Guest Commentary: Intersectional Justice and Southern Organizing for LGBTQ Communities

Beyond Marriage Equality: Is the LGBT movement walking down the aisle to nowhere?

Written by Tyler Danner, Central Michigan University
mural-whiteActivism is such an ethereal and nebulous topic for many Americans, in that it doesn’t seem real or relatable. We only see the national level work, the big leagues of change. We talk about historic affairs, groundbreaking activists, current events, and current issues facing people of a minority and their fight for equal representation and inclusion. But what a majority of people never see are the faces. They never sit in with these movers and shakers, they do not experience the movements or campaigns. What they do not see are the people who have worked tirelessly in local communities to support these massive campaigns. Activism to such unaware people is simply something that they feel does not apply to them, that they are exempt from needing to help bring about change and that other people will do all of the work for them. And while unfortunate, this is reality.

Given the chance to sit in on a forum of these very same movers and shakers here in Charlotte, North Carolina, I was not entirely sure what to expect. Was the group I would be listening to be peaceful visionaries, or fed up revolutionaries? All the stereotypes of activists flooding through my head, I was pleasantly surprised. The panelists and moderators, although dedicated to their mission, were nothing but everyday people. People with a story. And people who simply were willing and open enough to spread their vision of the world.

Panelist Jermaine Lee embodied this simplicity of origins. He and his partner only ever wanted to live a quiet, simple life. They wanted to get married, and live out their little life in their own little way. But something was missing in their lives and community, and so they eventually organized their first Black Gay Pride. Before they knew it, they were organizing Black Gay Prides for the entirety of the Carolinas. These simple beginnings, without even the original intent to be activists, describe many of the stories that were told throughout the night. The panelists of the forum were people who, from the depths of their hearts, truly want to see the world move into a better and more accepting light, and it proved to me that all it takes is dedication to a goal to make change a reality.

Unlike many forums that would come to mind, this forum focused on more than just their issue of LGBTQ. Our panelists, representative of the LGBTQ and Ally Spectrum, were equally representative of the countless other traits that we as human beings possess. Different faiths, different races and ethnicities, different social classes, different genders… Together, the panelists promoted the truth that to make real good within not only the LGBTQ community, but the world as a whole, we must take an intersectional approach to activism, a form of activism that ally Rodney Sadler described as “a true coalition”.

While North Carolina has finally been granted marriage equality, there are many issues that still plague the queer community. Job and workplace discrimination, ability for trans* individuals to alter legal documents, trans* harassment from both inside the community and out, homeless LGBTQ youth, HIV/AIDS especially for gay men of color, and the rampant racism, sexism, and classism from inside the LGBT community, to name a precious but significant few. These issues extend beyond the silo of ‘LGBTQ’ as we know it, and touch on issues of race, sex, class, religion… They are issues that are intrinsically intertwined, and that is why a true coalition, as Rodney Sadler described it, is the approach that queer activists are exploring now. This for me was a revelation, in that we can work together in a multi-faceted way, and doing so would in fact be more powerful than under a single flag or human trait.

Many of the facts and statistics that were discussed over the course of the forum regarding the current climate of LGBTQ issues resonated with the crowd. When discussing topics of the regarding LGBTQ youth homelessness (of homeless youth, 40% identify with the LGBTQ community, and of those, 68% were disowned by their families), the crowd were visibly and audibly engaged, nodding and murmuring their awe of the statistics, and agreement that this is indeed an issue that needs to be focused on further. Similarly, the crowd agreed with Jermaine Lee with his comment
that stable commitment between LGBTQ partners needs to be seen as worthwhile and desirable. In his words, “[I know] two young men of color that have been together for over a decade. That is rare. Why is that rare? We need workshops to encourage healthy commitment and the feeling of belongingness. We need the eroticism of living a healthy life, and making that beautiful.”

The issues of intersectionality and working together as a community, rather than tearing each other down, was a common thread that extended into the open floor portion of the forum. When given the chance to ask the panel questions, each time the question or comment was in some way related to one or both of these two ideas. Overall, what was being said can be boiled down to ‘we are all in it together’ – that we need to march forward as a single, intersectional whole. Not progress forward as a bland homogenous mass, but as the truly vibrant, colorful, and diverse community that we are. We need to march forward as human beings. We need to stand together, and never turn back.
Central Michigan University students had the exciting opportunity to work alongside Campus Pride during an Alternative Break, an international program to connect college students with activist groups and social change programs. The author of this post, Tyler Danner, is a third year honors student at Central Michigan University, studying Computer Science and Sociology.

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