June 19th, 1865 is without a doubt one of the most important days in the history of America. Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is a holiday that acknowledges the abolition of slavery in the United States Of America. The freeing of the slaves represents a turning point in American history that also helped define the national principles of freedom and liberation. The experience of black people after Juneteenth was far from easy, and while it is a historical day, our work is far from over. Racism has survived and will continue to survive for what feels like time immemorial.
Juneteenth’s occurring during Pride month forces Black queer people to directly face the intersection of our identities. Being Black while being gay, lesbian, trans or queer is a combination of identities that reminds us that our oppression is more complicated than those of our non-Black counterparts. As Black people in a country with a history of very violent oppression against people who look like us, we are burdened with the realization that the racism we’ve faced at large doesn’t only exist in majority culture, but that it happens right here in shared marginalized communities. While the LGBTQ community can be a safer space and community for Black queers, it can also be a very sobering reminder of how our shared marginalization doesn’t make our goals, representation and fight for liberation as equal it should be.
In the midst of Pride month, we celebrate the huge strides we’ve made towards equality and acceptance for our queer brothers, sisters and non-binary people. As we rejoice at increased queer representation in our media, it’s very important that non-Black queer people also focus on the internal work that we need to happen within our community.
The LGBTQ community’s diversity is one of it’s most powerful assets, but only if it’s used to forge change for all of us. The needs of those amongst us with the most privilege can never be the needs of even the majority of us. We should be working on LGBTQ liberation by putting the needs of the least privileged ahead of our own. Their liberation and only their liberation will truly bring the impactful change we fight for.
There should be as much of a response, if not more, to the outstanding achievements of Black queers as for celebrations of the achievements of white queers like Adam Rippon, Ellen DeGeneres and queer representation like Call Me By Your Name. Pose, a new show spearheaded by Ryan Murphy which airs on FX, tells Black queer stories in an authentic way. It is also written and acted by Black queers as well. This kind of representation is unprecedented for a sector of the LGBTQ community that needs it the most. Everyone should be shouting about it from the rooftops.
One of the biggest hurdles in the way of liberating Black queer people is the silence of non-Black queers. Silence is ratification. Not using whatever voice, power and privilege you have to aid in the liberation of people less fortunate than you is a contribution to their oppression. This lesson has been taught to us over and over again through the history of the Civil Rights Movement, but it still holds true each and every day that Black queers experience racism and deliberate marginalization within a community whose liberation movement they were at the center of.
To be silent as trans women of color are murdered with what feels like impunity and Black queers experience homelessness at higher rates than other queers is a blatant display of privilege. Especially as our contributions to queer culture in the face of all that subjugation are cherry-picked and sanitized to be made more accessible to not only non-Black queers, but to the majority culture in general. Placing the spotlight on Black queer leaders, voices, and accomplishments is a very affirming action and positive step in recognizing that queer excellence exists in all of us – not just those who look like us. Representation and support matter. They always have and always will.
The liberation of the LGBTQ community from the tyranny of heterosexuals will be a long and complicated battle, as so often it feels that not only did they create the game but have rigged it so that they could always win. That burden is always exacerbated when you feel like even as you’re racing against time together, that those fighting beside you are putting sand in your boots. Remember, if you’re not working to uplift the voices of those around you who need it, you’re not fighting for equality, you’re fighting for privilege.