Nine LGBTQ Stories Big Media Missed in 2016

Untitled (Puritans & Pilgrims), by queer, indigenous artist Demian DinéYazhi.Untitled (Puritans & Pilgrims), by queer, indigenous artist Demian DinéYazhi. (Image: Demian DinéYazhi)

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In 2016, the mainstream media pitted queer people against Muslims in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, never noting how many queer people are in fact Muslim. They championed transgender inclusion in the military as an all-around win. They blamed marginalized trans people for the election of Donald Trump. Before that, they tried to convince us that Hillary Clinton would be our queer savior.

Our list of the most significant queer and trans news stories of the year is pretty bleak, but we find comfort in the words of transgender elder Miss Major, who has survived 75 years of anti-queer and anti-Black presidential administrations and lived to tell about it. Major wrote on the night of Trump’s win:

We’ve all been knocked down. Just don’t stay down. Get back up and fight. And if you can’t get up, then tag someone to jump in and fight in your place. Never give up. Never say quit. Never say die!

Will Chelsea Manning Survive a Trump Presidency?

Chelsea Manning is now America’s longest-imprisoned whistleblower. Manning, who came out as transgender under the harshest spotlight, has attempted suicide several times over the past year and was subject to months of solitary confinement. (Trans people are all-too-often locked away alone “for their own safety,” only to face unsafe conditions because of the torture that is extended time imprisoned with no human contact.)

Manning’s lawyer Chase Strangio expressed his fear in an open letter to President Obama: “Chelsea Manning is my friend and hero and I am worried she will not survive much longer.” Obama has the power to grant Manning executive clemency, freeing her from prison. A petition calling for Manning’s release reached the required 100,000 signatures guaranteeing an official statement by the Obama Administration; as of press time the president hadn’t responded.

San Francisco sidewalk stencil by the direct action group Gay Shame, reading San Francisco sidewalk stencil by the direct action group Gay Shame, reading “Queers Hate Techies,” 2016. (Photo: larrybobsf) Trump’s Top Gay Backer is a Rightwing Tech Billionaire Named Peter Andreas Thiel.

One of Donald Trump’s loudest supporters is a gay techie billionaire now helping to oversee Trump’s transition into power. Peter Andreas Thiel, cofounder of PayPal and one of Facebook’s first investors, shows us how a few people having yacht-loads of money could ultimately kill the First Amendment.

Thiel bankrupted Gawker Media in June because he loathed its tech industry truth-telling site Valleywag (RIP). As a Gawker journalist put it, Valleywag was unique in creating “a counter-narrative to the mythos of the free-market, death-destroying, Randian Übermensch that Thiel” and his brogrammer friends were hawking. By funding other people’s libel lawsuits with his own bank account, Thiel effectively sued the much-less-rich Gawker out of business.

Thiel is also the cofounder of the Seasteading Institute, which aims to create tax havens in the form of manmade islands in international waters so billionaires like him can hide their money. He also called women’s suffrage and welfare two of the worst things to ever happen to the country and despises climate change activists. His pro-Trump donation dump — called “Make America Number 1” — gave six figures to a company led by Trump’s chief of staff, known white supremacist Steve Bannon. In mid-December, Thiel led tech billionaire buddies like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Tesla founder Elon Musk in a friendly get-together with the president-elect at Trump Tower. (The radical direct action group Gay Shame’s “Queers Hate Techies” project is as prescient as ever.)

A New “Transgender-Friendly” ICE Detention Center in Texas Is the Nightmarish Future We Knew Was Coming (But That Doesn’t Make It Any Better).

Google Earth displays the Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas, which is still under construction. (Image: Google Earth)Google Earth displays the Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas, which is still under construction. (Image: Google Earth)

In June, Texas politicians and the private Emerald Companies corporation proudly announced they were breaking ground on a new $42 million project south of Fort Worth: an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) jail with the nation’s first wing for undocumented trans people. Prison abolitionists like Critical Resistance’s Rose Braz and Ruth Wilson Gilmore (cofounder of Critical Resistance and author of Golden Gulag) warned us all:

Building more prisons, public or private, ties up an increasing percentage of state funds for more correctional staff, operations, and debt service. More space has never, and will never, pave the way for increased programming or better conditions. It’s time to stop pretending that increased capacity, no matter how gender responsive, is part of the solution.

—From the 2007 report How “Gender Responsive Prisons” Harm Women, Children, and Families

Erika Rocha, 35, committed suicide in her California Institution for Women prison cell on April 14, 2016. (Photo: Courtesy of Linda Reza)Erika Rocha, 35, committed suicide in her California Institution for Women prison cell on April 14, 2016. (Photo: Courtesy of Linda Reza) Related: Prison Is Killing Women.

