If the mainstream media has its way, 2015 will be remembered as the year gay marriage (and divorce) became legal in the United States; Caitlyn Jenner told us what being a trans woman was really about (famously declaring the “hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear“); and the benevolent tech titans at Facebook made us a rainbow filter for our profile pics (while it continued to repress queer and trans people’s ability to use their preferred names). But so much more happened in the last 12 months.
Let’s talk about the important battles won, and those that we’re still fighting, and the people we’ve lost, and all those who have survived against the odds.
1. #BlackTransLivesMatter and intersectional LGBTQ and anti-racist activists got creative.
- For the first #TransLiberationTuesday Day of Action in August, rallies and die-in protests (think classic sit-in protests, but more horizontal) happened in 20-some cities across the United States, including Atlanta, Cleveland, Fresno, Grand Rapids and Nashville.
- Two anonymous activists did the world a service, correcting New York City’s Stonewall riots monument – doing over its statues of white people with black and brown paint – in an ode to trans matriarch and Stonewall veteran Miss Major.
- In New Orleans, youth-focused trans organization BreakOUT! unveiled a billboard counting the death toll of trans women.
- Groups of queer and trans people of color entered historically anti-trans drinking holes in San Francisco’s gayborhood, the Castro District, calling out the gay bars’ discrimination-laced records and demanding that their patrons stand with the Black Lives Matter movement.
2. HRC hearts corporations.
The United States’ biggest LGBT nonprofit, the Human Rights Campaign, kept on keeping on, just releasing its latest Corporate Equality Report, giving snaps to some pretty awful companies like Boeing, Monsanto and Morgan Stanley. As Truthout reported last January, HRC has increasingly gotten lots of flack from queer people for continuing the charade of applauding companies that may have some gay employees, but still abuse human rights and the environment.
3. Equality California hearts HRC.
In April, Equality California showed its love for political dynasties, becoming the first big gay nonprofit-industrial-complex organization to put its weight behind the other totally sketchy HRC, endorsing questionable ally Hillary Rodham Clinton for president.
WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning began tweeting, via her lawyer, from inside federal prison in rural Kansas and quickly emerged as one of the most informed and important voices around the “war on terror” that the US wages against its own citizens. She continues to speak out about the prison’s gender conformist policies through a frequent column in the Guardian.
Then in August, in a clear act of retaliation, prison authorities put Manning in solitary confinement and she lost access to the gym and library for three weeks – all for possessing a tube of expired toothpaste and prohibited reading material like Vanity Fair’s Caitlyn Jenner issue.
5. Trans people of color vs. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Even in the mainstream media, Jennicet Gutiérrez won June by heckling President Obama at a fancy LGBT party at the White House. She was promptly removed and booed by other audience members – jealous nonprofit hacks desperate for a picture with the president. Her action launched a thousand gay, Obama apologist op-eds, who tried to make respectability politics arguments like, “She should have waited her turn!”
But would the despicable treatment of LGBTQ people in US immigration detention centers be quite as visible if Gutiérrez had been a nice, polite, quiet transgender lady? Familia, #Not1More, SONG, and all of the people involved in the ongoing hunger strikes at immigration detention centers across the country keep working to free all detainees.
6. Spotlight on sex workers
The August Rentboy raid in New York City, in which the Department of Homeland Security and New York City police arrested the owners and staff of a male escort website, was national news – but activists like Monica Jones (whose 2013 “walking while trans” charges were finally dropped in February) quickly pointed out that criminalization of queer and trans sex workers of color happens on the daily. Why exactly did it take a raid of a company operated by and catering to white gay dudes for The New York Times and CBS to pay attention?
7. Michfest’s music died.
Also in August: Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival sighed its 40th, and last, anti-trans sigh. Trans-exclusive radical feminists (TERFs) had long battled against including trans women on the festival grounds. One of the “womyn-born-womyn” founders cited the “McCarthyist” tactics of transgender activists for the festival’s end. Girl bye!
8. Anti-trans violence is (still) on the rise.
The organizers of the Trans Day of Remembrance (held annually on November 20) reported that “the number of reported cases of trans-phobic based hate crimes has more than doubled since 1999 when the first TDoR was held.”
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department had its first TDoR-inspired “Walk of Remembrance” in possibly the best example of pinkwashing since Israel began pretending like it cares about queer rights. Countless studies, such as those released this year by Black & Pink, BreakOUT! and the Urban Institute, continue to point to police and prisons as the top culprits of brutality against queer and trans people.
9. HIV criminalization: now more ruthless than ever.
As the national movement against prisons gained momentum, cases like Michael Johnson’s – the Black 23-year-old sentenced to 30 years in prison for allegedly transmitting HIV to willing sex partners in Missouri – highlight just how thirsty the prison industrial complex is for Black, queer bodies. Plus, jails and prisons have increasingly moved toward constructing LGBT-segregated cellblocks that are supposed to make queer and trans prisoners safer. Queer and trans activists are clear on the fact that this is just a ploy to increase funding to the prison industrial complex, while taking away resources from social services to help the people most disproportionately targeted by the “justice” system – trans women of color. Just a thought: put some of those resources, like the money used in a police sting operation entrapping Missourian Robert Smith for allegedly failing to reveal his HIV status to Craigslist hookup partners, toward HIV health services and sex education.
10. Queer and trans film in focus
In November, the Obama family held a transgender movie night, choosing to screen two works starring non-trans actors, by non-trans filmmakers. But real, live trans and queer actors and filmmakers gave us some amazing stuff to look at:
- Criminal Queers, a story about queer resistance to the prison industrial complex inspired by the queer feminist epic Born in Flames and starring the real-life Angela Davis, with cameos by CeCe McDonald, Miss Major and other queer radical heroes.
- MAJOR!, in which the titular star declares “I’m still fucking here!” and reminds the forgetful masses that trans women of color should not only be celebrated when they’re gone.
- The best Christmas movie ever: Tangerine. The friendship dramedy about low-income, Black, trans sex workers actually got quite a bit of positive mainstream press, but the White House decided to snub it in favor of a movie night revolving around upper-class, white, trans characters portrayed by upper-class, straight, white actors, by upper-class, straight, white directors. Shocked.
- Important documentaries about important topics: Consent, which looks at draconian HIV criminalization in Canada, and Pinkwashing Exposed, about the Israeli pinkwashing of the occupation of Palestine.
- We also got an amazing trailer for Happy Birthday, Marsha! (an antidote to this year’s whitewashed Stonewall), which we cannot wait for. 2016 can’t come quickly enough!
So there’s still work to do in 2016. We’ll end with a message to people at all the big media conglomerates like Comcast and Viacom: Please do your jobs better, so that we don’t have to write another one of these damn lists next year.