How do you think having positive role models and media representations of queer black women will impact societies views?
Do you think there has been improvement in the visibility of black queer women?
What parallels, if any, do you see between the civil rights movement and the queer rights movement? Do you agree with Julian Bond’s belief in the similarities between both?
With the queer rights movement, do you think there is adequate representation of black queer women?
Due to marriage equality becoming covered by mainstream media, do you think they are perpetuating the idea that queer rights and the rights of people of color are two different things?
When the Violence Against Women Act expired in October 2011, Republicans were only concerned with the approaching fiscal cliff. In April 2012 the Violence Against Women Act was introduced to the Senate and included protections for “30 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, undocumented immigrants and Native American women.” However, Republicans passed their own version of the bill without those much needed protections. Domestic violence is “[the] number one killer of African-American women ages 15 to 34,” and domestic violence happens with about the same rates in queer relationships as in straight relationships. However, queer victims of domestic violence are often turned down when they seek help from shelters. Queer victims are also significantly less likely to report their abuse due to significant social stigma. Republicans did not support the protection of undocumented immigrants, Native American women, or LGBT people, instead they continued to donate money and support DOMA and anti-gay legislation.
Historically, many of the laws passed in the US were racist, sexist, and homophobic. Despite the fact we have progressed much from the days of slavery and Jim Crowe, Republicans continue to support racist and homophobic laws. Due in large part to Republicans, gay marriage was made illegal, though President Clinton was the one who signed DOMA into law. In the recent election, the conservative media was surprised by Mitt Romney’s loss, and subsequent conversations about needing to represent more than white men within the Republican party ensued. Even with Republicans becoming slightly more self aware of their discrimination, they continue to pass racist, sexist, and homophobic laws. Voter suppression historically kept many black Americans out of the voting booths, and this year laws requiring a valid ID were passed, further suppressing voters. In times like these, it is good to look at women like Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer who helped raise awareness about voting, and got more black Americans to be able to vote despite the voter suppression in the 1960’s. Education about voting rights, social realities, and politics are useful in the struggle for human rights.
Alexis Garrett Stodghill, journalist for the Grio, writes about Audrey Smaltz and Gail Marquis who have recently received a lot of media attention about their marriage. Gail and Audrey, who have been together almost 14 years, were married in New York after the state’s legalization of gay marriage. They have become representatives of the fight for marriage equality, and even have a mini-documentary called “Gail and Audrey: An Unexpected Love Story.” With all the media attention on marriage equality, and the much anticipated ruling of the Supreme Court, Gail and Audrey represent all those who love their partners and want to be married. They are incredibly positive women, and discuss their first date and wedding with Stodghill. Gail Marquis, who won a silver medal for basketball in the 1976 Olymics, and Audrey Smatlz, Vogue contributing editor, met in 1999 and immediately felt connected. Though Audrey had not dated a woman before Gail, she did not see that as an issue when falling in love with Gail. Having media attention on a positive representation of black lesbian women gives voice to the countless black lesbian women in America today.
Although legalizing gay marriage would serve to crate legal changes, getting society to open their minds and hearts will not necessarily follow. Black Americans have had to fight to overcome many racist laws such as Jim Crowe, but despite this there is still plenty of racism within society. Just because a law changes, societal change does not intrinsically follow. Even when interracial marriages were legalized, there was huge stigma facing interracial couples. Interracial couples still face discrimination, though society has more progressive views as the media represents more interracial relationships. To change social stigma, positive representations in the media are required because without this, dialogue surrounding the issues are lacking, and can not be effective. When audiences can connect to someone’s story, even if they have different identities, learning and understanding occurs. Gail and Audrey are making a huge impact not only in gay rights, but also by being a role model for other black lesbians and giving them a story where they see themselves clearly represented.
Ella Vincent writes about the influence that black queer women have had on America, and how they are continually ignored. Women like Wanda Sykes are given some visibility within the gay rights movement, but Vincent asserts it is because “gay community ignores Black women except when they’re funny.” Black queer women, like Congresswoman Barbra Jordan, are pushed aside in mainstream media. Audre Lourde, Stacyann Chin, and Nikki Giovanni have all written about their identities through poetry, finding their own voice even when ignored. Black queer women face not only racism and sexism, but also homophobia and transphobia, making it even harder to gain visibility. Transwoman Janet Mock came out this year, despite discrimination, and spoke up about her struggle between her identity and her conservative family. Vincent ends on a more hopeful note, using Lourde’s famous words, “your silence will not protect you” and saying it will not protect LGBT women. The different civil rights struggles are interconnected, and ignoring the rights of some will effect everybody in the long run.
As the media starts to represent black queer women more prominently, social change will occur. When black queer women are ignored in many major media outlets, their impact is lessened because they do not have a large enough audience to listen and support them. When audiences see people who are different than them who believe in similar things or have similar daily lives, it can help bridge differences and breed more understanding between different individuals. The media has a huge impact on the views of the society, and that impact can be seen across history. When black women’s voices are given attention, social change occurs. For example, Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” drew attention to the lynchings occurring across the South. Giving voice to the racist violence that black people faced sparked new discussions and media attention to the issue of lynching. If America hears the voices of the black queer women, then society can have discussions and makes changes to the amount of discrimination that faces these women.
