I am always worried to the point of nail biting when my spouse leaves in the morning for Boston Medical Center if she’ll return home to me, because she’s always stopped by the Cambridge or Boston police. They don’t see Dr. Thea James.
Her gender non-conforming appearance and driving a brand new BMW, that many cops derisively dub as a “black man’s wagon,” make her a constant target of suspicion. When gender identity and sexual orientation come into play, the treatment by police can be harsher. And when the police realized my spouse is a woman, and a lesbian one at that, their unbridled homophobia surfaces.
Always nagging my spouse about being safe, she told me that after the recent killings of Alton Sterling, Philander Castile and five Dallas police officers, she worries about me too. She flatly stated she sees Sandra Bland in me, the African-American women pulled over for a minor traffic violation in 2015 by a state trooper and three days later was found hung in her jail cell. African-American women combating police harassment is an ongoing struggle, too.
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A gay Washington Post columnist asked me what is it that white LGBT people don’t get about the Black Lives Matters movement as well as racism within the community. I told him, “This is a time when we need the community front and center in this struggle for both our survival and change, because their African-American LGBTQ brothers and sisters stood by you with marriage equality and other issues. We need now you front and center because we are hurting.”
But the queer politics of discussing race in the LGBTQ community is as unresolved among us as in the dominant culture. However, unlike the larger dominate culture, white LGBTQs can suggest and give advice to communities of color from their own experiences of abuse by law enforcement officers, including discrimination, harassment, profiling, entrapment, and victimization that was often was ignored — and all based on our actual or perceived sexual orientations and gender identities.
The treatment African Americans are experiencing at the hands of some police officers, who swore to protect but yet some have become both verbal and physical assailants, is neither news nor new to LGBTQ communities.
Long before the Stonewall Riots of 1969, liquor licensing laws were used to raid establishments and bars patronized by LGBTQ people. Bar raids continue to target LGBTQ people, especially in the South where many of the southern states still vehemently oppose Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Boston, which is internationally known as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly spots on the globe, continues to have its own police problem with our community. In 2013, the Boston Police Department settled a case against them with a transgender woman. The women was arrested for using the women’s lavatory at the homeless shelter she was staying at. When taken to the police station the woman proved her legal grievance “that the officers forced her to remove her shirt and bra and jump up and down to humiliate and laugh at her.”
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is our present day Stonewall. It’s a nationwide network of local state chapters that operate independently. As an ideology and movement to cease the state sanctioned killing of African-American males, BLM started as a call to action after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted of all charges based on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law.
Founded by three African American straight and queer sisters, BLM’s ideals — to address poverty, homelessness, unemployment, gentrification, and community policing that intersect with systemic racism — is a now a global cause with solidarity protests in places like Canada, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands, to name a few.
But BLM continues to receive harsh criticism whenever riots break out or killings occur, like the recent one with the lone and deranged Dallas sniper. These incidents exploit motives that are not only antithetical to the movement but also undermine BLM’s intent to exercise their First Amendment right to peaceful assembly.
Of all people to speak out on race and the recent racial violence between the African-American community and law enforcement officers in this country, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) has.
“It took me a long time, and a number of people talking to me through the years, to get a sense of this: If you are a normal, white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively under-estimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk,” Gingrich stated during a CNN interview.
When the dominant white culture doesn’t see and hear African-American voices concerning our pains, fears, and vulnerabilities, our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist, LGBTQ and sexist stereotypes. So, too, is our suffering.
I’m calling on my white LGBTQ brothers and sisters for help because my spouse and I don’t know where our Black bodies are safe in America.