Queer White Folks: Let’s Be Better

About ten days ago, Mickey Weems shared his post-Orlando article article on Publore, a folklore-related listserv. It makes some very important points. I posted the response below to the list, and one or two people have asked me if I could make it available online so they could share it. Apologies for the delay–I was travelling, and then catching up on work post-travelling.

(Note: I changed one word in this reprinting, because upon a reread there was a place where I initially wrote “woman” and should have written “person.”)

Great article–thank you for sharing!

As a queer white woman and a drag performer with a deep love for my LGBTQ+ community and the spaces we’ve built for ourselves, I hope we can all do better at calling out one more type of bullshit, though: the passively racist bullshit that’s come from within the LGBTQ+ community in the week following this shooting (and for a long time before that).

Every queer person I know felt terrorized by this attack. It has lurked permanently on the edges of my awareness since the day it happened, shading and informing every moment of my lived experience. The world feels literally and profoundly different to me today than it did on June 10th. I performed three drag shows this week at our local queer bar, and at the first one–an Orlando benefit on Wednesday–our show director reviewed the location of the exits from the building and advised performers that we should no longer open the door from the dressing room to the outdoors unless we very explicitly knew who was standing on the other side. LGBTQ+ people and our allies throughout the country have been using this event as leverage to call for greater protections from our lawmakers, and that is justified. We’re calling for movement on gun control, and I support that, too.

But our community is failing, broadly, to talk about how this was very specifically an attack against Latinx people at an event that was marketed as trans-inclusive. On that night, Pulse was not only a space for queers to find community: it was very specifically a space for queer Latinx people to find community. Regardless of whether the racial or ethnic or identities of the people at Pulse played into Mateen’s motivation for the slaughter–and we’ll never have a way to know that for sure–the fact remains that the queer Latinx community was even more directly targeted by this attack than the rest of the queer community was.

The queer community, like the rest of this country, has a serious problem with racism. We blamed African American people for the passing of Proposition 8 in California. We judge Latinx people for, in our perception, shunning the LGBT among them, regardless of any real evidence beyond the anecdotal to suggest that homophobia is worse in Latin communities than it is in any other in this country.  The single most unapologetically racist conversation I’ve ever heard in person took place in a drag show dressing room between a white gay man and a white transgender woman (though, for those of you who know me, I will stress that it was NOT in my current hometown or at the bar where I perform these days, where that kind of behavior is absolutely not tolerated).

I find it frustrating, and heartbreaking, that we, the white gays, can so quickly embrace the deaths of these Latinx people on a trans-inclusive night as the deaths of people “just like us,” that we can all post “We Are Orlando” on our facebook pages, and not use that as motivation to also challenge ourselves to be better than we are when it comes to opposing racism and transphobia.
Our calls for LGBTQ+ protections should be paralleled by calls for the fair treatment of Latinx peoples in all areas, from voting rights, to the elimination of “show me your papers” laws, to immigration reform and a more vocal opposition Trump’s asinine desire for a wall.

We can’t call for increased gun control if we’re not also willing to call for reforms to the system that allows gun control laws to disproportionately target and imprison black and brown people.

We can’t pretend that anti-trans bathroom bills that create more violence than they prevent are other people’s problems.

The modern LGBTQ+ rights movement was launched at Stonewall by Sylvia Rivera, a transgender Latina woman; Marsha P. Johnson, a transfeminine African American person; and Stormé DeLarverie, a biracial butch lesbian. And yet we’re still so loathe to talk about race, and so many of us remain afraid to love the trans people among us as our own. I hope that one of the impacts of Orlando can be that we motivate ourselves, and each other, to be better about that.

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