Who Gets to Decide What Winning Looks Like?

The last month of my work at GetEQUAL has been filled with a multitude of opportunities: from visiting Indianapolis, Indiana to help organize in the aftermath of the RFRA bill, attending a White House summit for LGBTQ Leaders of Color, to gathering with the rest of GetEQUAL staff to reflect on our growth and future goals.

In all of these spaces, important questions about the roles folks in the LGBTQ movement play – and what the future of the LGBTQ movement looks like overall – have surfaced for me. Who gets to decide what LGBTQ movement spaces look like? Who is setting the tone for our conversations in the LGBTQ movement? Who decides we have to listen to the same people over and over again?

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE FOR THE LGBTQ MOVEMENT TO WIN?

Attending the White House LGBTQ People of Color Convening reminded me of my childhood: I had always dreamed of being in The White House. Though it was exciting to be in a space of people whose voices are rarely amplified in spaces like the White House, the space reflected the divisions among people of color and LGBTQ people. There was a very small group of trans people of color present. The number of trans women of color represented was even smaller.

Despite being a small group of TWOC represented in the space,It was powerful to see Ms. Major and Ruby Corado, both incredible trans women of color pioneers, honored by a community they’ve given their lives to, – just as it was powerful to see Lourdes Ashley Hunter of the Trans Women of Color Collective speak so powerfully, holding the White House accountable for a lack of initiatives regarding the intersections of LGBTQ people of color and what our needs are. The White House attempted to uplift the little bit they have done for the trans community – specifically their support of “Leelah’s Law” and having a gender neutral bathroom in the restroom. However there was no mention of the 10 trans women murdered this year alone which forced me to pose questions to Obama administration officials about full federal equality and why The White House has not declared #BlackLivesMatter. Trans women of color demonstrated why we are leading the movement and how trans women of color can take ownership of a space even when it does not reflect us, leading the LGBTQ movement now as we have led throughout the movement’s history. Yet even in this space, intersectionality failed – once again, trans women of color had to fight to be heard and to have our voices acknowledged.

I experienced similar disappointment that was far more personally painful in Indiana. In talking to Indiana LGBTQ leaders about Ashley Sherman, a trans woman murdered in Indianapolis, I found that those leaders were not even aware of her murder and that, even after becoming aware, there was a great deal of shaming around the nature of her death. This lack of awareness, and the violence that came from the role I was expected to fill as a trans woman of color to educate these folks on all things trans, didn’t just reflect Indiana but more broadly what happens to trans women of color in LGBTQ spaces.

UNLESS TRANS WOMEN OF COLOR PROVIDE A DEFENSE OF WHY OUR LIVES MATTER, WE’RE NOT SEEN AS WORTHY.

Lots of people aspire to do work with trans women of color, but do not do the work to develop practices that authentically manifest those aspirations. The question must be asked, whose lead is the LGBTQ movement actually following?

I brought all of these experiences with me when GetEQUAL staff gathered recently in North Carolina for a retreat. It was a collective moment to build and strategize, and to have tough, respectful conversations. Because our conversations were grounded in the words of folks impacted by criminalization, immigration, reproductive justice, and religious discrimination in the LGBTQ community, and the intersectional way these issues affect LGBTQ people, there was not the erasure that usually happens in strategy sessions. When you organize this way, then the result will be successful – and it’s why GetEQUAL has such a unique place in the movement. There’s no other grassroots organization talking about Full Federal Equality that specifically reflects and is centered in marginalized communities. There’s no other organization devoted to fighting tokenization, white supremacy, erasure, patriarchy and capitalism in the LGBTQ movement from the ground up. When you work from that lens, it creates opportunities for successful wins.

Winning looks like Mya Hall not being murdered by the police. Winning looks like undocumented folks returning home without having to request a pardon or wear an ankle bracelet. Winning looks like trans women having access to jobs, and no longer being murdered in the streets. Winning looks like reparations. Winning looks like LGBTQ people being able to access medical care without the threat of discrimination or denial because thinly veiled religious beliefs, and for Ky Peterson to have access to medical care in prison.

WINNING DOES NOT LOOK LIKE A GENDER NEUTRAL BATHROOM AT THE WHITE HOUSE, OR GAY AND LESBIAN FOLKS BEING ABLE TO GET MARRIED. WINNING LOOKS LIKE BEING ABLE TO DEFINE ALL OF OUR COLLECTIVE EFFORTS TO OBTAIN EQUALITY AND LIBERATION, FOR ALL WHO DESIRE TO BE FREE.

Winning looks like so much more than what the LGBTQ movement has defined winning as previously. When we see these things as winning, we can find new answers to the questions facing the LGBTQ movement – and then, we will win.