icon Miss Major referenced the problem in her conference-wide address.
Creating Change previously received an “apology not accepted” notice from the Latinx-centered LGBTQ organization Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement in 2016, when the conference host, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, invited Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and then quickly cut them from the program after community pressure.
No “Pride” for Cops and Corporations
In 2017, police in Columbus, Ohio, forced a group of four queer and trans people to the ground and sprayed them with mace during the activists’ blockade of the city’s Pride Parade — the Midwest’s largest Pride celebration in Ohio. The activists who became known as the Black Pride 4 sought to bring attention to violence against transgender women of color, the “marginalization of queer and trans people of color” within the LGBTQ community, the acquittal of the police officer who killed Philando Castile and the corporatization of Pride events.
After a country-wide campaign on their behalf, led by Black, Queer & Intersectional Columbus (BQIC), in February 2018, the Franklin County judge overseeing their cases said it was clear the Black Pride 4 were driven by the desire to empower trans women of color, and acknowledged the hundreds of letters their supporters from across the country sent to the court. Activists demanded their charges be dropped; in the end, the four received probation, fines and community service — a partial win, as they avoided jail time.
The leaders of the Columbus Pride event, instead of showing intersectional solidarity with the protesters, testified against the protesters in court. Board of Trustees Chair Tom McCartney went so far as to call them a “hate group.” (Ironically, Columbus Pride’s official host organization is called Stonewall Columbus — a reference to the 1969 anti-police uprising that began during a police raid of the Stonewall Inn gay bar in New York City, an event that sparked the gay liberation movement.) Stonewall Columbus Pride Coordinator Lori Gum later resigned after a community shaming, telling reporters she regretted not supporting the protesters.
Over the summer, BQIC put on the city’s first-ever Columbus Community Pride, which specifically forbade cops and corporations. Decades ago, calls to rid Pride of cops and corporations went worldwide after queer radicals with LAGAI-Queer Insurrection crashed the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade in 1998 with banners reading “IT’S A MOVEMENT NOT A MARKET” and Gay Shame’s 2002 “vomitorium” action, in which the same parade route was temporarily severed by a giant cardboard Budweiser can reading “Vomit Out Budweiser Pride and the Selling of Queer Identities.”
In 2018, organizations in cities like Montreal and Phoenix continued radical traditions of Pride more in line with the original Gay Pride celebration in 1970, a protest march which passed by the New York Women’s House of Detention as a nod to the prison-industrial complex before that was even a term.
In November, in Auckland, New Zealand, the official Pride organizers stood with marginalized queers, including the Maori Takatapui Natives, by banning police and corrections staff from marching in uniform, leading to losses in corporate sponsorships from companies like cellular service provider Vodafone.
The New Orleans group BreakOUT!’s #MyQTPOCPride described in a statement why many queers will never welcome cops at Pride. “Tonight, New Orleans’ streets will fill with [New Orleans Police Department] officers, the FBI, Louisiana State Troopers, Orleans Parish Sheriffs, and private patrols — all under the banner of ‘community safety’” — but the definition of “community safety” depends on who you ask. BreakOUT!’s Black queer and trans youth experience firsthand the sexual assault by law enforcement that groups like BreakOUT!, Survived and Punished and the National Center for Trans Equality have collected data on for years. BreakOUT! members recount how they’re regularly searched simply for being Black or for the unofficial offense that the community has dubbed “walking while trans.” Queer youth often feel unsafe and triggered by police, and the celebration of law enforcement at mainstream Pride galas and parades just elevates the trauma.
“We Like Our Queers Out of Uniform”
Self-professed “real friend” to gay people, President Trump, made a dangerous move that could affect some of the most marginalized queer people who don’t fit neatly into a gender box, when he ordered the US Health Department to write gender nonconforming people out of existence. In short, the White House wants the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate to decide whether or not they’re worthy of civil rights protections, which might have major consequences — like narrowing their health care eligibility.
Hot takes about the scourge of identity politics (from cisgender, straight liberals) aside, the president pushed another policy that the gay establishment and corporate media widely criticized in March when he asked the Pentagon to reinstitute the trans military ban.
The ban accomplished at least one unintended outcome: It gave antiwar queers another opportunity to voice why endless war and the military shouldn’t exist in the first place. Namely: increasing numbers of civilian drone killings, the post-traumatic stress disorder and mental illnesses soldiers face when they return from war, intense rates of sexual assault within military ranks, and wasteful spending so incredible that the Department of Defense regularly loses track of hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
San Francisco’s Queer “Snakes and Demons” Fight to Stay
San Francisco’s reputation as a progressive city was up for debate in 2018 — especially when it comes to homelessness. Homelessness and housing insecurity hit harder for queer and trans people. Nationally, 40 percent of homeless youth are queer. In San Francisco it’s 49 percent (LGBT people make up just 6.1 percent of the overall local population, according to Gallup).
But November’s election showed that the city isn’t a total real estate developer-run dystopia yet, as radical groups like the Black and queer/trans Lucy Parsons Project went after politicians funded by the real estate and construction industries. Trans people specifically called out gay state legislator Scott Wiener and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who both supported Josephine Zhao — a transphobic politician, landlord and right-wing radio host — for San Francisco’s School Board.
