From the Steps of the Supreme Court to the Streets of Baltimore

Tuesday morning, as I got up early to hustle to the Supreme Court to help MC the “Unite for Marriage” rally, I got dressed while brushing tears out of my eyes. I felt like I was literally sitting in the middle of the intersection of my blackness and my queerness, being pulled in opposite directions, and I was hurting – for me and for my community. My personal pain was a pain of privilege, grounded in the fact that as the leader of a grassroots LGBTQ organization, the expectation of many would be for me to be enthused by this historic moment in the movement toward marriage equality.

BUT MY ATTENTION – AND MY HEART – THAT MORNING, THE NIGHT BEFORE, AND FOR THE WEEK PRIOR WAS IN BALTIMORE WITH THE COMMUNITY REELING OVER THE HORRIFIC KILLING OF FREDDIE GRAY.

I was also hurting for the broader black community that would be subjected to another week of water cooler conversations demanding answers to questions like, “But why would they destroy their own community?” and around-the-clock “breaking news” coverage that ignores the organized, intentional, and inspiring demonstrations of black folks standing up for their city – instead, focusing on property damage on a singular block. Yes, I know good and well why the traditional news media refuses to be anything but basic in their coverage of black communities and I know why leaders are so quick to dismiss these demonstrations of black pain as thuggier (HINT: it rhymes with “shmite supremacy”) but that knowledge doesn’t make it hurt less or make it easier to hear, no matter how many times Don Lemon goes on camera.

At the Supreme Court on Tuesday, I saw a crowd of people who were hopeful, confident and emboldened in their identity and their right to fair and equal treatment in the United States of America – and rightfully so. The movement toward marriage equality has been a long one. Through that fight many in the American public have come to better understand what it means to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual – and now more folks are beginning to gain a lens into what it means to be trans. Unfortunately, the dominant narrative around what it means to be LGBT in the U.S. has been told from the perspective of white, cisgender people – and, thus, what most folks think it means for LGBT people to be equal under the law has also been shaped by the needs of that relatively small subset of our community.

Flanked by faith leaders, elected officials, nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups, and even the Chamber of Commerce, LGBT people and allies at the Supreme Court felt the power and opportunity that comes from having access to a Justice system that values them and, with some amount of pressure, is willing to bend toward their needs. But as a black queer woman, I don’t feel like my life is valued by this system. And what I saw in Baltimore the very same night reinforced that message.

In-between speakers and chants at the Unite for Marriage rally, I was connecting by phone with folks who might know how to support efforts on the ground in West Baltimore. In coordination with the DC Chapter of the Black Youth Project 100, I decided to take some supplies and some people up to Baltimore Tuesday evening. We arrived a little after 8:00pm that night and I immediately felt the presence of over-policing. We saw mostly empty streets with the exception of the National Guard troops lining one street, as mostly white people ate on restaurant patios near Camden Yards.

We arrived just as a community forum hosted by Baltimore United was wrapping up and were able to connect with several organizers, including one from Bmorebloc who was training marshals for a demonstration planned for the following day. The looming 10:00pm curfew was on everyone’s minds. As 9:00pm approached, organizers were pushing folks to leave the space as quickly as possible. As we headed over to West Baltimore, the consequences of being in the street after 10:00pm were clear: breaking curfew didn’t just mean arrest – it meant there was a good chance you’d get the crap beaten out of you by the full force of the Baltimore Police Department.

Days like Tuesday make living at the intersection of my black and queer identities such an important part of who I am and why I do this work. Of course it matters that black LGBTQ people have equal access to the legal benefits and protections that come with legal marriage recognition. But if we don’t even have the right to live and be black – free from harassment, profiling and police violence – what is the value of that marriage license?

IF POLICE AND VIGILANTE FORCES CAN KILL MYA HALL, REKIA BOYD, ERIC HARRIS, ANTHONY HILL, AND FREDDIE GRAY WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE, THEN EQUALITY FOR BLACK LGBTQ PEOPLE WILL ALWAYS BE AN ILLUSION – NO MATTER WHAT JUSTICE KENNEDY DECIDES.

The movement that is poised to win the fight for marriage equality can and must focus its attention on more than marriage.