Radical queer organizing was alive and well in the US in 2014; you just may not have heard about it in mainstream media.
The mainstream “Homosexual Agenda” in 2014 revolved around conservative issues like gay marriage and transgender military inclusion. That meant lots of important queer and trans stories didn’t get much of a voice.
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Buzz about the criminalization of trans sex workers and the horror stories of undocumented queer people in immigration detention centers may have been muted by the Big Media gatekeepers, but these issues deserve a wider audience. Here are nine stories that will no doubt reverberate in 2015:
1. CeCe McDonald is free! Back in 2011, the black trans woman from Minnesota was imprisoned for defending herself against a transphobic white man with a swastika tattoo. Just days after getting out last January, she began a tour of the country to bring her message of prison abolition to the masses. She has also been spreading the word about the disappearance of Sage Smith, another black trans woman who has been missing from her home in Charlottesville, Virginia, for more than two years. Smith’s family reports that local police have offered no help; meanwhile, Charlottesville cops left no stone unturned in the search for a cisgender, white woman in another missing person case that made national news.
2. “Walking While Trans” is still a crime. “Manifesting Prostitution” was the official charge that got black, trans, social work student Monica Jones sentenced to 30 days in jail, but the high rate at which police stop trans women for no apparent reason continues. While Jones appeals the court’s decision, she organizes with Phoenix’s Sex Workers Outreach Group to promote safety for sex workers and fight their criminalization. A recent success: Jones reports that the sex worker profiling group that helped get her convicted, Project ROSE, has no events planned and “will not be conducting any more police stings.”
3. Obama’s war on whistleblowers continued to target trans Wikileaks source Chelsea Manning. After being denied clemency in April, Manning and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in September. In the suit, the former Army private, who is currently serving a 35-year sentence in a Kansas federal prison, says she has been denied access to medically necessary treatment related to her gender identity.
4. They’re here, they’re undocuqueer, get used to it. In 2014, groups such as Familia (Southern California) and Southerners On New Ground (SONG) risked arrest and in some cases deportation as they demanded #Not1More deportation and an end to the criminalization of LGBTQ immigrants. Familia protested outside the LGBT pod at the ICE detention center in Santa Ana, California, while SONG staged a seven-hour sit-in at a LGBT Congressional Caucus meeting, leaving only after gay and lesbian congress people promised they’d bring specific protections for queer immigrants to President Obama’s attention.
Then, in late December, about 115 LGBTQ and immigration organizations officially got behind the call to release altogether trans people from ICE detention centers, where, according to immigration attorney Olga Tomchin, the department has “shown over and over that they are incapable of detaining transgender people with even minimal levels of dignity and safety . . . The only solution is to release [them].”
5. TIME magazine dubbed 2014 the “Trans Tipping Point” with a May cover story, but for most trans women of color, reported violence is on the rise. The Transgender Violence Tracking Portal, which records incidents of murders, violence, missing persons and harassment against transgender people, found that a transgender person is reported murdered every 38 hours. The murders of Filipina Jennifer Laude by US Army Private Joseph Pemberton in October and Deshawnda Sanchez, who was gunned down as she sought help at a stranger’s home in Los Angeles on December 3, made the press, but countless others never made the headlines.
6. Queer activists were left bloodied and jailed at an anti-prison march on the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Coinciding with the country’s largest gay gathering, San Francisco Pride, three protesters with the radical action group Gay Shame were arrested blocks away from a prison-themed circuit party. SF Pride and the porn company responsible for the party, Kink.com, refused calls to cancel the for-profit event, which promised “solitary confinement, showers, jailbreak, love and lust, freedom and confinement.” Prison abolition group Critical Resistance, community grand marshal Miss Major and her Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project, and trans author and SF Pride celebrity grand marshal Janet Mock, among others, signed a letter explaining why they opposed the so-called “Prison of Love”:
At a time when public discussion and media finally has an eye toward the daily systemic violence against trans and queer people, this party theme and promotions are especially harmful and trivializing.
As the June 28 party (arranged in conjunction with a sister event in Israel) raged, so did a protest of several hundred queers who took over several blocks of the city’s Mission District. “Trans women and gender nonconforming people of color are kidnapped, tortured, brutalized and murdered by the prison industrial complex,” Gay Shame wrote in a statement, calling the party “a cash-making joke.” Accompanying banners, pins and a chant declared the marchers “Pro-Sex / Anti-Prison / Queers for Abolition.” The activists were released several days later, with help from the National Lawyers Guild and a campaign to “Free the Gay Shame 3.”
7. Three queer women of color (Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi) helped spark the fire against anti-black violence and police brutality. Created in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, the #BlackLivesMatter movement picked up momentum after racist decisions in the cases of Marissa Alexander, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. Garza laid out the inspiration for the campaign in her recent statement:
When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free. This is why we call on Black people and our allies to take up the call that Black lives matter.
8. “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.” Those were the last words of transgender author and lifelong freedom fighter Leslie Feinberg, who wrote the beloved trans novel Stone Butch Blues, fought for Palestinian liberation, and campaigned vigilantly for CeCe McDonald (including tagging the county jail where McDonald was held), to name just a few of the causes she supported. Feinberg passed away on November 15. Rest in power, Leslie!
9. Reading is fundamental. Some 2,000 packages of books made it into the hands of LGBTQ people behind bars, where they’re overrepresented as compared to straight people. More are on the way, thanks to Madison, Wisconsin-based LGBT Books to Prisoners. The org also announced a partnership with trans advocate Janet Mock, who began publicizing the #TransBookDrive campaign to much fanfare on Twitter on November 30; the campaign continues through the end of the year.