When the July 2nd 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act went by largely unacknowledged by most national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations, the silence, for some, felt thunderously loud.
When I read the blog post marking this anniversary written by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, I remember thinking how proud I was to work for her. But that pride was magnified when I was reminded how rare it is for a national organization without an explicit racial justice focus to understand so acutely why racial justice and the rights and needs of folks of color is an LGBT issue.
Frustrated advocates @PurposefullyLJ, @publiusterrance, and @cedsaidso took to Twitter using the hashtag #TheseOrgsAintLoyal to criticize the national LGBT organizations who did nothing to commemorate the anniversary. The results were spectacular. Many organizations responded by issuing statements on the anniversary. And while it was a powerful moment, it was also a sad reminder that so many queer people of color continue to feel disenfranchised from the LGBT movement. The larger resentment that #TheseOrgsAintLoyal is tapping into is a continuing sense of marginalization from much of the LGBT movement.
There is a serious need to acknowledge the dissonance of this moment in history for LGBT people of color. The Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act the day before it struck down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The demise of DOMA effectively ended the discrimination experienced by same-sex binational couples in the immigration system, while despite the passage of immigration reform legislation in the Senate, Congress still has failed to overhaul this broken system. A failure that millions of immigrants - and their families - have paid for dearly.
The juxtaposition of stunning victories for some in the LGBT community with heartbreaking losses that overwhelmingly victimize people of color illustrates exactly what folks at #TheseOrgsAintLoyal are tweeting about.
Intersectionality means more than realizing that people have multiple marginalized identities. It is a framework that requires recognition that overlapping marginalized identities impact the way people experience oppression and, thus, must impact the way advocates do work. Simply put, intersectionality is not an ideology; it's a methodology. And without it, we quite simply are not working for those most vulnerable within the community.
Imagine the struggle for liberation for all people as a multi-storied house where gains are symbolized by unlocking doors so the people on each floor can move up to the next. On each floor is a room filled with people - some of the people are lined up along the staircase, but many more are further away from the staircase, some sitting in the far corner of the room. Like most rooms, they are also each cluttered with various objects, including boxes and furniture.
If you ask the people on the staircase why they don't go up to the next floor, they'll tell you it's because the door is closed and locked. But as you go across the floor and ask the people further back why they don't go upstairs, they're going to talk less about the door and more about the furniture, the boxes, and all the obstacles standing between them and the staircase.
If we are only concerned with unlocking and opening the door, we are only working for those people already on the staircase. In order to get the people all the way across the floor upstairs, we have to be concerned with moving boxes, furniture, and all the other barriers along the way.
LGBT people of color aren't lined up along the staircase; they are disproportionately stuck behind heavy furniture. They not only need marriage equality, but social and economic factors that make marriage actually possible for couples of color. They not only need LGBT employment protections, but a raise to the minimum wage and protections against employment status discrimination. Hate crimes legislation doesn't stop people of color from being targets for violence, and the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell didn't change economic factors that funnel low-income people of color into the armed services during the most dangerous military time in a generation.
The overwhelming failure of so many LGBT organizations to mention the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act is a symptom of a larger problem, and until more LGBT organizations start showing up more consistently and visibly for folks of color, they will keep questioning the motives - and loyalty - of the movement.