After the sentencing of CeCe MacDonald, Jorge Rivas discusses the policies and discrimination that led her to being housed in a male facility. CeCe MacDonald and four of her friends, who are also black, were walking past a bar when two white women and a white man started yelling racist and transphobic slurs at them. Eventually MacDonald and her friends responded to their slurs, and a fight ensued. One of the white women broke a glass over MacDonalds face, slicing her cheek deeply. MacDonald was defending herself when she stabbed the white man who was attacking her, who later died in the hospital. When MacDonald’s lawyers tried to use the white man’s swastika tattoo, it was dismissed. She pled guilty to second degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 41 months in prison, where she is housed in a male facility. Lawyers plead with the courts to put her into a woman’s facility, citing countless attacks and sexual assault transgender women faced when jailed in male facilities. Despite their efforts, and the efforts of the queer community, MacDonald is still in a male facility. It seems that even if the attack was in self defense, “[a] black person who fights with white people. . .is going to likely be arrested.”
The racism within the prison industrial complex is very apparent when examining the populations of prisons in America. Overwhelmingly, black men and women are incarcerated, while white men and women often spend less time in jail for the same offenses. Police brutality and the threat of sexual assault are also common within the prison industrial complex. Stories like those of CeCe MacDonald and Assata Shakur are not uncommon, nor is the cyclical nature of imprisonment. People commit crimes of necessity, like squatting if they are homeless or stealing food if they are poor. They are then arrested, sent to prison to serve their sentence, and released. However, once they have been sent to jail it is even harder to find a job and have an adequate amount of money to survive. Once again, they are arrested for crimes of necessity, and the cycle repeats itself. Black transgender women often find it incredibly difficult to find a job and safe housing due to discrimination, thus leading them to be arrested more often for homelessness or crimes of necessity. Transgender women of color are also often attacked, and when they defend themselves, they are often blamed for all damage and sent to prison. If CeCe Macdonald’s story is more well known, more attention and action will be brought up against transphobia and racism, and the prison industrial complex.
Among accusations of black individuals being responsible for anti-gay laws passing, Keli Goff analyzes polling data to assert the facts and create dialogue surrounding the issue. According to recent polls from Maryland’s legalization of gay marriage, 46 precent of black voters were in favor of gay marriage. Recent polls done by The Washington Post reveal that 59 precent of black women are in favor of marriage equality as opposed to 42 precent of black men. Goff speculates that even with Jay-Z and President Obama coming out in favor of gay marriage, there is still a huge pressure on black men to uphold a certain kind of masculinity. Aishe Moodie-Mills, writer for The Root, states that it is more complex than simple homophobia. Through analyzing art, music, and media, Moodie-Mills sees many misogynistic and heterosexist images that perpetuate hypermasculinity. This hypermasculinity creates a “discomfort among men with anything that does not fit strict gender-conforming lines.” Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, discusses the historic attacks on black masculinity as another reason for reluctance to accept homosexuality. Lettman-Hicks believes that if more black men like Jay-Z were to come out in favor of gay rights, there would be less reluctance from black men to support gay marriage. She also encourages women to applaud those who “turn gender binaries, stereotypes and roles on their heads.”
Given the historic attacks on black masculinity, and the tendency for black men and women to try and fit traditional gender roles, it is not surprising that there would be some amount of reluctance to support gay rights. When activists like Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, and Anna Julia Cooper came up against issues of gender equality while doing activist work, they were not silent. They spoke up against the assertion of traditional gender roles, and were often outcasted because of their opposition. Historically, black women were often heads of the household, which also created an environment where black men felt their masculinity was under attack. Even now, black women tend to be more accepting of gay people. Images in hip hop are often misogynistic and hypermasculine, which perpetuates homophobia within hip hop, despite artists like Frank Ocean coming out. However, black men are becoming more and more progressive, in large part due to black women’s support of those who break traditional gender roles.
After debating over speaking about marriage equality, Daniella Gibbs Léger decided to address being religious and supporting gay marriage. In the wake of marriage equality coming to the Supreme Court, Léger noticed the tendency for arguments against marriage equality to be rooted in either religion or bigotry. She states that those who are against marriage equality based on hatred of the gay community can be easily dismissed because “they’re bigots and who cares what they think.” Instead she focuses on the arguments rooted in religion, despite it being a sensitive subject for many. Dismissing arguments against marriage equality that are supported by the passage found in Leviticus, Léger points out that Leviticus also opposes the mixing of fabrics and eating fat, pointing out that its ridiculous to use that passage. Although she does not believe being religious means being against homosexuality, she acknowledges that many religious people are opposed to marriage equality. While discussing this with her friend, she advocates for the separation of church and state, and that the “government regulates marriage” as opposed to the church. In the end, she is not trying to force people to abandon their beliefs, but instead to have thoughtful conversations around the topic.
Historically, the church has been a meeting place for the civil rights movement, fundraising during Reconstruction, and other movements to further African Americans. If churches were to discuss marriage equality respectfully, then there might be a significant change in the discourse surrounding religion and homosexuality. Often, the media blames back Americans for voting on laws that discriminate against gay individuals Blaming black individuals for passing laws that discriminate against gay individuals is statistically incorrect and racist, however there are many people who still oppose gay rights. Creating safe spaces for discussion about marriage equality could only help change opinions, even if it only succeeded in asserting the separation of church and state. Even if that was all that was accomplished, more people would be willing to let the government decide what should be done about marriage equality as opposed to boycotting marriage equality based on religion.