Are we building a movement that is about JUST US or JUSTICE?
Thank you, Mandy Carter, for asking us this important question. For the past forty years, she has challenged us to intentionally commit to justice while doing the hard work of breaking ground in multiple movements by connecting issues, identities, communities and movements. So many organizers of color and allies join Mandy every day in putting forward a long term vision of an LGBT movement that is multi-racial and uncompromisingly inclusive across issues and communities.
As people of color we approach our work this way because we know that our individual and collective liberation hinges upon connecting issues, identities and communities. Simply put, our bodies EMBODY the intersection of so many issues that we cannot separate them out, rank them in a hierarchy or deny their existence. Sorry...it just can't happen!
This deep abiding commitment to and practice of movement building is not new. In fact, it has historical roots across communities of color. For example, in a recent interview entitled "A Conversation with Cornel West" by Kathleen Wells, Dr. West makes this point so clearly when speaking about true democracy, blackness and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King:
What kind of agenda did he [Dr King] have? He had a democratic agenda. That's the point. Yes, he did have a democratic agenda. But it was a black agenda because it started with what? The needs of black and working poor people. And he had a spill-over love that went to poor and working people across the board of all colors. And then he had a critique of American imperial foreign policy, of invasion and occupation of Vietnam in his day, Iraq in our day, Afghanistan in our day, drones in Pakistan in our day. That was -- The black agenda has always been like that.
And yet our mainstream/national LGBT movement often regards movement building as a fringe politic. I'm talking specifically about the people and organizations that hold most of the wealth and the institutional power. In its leadership composition and framing of issues, this aspect of our movement does not reflect or represent the broadest possible set of issues facing our LGBT communities.
To my dismay, queer issues are often defined nationally in very narrow ways. The blogosphere and the community are constantly engaged in exclusive and hurtful debates about what constitutes a "legitimate queer issue." Is immigration a queer issue? Is reproductive justice a queer issue? Is the Employee Free Choice Act something we should care about as LGBT people? Do we give a crap about economic justice and the deterioration of our economic and social safety nets at the hands of corporate greed? Do we care about disability justice and access and, by the way, why is that a queer issue anyway? Generally speaking the national response is "not so much...none of these are queer issues and none of these issues get us our rights." For the most part, and there are some exceptions, the national LGBT policy, legislative and organizing agendas do not incorporate any of these issues.
And, yet again, we find ourselves back to Mandy's question and Dr West's point about the legacy and of Dr King: is this about just us or JUSTICE?
Hope at the intersections
So what gives me hope given the state of the national queer agenda and leadership landscape? The answer is simple: all of the amazing grassroots, people of color and multi-racially led organizations, networks and communities across the country that are not spending their time debating whether immigration, reproductive justice, disability justice, economic justice issues are "legit queer issues". Rather, they are out there their communities every day doing something about it by working on multiple issues in a way that ensures that there is JUSTICE for everyone. They do not have time or the luxury to sit around debating narrow frameworks and issues because too many lives are at stake when you are thinking and acting big and broad about social justice.
Here is another thing that gives me hope: queer people of color working in other movements for social and economic justice who are leading the way and challenging their movements to connect issues, identities and communities. You see, when we approach the work from the perspective that "my liberation is bound with your liberation" then what we begin to understand is that there is no shortage of work to be done to include rather than exclude. I'm proud of all of my people of color brothers, sister and gender non-conforming folks who are working in other movements to break the ground, connect the issues and hold the line on justice. I don't believe that you have to work in the queer movement to do quintessentially queer justice work.
In this moment in our history where demographics are shifting to be majority people of color, it is critical and urgent that our national movements WAKE UP and understand that working across issues is not only here to stay but it is not a fringe politic. Those of us who work to connect issues, identities and communities are not being ideologically pure, high maintenance or idealistic. In fact, we are being strategic and we are bringing to the table life histories, skills and experiences that can provide all of our movements with a vision for a transformed and liberated society. Yes, there is inherent value to what we bring to the movement and it's time for our national leaders to wake up and smell the java.
I send my deepest gratitude to elders like Mandy Carter and grassroots organizations like the Audre Lorde Project, Queers for Economic Justice, The Disability Justice and First Nations Collectives, Southerners on New Ground, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW, FIERCE, Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and many many more for holding the line on justice and showing us all what visionary leadership really is.