June 19, 1865, represents the day the last enslaved Black people were officially released as property, but it also represents a long history of our nation's slowness to deliver on its promises, particularly to Black Americans.
The Emancipation Proclamation legally freed all the enslaved people in Confederate states two years prior to Juneteenth, yet 250,000 Black people remained in bondage, despite their legal right to freedom. That legacy lives on in our mass incarceration system, where Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated than white men, and more than 400,000 people are held in correctional facilities without having been convicted or faced trial. Mass incarceration of Black people has also led directly to the wide disenfranchisement of Black voters.
We are not free. Juneteenth reminds me constantly that the work of freedom is incomplete when Black people so often lose their freedom or lose their lives as a matter of course in our police state.
June is also recognized as LGBTQ Pride Month. In June 2022, state legislators are using transgender children as kindling in the fire for their cruel culture wars. Children! White supremacist extremists are planning terroristic attacks at Pride celebrations. The Trump-stacked Supreme Court has made it clear that its sights are set on marriage equality, protection from discrimination, protection to build our families as we see fit, and more. Many of my fellow queers are afraid to publicly celebrate Pride this year.
People love a good parade with rainbows and flags and glitter, despite the fact that we are not free.
Many times in my life, I've been called to pledge greater allegiance to my Blackness than my queerness, and vice versa. But there is no chopping me up in this way. As Audre Lorde stated, “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives."
Bayard Rustin was one of the most brilliant organizers we've ever seen. He was the architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He was a close advisor to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was key to Dr. King's nonviolent direct action strategy. He staged a direct action to protest bus segregation long before the Montgomery boycott in 1955.
Bayard Rustin fought for the full freedom of Black people, yet many people don't know his name because he was gay.
Rustin was targeted by police for his sexuality. He was arrested on a "morals charge" and later sentenced to 60 days in jail. He was also forced to register as a sex offender. Though Rustin was building infrastructure for the Civil Rights Movement, he had to do it from the sidelines for fear that his queerness—and the way it made him a target for police harassment—would tarnish the movement. Check out Brother Outsider to learn more.
It's often said that the first Pride was a riot. It was a glorious week of protest and resistance. At the Stonewall Inn in 1969, a bunch of queers, drag queens, and otherwise gender-expansive people decided enough is enough and fought back against the police who were raiding (again) their bar and brutalizing patrons just because they were gay.
As much is made of the Stonewall riots as the "beginning" of the gay rights movement, fewer people talk about the queers at Stonewall being a critical point in our resistance to police profiling and brutality. The patrons of Stonewall Inn fought the cops so hard that the police had to call for help. The podcast You're Wrong About has an excellent episode about the layered implications of Stonewall, and speaks to the solidarity between Stonewall patrons and Black female inmates at a nearby facility.
The narrative around Stonewall often marginalizes the Black and brown trans and gender nonconforming people who were integral to that resistance. Unfortunately, the LGBTQ rights movement continued to erase trans people for many decades.
My city council member Andrea Jenkins often reminds us in speeches and a brilliant volume of poetry, The T is Not Silent. We cannot try to silence transgender people, and that is what we do when we push back on the use of singular they/them or neopronouns and make pedantic (incorrect) grammatical arguments. We have to be all in.
The film Boys Don’t Cry (1999) starring Hilary Swank played a pivotal role in beginning to unravel my transphobia. It is based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was raped and murdered when people learned that he had been assigned female at birth.
Not only was I sickened by the abuse Brandon suffered for simply being a different kind of man, but I was also disgusted by how law enforcement refused to help him because the officers couldn’t get past their own bigotry about his gender. To this day, police officers dehumanize transgender people and subject them to unspeakable brutality.
After viewing this film, it became clear to me that it didn’t matter what I did and did not understand about transgender people. It only mattered to me that they got to be safe and that they got to live. My education was my own responsibility, but it was also my responsibility to ensure life for trans people, particularly young people like Brandon Teena who are under vicious assault by state governments right now.
You may notice a law enforcement theme in these reflections. That's because I believe that the institution of policing and the state-sanctioned violence that comes along with police is a stain on our nation that must be eradicated. Nearly 40% of all people being held in a correctional facility are Black (we are 13% of the total population). The mass incarceration of Black people continues the work of chattel slavery, keeping in bondage folks who deserve to be free. States are moving to criminalize parents supporting their transgender children to transition. Our nation weaponizes the "law" to control and marginalize people rather than to keep us safe.
As much as people struggle to believe it, we are capable of accountability in our communities without relying on police or mass incarceration. Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement documents efforts, successes, values, failures, and how-to (or at least how-we-did) guides to transformative justice and community accountability.
The stories are by Black and brown people, queer people, survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault, sex workers, and people who live at various intersections of all those identities. Black and brown and queer people have not ever been safe around police or free from the looming threat of unfair detention. That has necessitated people getting creative and experimental about holding accountability in different ways, and without prioritizing punishment as the end goal. Beyond Survival chronicles a small slice of this journey.
Juneteenth and Pride are both celebrations of me in my fullness, affirming my Black queer body. But they are also aspirational. These celebrations allow us to celebrate how far we've come, but should never let us rest easy in the delusion that the work is done.