Celebrating victories is a crucial part of social justice work. It serves as a form of self-care in the greater struggle, but we must remain cognizant of the work left to be done. June 26th will go down in history as the day marriage equality was won, but it also presented us with strong reminders that this is only the first step.
For many same-sex couples, marriage equality is a legal victory that now validates their relationships in the eyes of the law and ensures access to the same rights as opposite-sex couples. For many more LBGTQ+ people and their allies, marriage equality is a symbolic victory demonstrating the power of sustained political activism. Despite the words of Chief Justice Roberts, advocates of marriage equality have succeeded in convincing a majority of the population of the worthiness of their cause. It is, however, important to recognize that marriage equality remains a privilege while fundamental rights to life and liberty remain out of reach for many, particularly LGBTQ+ people of color.
The funeral of Rev. Pinckney who was killed in the shooting rampage along with eight others at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina took place on the afternoon following the Supreme Court’s historic ruling. Protesters rallied outside the statehouse to demand the removal of the Confederate flag from the capitol’s grounds. As we celebrated the achievement of a major civil rights victory, we also mourned the deaths of 9 people killed by racism and are still confronted with its symbols. For LGBTQ+ people of color, the realities of violence and discrimination from institutionalized racism remain unchanged.
This year alone, at least 14 transgender people have been murdered including Mya Hall of Baltimore who was killed by police after making a wrong turn onto the NSA campus. The reports that followed were both uncritical of her death and disrespectful of her gender identity. Such phenomena are commonplace as media portrayals often highlight a victim’s criminal record or use mug shots when they bother reporting on these cases at all. The vast majority of transgender homicide victims are women of color–a stark reminder of the racism that remains even as other civil rights are won. Violence against LGBTQ+ people is underreported, but trans women make up as much as 72% of all cases with women of color making up 67% of victims according to a report by the Human Rights Campaign. Transgender individuals face injustice at every turn and often lack viable avenues for recourse due to limited federal protections. They are also six times more likely to experience violence from police compared to non-transgender LGBQ+ individuals. Maryland received a mediocre rating in a recent report card largely resulting from its lack of protections for transgender adults and youth, although some new protections have since come into effect.
Workplace discrimination and poverty are serious issues facing all LGBTQ+ people and one that must be incorporated into movements for social and economic justice. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 34% of Black and 28% of Latino transgender people have household incomes of less than $10,000 annually. Approximately 41% of Black and 27% of Latino transgender individuals have experienced homelessness. Of these, 40% and 45% respectively have been denied access to homeless shelters due to their gender identity. LGBTQ+ students are particularly susceptible to bullying and have much higher rates of suicide than their straight, cisgender peers.
Progressives have not always lived up to our own ideals of equality. Early labor, women’s rights, and LGBT activists often excluded people of color despite their contributions and leadership within those same movements. Similarly, LGBTQ+ people of color have not always been welcome in non-white spaces. We must learn from our mistakes and move forward with an inclusive, intersectional movement that strives to achieve justice for all. We must work to establish adequate economic, housing, and hate crime protections for all LGBTQ+ people. We must recognize that all our struggles are connected to the liberation of Black bodies. We must not stop only with achievements for some.