As Victoria Law reported for Truthout in July, suicides at the California Institution for Women (CIW) east of Los Angeles have spiked. We’ve known for a long time now that queer and trans women are way overrepresented behind bars. Like Chelsea Manning, they get funneled into torturous solitary confinement and face some of the highest rates of assaults by staff and other prisoners. Vigils and protests on behalf of the women are ongoing. As anti-prison activist Colby Lenz voiced earlier this year, “Since we helped start it, California should end the war on youth, with its race-, class- and gender-targeted mass incarceration.” A woman lost to CIW’s neglect, Erika Rocha, was an abuse survivor who’d been in the system since the age of 14. Her “death was preventable. She should have been loved, not caged,” Lenz wrote.

Mainstream Gay Nonprofits Tried to Stay in Business by Throwing Their Money at Electoral Campaigns.

The US’s most well-funded gay political organizations faced a conundrum after winning conservative campaigns for gay marriage and LGBT military inclusion: How to devise a way to keep the LGBT nonprofit industrial complex chugging along? Groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Equality California funded election campaigns that would help the richest and whitest among us; tried making us believe that Pantsuit Nation was our only path to salvation; and inevitably lost a lot of LGBT supporters along the way.

Two-Spirit People Camp Out for #NoDAPL.

This Land Is Not Your Land (North Dakota), Demian DinéYazhi for RISE: Radical Indigenous Survivance & Empowerment, 2016. (Image: Courtesy of Demian DinéYazhi)This Land Is Not Your Land (North Dakota), Demian DinéYazhi for RISE: Radical Indigenous Survivance & Empowerment, 2016. (Image: Courtesy of Demian DinéYazhi)

Standing Rock’s camp of gender nonconforming people helped slow the Black Snake. The two-spirit Native water protectors representing hundreds of tribes from across the continent showed out at a grand entrance ceremony on October 14, a big moment for a Native population that has until recently faced erasure from mainstream tribal memory.

Black Trans Housing Matters.

San Francisco’s Gene Compton’s Cafeteria in 1966—the year the cafeteria was the scene of an LGBTQ-led anti-police riot. (Photo: Michael Thomas Angelo)San Francisco’s Gene Compton’s Cafeteria in 1966 — the year the cafeteria was the scene of an LGBTQ-led anti-police riot. (Photo: Michael Thomas Angelo)

A group of vital queer and trans organizations, including the queer housing group the Q Foundation, the St. James Infirmary sex workers’ clinic and the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project is working to turn the scene of a 1966 anti-police riot into the country’s very first transgender historic district.

One of the earliest known spots where transgender people stood up to police abuse, the former site of San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria, may become its centerpiece. Plans include low-income housing for trans women getting out of jails and prison. And it’s very necessary: while the Bay continues to be safer than many other places for trans people, the local housing crisis (recently making mainstream news due to the Oakland fire that killed 36 largely trans and queer victims) and police who are the number-one agents of anti-trans assaults keep trans women of color having to constantly watch their backs. Truly safe spaces are few and far between.

Gay News Industry: Now Worse Than Ever.

Over the past year, some of the largest LGBT publications, including After Ellen, Frontiers and Next ceased publication. Here Media, the country’s largest original TV content producer and publisher of gay media’s flagship magazines, Out and The Advocate, stopped paying most of its freelancers years ago; Huffington Post Gay Voices never paid. The publications that remain are filled with voices of those who are privileged enough to be able to write for free (an act that queer writer Yasmin Nair has described as scabbing). With more queer-related content being reported by mainstream publications that have resources and the wherewithal to do more original reporting, these are bad omens for the few for-profit gay media outlets that remain.

Queer People Are Making Liberation Happen in the South.

Orlando wasn’t the only big gay news to come out of the Southern US this year.

  • Queer people were doing the work for all-gender bathroom access in North Carolina and Virginia.
  • Hypergentrification in gay capitals like New York City and San Francisco means rich neighbors are blocking the creation of new queer youth shelters. Not so in Richmond, Virginia, where Zakia Mckensey is set on opening new LGBTQ emergency housing. A drop-in shelter for queer kids in Houston finally opened its doors in October (about 40 landlords had said ‘no way’ to the project). And Orlando’s Zebra Coalition expanded its space to accommodate more homeless youth.
  • The youth-led trans activist group BreakOUT (New Orleans) was one of the first LGBT groups to publicly announce it would pull out of this year’s Pride celebration because of the police presence — a move repeated at other Gay Pride events across the country (the above-mentioned St. James Infirmary and TGIJP being two others).
  • Credit for Atlanta’s in-the-works program to send fewer people to jail and put more resources into community services goes, above all, to the Black, trans-led Solutions Not Punishment Coalition (SNaP Co.).

These last stories remind us how queer and trans people have always fought against the odds, and have often won.

Days before this piece was set to run, we got news that HIV criminalization victim Michael Johnson, the subject of one of last year’s most seemingly hopeless stories, is getting a retrial.

Never give up. Never say quit. Never say die!