Zhao’s controversial campaign derailed after she publicly apologized for calling trans and queer people “demons and snakes,” and said on multiple occasions that allowing transgender students to use bathrooms appropriate for their gender would lead to “more incidences of rape.” She later admitted to supporters on a social media group she believed to be private that her apology was a lie. Her campaign never recovered, and the politicians who supported her lost progressive voters in the process.
Thanks to Corporate Media, Some Trans Stereotypes Will Never Die
Jesse Singal’s cover story in The Atlantic magazine on trans youth highlighted the problem the corporate media have always had: A small group of elites, who are rarely queer or trans, decide what ends up in front of the eyes of most of the public. As layoffs and consolidation in the media continues, The Atlantic, The New York Times and other large outlets stayed true to their gate-keepership tradition, allowing editors who favor tropes such the “sad, self-loathing trans” person to publish pieces calling a vagina a “wound” that millions of non-queer people will unfortunately take at face value. Moments like these make it clear how badly we need strong, independent media.
“Juntos, Somos Fuertes”
While the movement to abolish US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and borders received broad coverage in 2018, anti-deportation protests led by Latinx activists with trans and gender nonconforming groups like Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement have been going on for years, despite the very real threat of deportation for the undocumented among them. (LGBTQ asylum seekers are looking for hosts in the US as this piece goes to publication.)
As communities grieved the death of trans immigrant Roxsana Hernández, who died under the watch of officials at an ICE detention jail in New Mexico, activists mobilized to prevent any more deaths in custody. They demanded not only the abolition of ICE, but also the massive government infrastructure that makes deportation a billion-dollar industry and the corporations that receive millions in government contracts, such as CoreCivic, which operated the detention jail in New Mexico where Hernández died.
Jennicet Gutiérrez is a Familia activist who became globally known for calling out former president Barack Obama for his record-setting deportation numbers at a 2015 White House gala. (As she was dragged out, wealthy gays swooning over their proximity to the president cheered her removal.) Further, the activism of groups such as Familia and the [email protected] Coalition pushed the city of Santa Ana, California, to agree to close its detention jail in 2017, after the government failed to end abuse of transgender people imprisoned there by staff after completely isolating trans people from the rest of the jail’s population in 2015.
They haven’t stopped since. Recognizing that assaults and deaths are endemic to prisons — not issues that can be erased by “LGBTQ-friendly” trainings for ICE agents or trans-only “pods” within detention jails — they’ve refused partnerships with law enforcement. During a year when the largest known prison strike was organized against the odds in lockup facilities across the country, no justice will come, as Gutiérrez says, until “we abolish ICE and shut down all detention centers and prisons!”
Tech Companies’ Queerwashing PR
The country’s most highly valued conglomerates are in tech, and companies like Amazon and Apple only got richer in 2018. They also continued to push feel-good, pro-LGBTQ messaging in minor ways: Google showed its allyship by giving us hard-to-access rainbow spreadsheets, while less publicly, they made the lives of most queer people worse as they received funding and aligned themselves with bias-fueled, violent organizations like the CIA.
Facebook’s political action committee gave money to pro-LGBTQ conversion therapy politicians despite the company outwardly saying it doesn’t support the practice. Lesbians Who Tech — a semi-annual, CIA-funded conference aimed at getting more women into the “brogrammer”-dominated tech industry — scheduled speakers from war missile manufacturers Boeing alongside Black Lives Matter activists.
Uber attempted to divert public focus away from its labor violations, efforts to skirt the Americans with Disabilities Act, sexual harassment lawsuits and its eight driver suicides (in New York City alone) by throwing cash at social media “influencers” like Danielle Cooper, a self-identified trans “fashion activist” whose meeting in the company’s Pittsburgh office was documented by a professional photographer.
Most recently, citing the specter of child porn, Tumblr announced on December 3 it would impose a ban on any content deemed to be pornographic. The decision follows Craigslist’s adult classified ban and federal raids at the headquarters of sites like Backpage and Rentboy. The ban not only means one less sex-positive, free-to-use place on the internet, but it also particularly hurts sex workers — many of whom used the platform to find community and clients. Moreover, chapters of the Sex Workers Outreach Project noted the sad irony of the porn-ban date falling on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (December 17).
Facing Off Against the West Coast Wildfires and Power Companies
Two queers showed how few people it can take to make a huge impact. Mask Oakland, founded by the queer, disabled duo J Redwoods and Cassandra Williams, saved many Californians’ lungs by starting an informal network of volunteers that eventually distributed 85,000 air-filtering masks amid the worst wildfires in the history of the state this fall, “more than all Bay Area governments combined.” Their work was vital to the Bay Area’s growing number of homeless people, who often had nowhere to go during government-issued “stay indoors” warnings that lasted weeks.
Climate change means there’s a really good chance the fires this fall will not hold the title of “worst” for long. Governments, including those with “eco-friendly” reputations like California’s, are making the situation worse by allowing corporations responsible for widespread death and destruction to lobby their way out of blame.
Mask Oakland (and many others) have since demanded that the massive, privately-held California power utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) “take complete financial responsibility for all fire destruction and deaths caused by its negligence” through their #NoPGEBailout campaign. The activists launched their campaign as state legislators and California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a pro-PG&E law in September which permits the power monopoly to slap the public with a “wildfire surcharge,” while the chair of the State Assembly’s Utilities and Energy Committee introduced a law that would make power companies even less liable for future fires they’re bound to cause.