The American criminal justice system has failed time and time again to uphold the most basic tenet of democracy, that of equality. The system is indeed broken and has proven itself deeply dysfunctional, consistently dangerous, and quite literally deadly.
Black people, many of whom are LGBTQ, bear the brunt of racial disparities in every facet of the institution, from arrests to sentencing. Nowhere is this more evident than in the killing of black people by police. As early as elementary school, black children are overly policed, resulting in the spectrum of criminalization referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline.
In September of last year, Colin Kaepernick made his now famous stand against police brutality, kneeling during the national anthem in protest of the violence directed towards black people by police officers. Since then, the often-heated debate over Kaepernick’s protest has focused on the act rather than on the rationale.
As this has unfolded over the course the past year, what has become clear is that Kaepernick’s message is legitimate and is one that includes all of us.
This represents a historic moment from which LGBTQ organizations should not back away. Our institutions have largely been silent on the issue, though LGBTQ folks have long been the focus of harassment and brutality at the hands of the police. In fact, police raids like Cooper’s Donuts and Stonewall galvanized the LGBTQ rights movement, a movement modeled after the black civil rights movement, including the use of impact litigation.
At some point, however, there must be recognition that racial justice is an LGBTQ rights issue, that racial disparities in the criminal justice system are LGBTQ rights issues, and the murdering of black people by police is an LGBTQ rights issue.
Now is the time.
The black men and women who recently lost their lives as a result of police overreach did not appear to be members of the LGBTQ community. However, for those who are black and queer, their deaths hit close to home because it could have easily been them. Does there need to be an LGBTQ equivalent of Philando Castile or Eric Garner for organizations to truly acknowledge the challenges faced by LGBTQ people of color on a daily basis?
So even as we grieve, grieve because of the countless deaths of black people at the hands of the police, there is a call for a greater commitment from the LGBTQ community to address racial justice and anti-black violence in their work. As a movement inspired by and indebted to the black Civil Rights movement, it is imperative that these organizations own that they have not shown up historically or in the present moment sufficiently in addressing racial justice in their work.
There is a political responsibility if not a moral obligation to show up better and do more. To that end, there should be a renewed commitment to not only fighting for racial justice, but also a commitment to ending anti-black violence in the LGBTQ movement and in this country. This shift is necessary and will be a critical path forward in dismantling injustice in our country.
Here’s where we start:
Partner with black-led organizations and work in coalition and collaboration to address racism in the criminal legal system.
Address not only racial justice but anti-blackness in the LGBTQ movement.
Work toward ensuring more equitable distribution of resources in supporting movement work, particularly around racial equity.
Ensure more black people are represented in leadership of LGBTQ organizations.
Audre Lorde said it best when she declared “there is no thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.” There is no singular LGBTQ community. No singular LGBTQ history. No singular set of LGBTQ issues. The quicker we embrace that, the better off we will be.
Eric T. Paulk is an advocate working at the intersections of law, policy, race and sexuality.
This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue below: