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Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

Stop Ignoring Queer and Trans People of Color

As Black History Month comes to a close, we reflect back on a large number of Black reformers, visionaries, and trend-setters. The names Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Huey Newton ring in our ears as we are reminded of America’s most groundbreaking Black activists. But what about James Baldwin, Marsha P. Johnson, and Pauli Murray? The voices of queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) are so often ignored and left out.

QTPOC erasure in our conversations about Black history only deepens marginalization and stigmatization. For those unsupported by spaces based both upon LGBTQIA+ support and upon ethnic, cultural, and racial identities, navigating identity—particularly at college—can be daunting. People of color often feel forced to separate their sexual orientation and gender identities from their racial identity.

That is precisely why Naya Joseph, CSOM ’19, and the Boston College GLBTQ Leadership Council (GLC) organized a discussion on the intersectionality of queer and Black identity at the To Be Me event on Tuesday. Jay and Jessica, two Black, LGBTQIA+ panelists expressed their own difficulties with reconciling their identities with external influences.

Jay, a 22-year-old student from UMass Boston, described how their school’s Black cultural spaces were “often filled with homophobic and transphobic hate.” Jessica agreed, saying that “Black spaces often seem unified, but in terms of addressing homophobia, the [Boston College] campus is lacking overall” and has often felt uncomfortable in spaces for POC. However, she feels that Boston College’s LGBTQIA+ network is thriving, and she has “found a community in [Boston College’s GLC].”

Jessica later reflected on her childhood in Mississippi, where the community was brazenly homophobic and repressive to those who were part of the community or questioning. When she was exploring her pansexuality, her family often “resorted to corporal punishment” and was “not even tolerant” regarding her experimentation with people of non-male genders. She shut down and hid one of the most important parts of herself until she left her hometown for Boston. Jay elaborated on this, stating that “when people are so blatant about how much they dislike the [LGBTQIA+] community, we are forced to hide things about ourselves, in turn making us dishonest to ourselves.”

This kind of repression makes resources for sexual health and mental health difficult to fund and access. In 2017, Black/African American people accounted for 43% of HIV diagnoses, with Hispanic/Latinx people accounting for 26%. While HIV diagnoses among white gay and bisexual men decreased by 14% between 2012 and 2016, they have remained the same amongst Black gay and bisexual men and increased by 12% among Hispanic/Latinx gay and bisexual men.

This isn’t to say that this is a one-sided problem. LGBTQIA+ spaces have been historically exclusionary towards POC, and there exists significant erasure of QTPOC in discussion of gay marriage rights, Pride, and LGBTQIA+ history. Revolutionaries like Marsha P. Johnson are reduced to a Kinky Boots trope, and men of color like Billy Porter are criticized and prodded at for wearing dresses, despite many white men doing the same. White people in queer spaces commonly single POC out, projecting their white guilt onto whoever is there to hear how accepting they are.

For people experiencing this repression of multiple parts of their identities, support is integral. When asked how they wished allies could support them, Jay said that simply “opening your hearts and ears [to show] you’re willing to make a change” is the first step. However, “being willing to challenge people when they say ignorant things and to educate takes it to the next level.” Symone Varnado, one of GLC’s co-presidents, explained that it’s often not enough to just be an ally. She suggests being an accomplice, someone who “does more than show verbal support” and will stand by their friends with conviction and devotion. Accomplices don’t coddle their friends or make assumptions about them; they speak out and feel the urgency to act.

What does all of this mean? How are we supposed to “act”? Attend hormone therapy with your trans friends, show up to engage in the QTPOC community, use correct pronouns, and go to rallies. Attend GLC and QTPOC events at BC (dates are listed below). Advocate without outing, but put people at the forefront when they want you to. Symone explained that Black student organizations on campus shouldn’t “segment identities” such as in Black Love events, where love is between cisgender men and women and “takes on a very heteronormative perspective.” She encourages members of the Black community at BC to “think outside the box” and to not “force people to choose a side to identify as.” The world needs to change the attitudes and movements we subscribe to, giving our attention to #BlackTransLivesMatter and supporting QTPOC in power and in the media.

Upcoming Events!

  • Thursday, March 21 from 7 p.m.—Intersectionality Event: ability and body size as intersecting with LGBTQIA+ communities
  • Saturday, March 23 from 5:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.—Born This Way Café: an open space for queer entertainers to perform
  • Saturday, April 27 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.—GLC Alumni Luncheon
  • Saturday, April 27 from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.—GLC’s first Queer Prom 2.0

Terms to Know!

  • Sexual orientation: who you are attracted to, (or not) and who you want to have relationships with (or not)
  • Gender: a socially constructed notion of masculinity, femininity, and androgyny
  • Gender identity: how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves in terms of binary and non-binary gender
  • Gender expression: the external appearance of one’s gender identity, as expressed through clothes, hair, voice; are typically associated with masculinity and femininity
  • Transgender: can be used as an umbrella term and is generally defined as having a gender different from biological sex
  • Cisgender: describes when one’s binary gender identity and biological sex align
  • LGBTQIA: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, plus so many more!
  • Heteronormative/cisnormative: assumptions and actions that indicate being straight or cisgender is the norm; exclusionary and marginalizing
  • Pansexual: sexually attracted to people across the spectrums of sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation
  • Coming out: the continual process of vocalizing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Outing: when a person discloses another’s identity to someone else without consent

Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.