By Krysten Clark
As I look back at 2013, I see the great things that have been accomplished by lesbian, bisexual and transgender women of color and our allies. From the many important legal victories for equality, to celebrities and professional athletes “coming out,” to the first trans woman of color playing a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show, there was an abundance of discussion, support and acceptance for us this past year.
Despite these gains, we still face tough challenges ahead. It’s going to take all of us coming together to continue to make a difference and improve the lives of our community. In no particular order, let us look forward and evaluate current and future priorities, and get excited by the possibility of how far we can go in 2014.
1. Drive the discourse on marriage equality.
This past year has been coined “The Year Marriage Equality Won.” From the Supreme Court ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional to SCOTUS’ dismissal of the case to uphold California’s Proposition 8, marriage equality is both a social and legal victory for many households. In addition to California, eight other states also welcomed same-sex marriage in 2013: Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Utah.
What you may not know, is that African-American women are largely driving the political support within the black community for marriage equality. Nationally, support for same-sex marriage among black women is 59 percent, compared to only 42 percent among black men. This is very important because black women, especially young black women, have played an increasingly key role in national voter turnout, and not just on LGBT issues. To quote democratic strategist Donna Brazile, “What drives politics in the black community is the early support of black women. They drive the discourse.”
In 2012, young black women voted at a higher rate than any gender, racial or ethnic subset of voters between the age of 18 and 29, out-voting the next highest group, young white women, by 11 percentage points. With nearly three-quarters of millennials nationwide supporting same-sex marriage, young people, and specifically young black women, have the opportunity to create political and social change for LGBT women of color by driving the discourse on marriage equality.
2. Demand visibility in the media.
Mainstream media has defined what the LGBT “identity” should be, just as they have rendered their own images of women and people of color. Many of these portrayals have perpetuated visceral stereotypes and negative representations; and for black LGBT women, we’re lucky if we’re even represented at all. What we need are stories of role models, stories of representation and inspiration, stories that defy stereotypes and discrimination, stories that show the depth and diversity of who we are.
As women living at the intersection of race and sexual orientation, we need more representation in the media to also raise awareness about the inequalities that we face in our communities and workplaces. By demanding visibility in the media, we are not only helping to evolve our nation’s understanding and cultural acceptance of LGBT women of color, but also taking back our stories and the stories of our families so that they can be told respectfully and with integrity.
3. Increase efforts to address quality of life issues.
Our society remains afflicted by institutionalized discrimination, and the impact on black LGBT women is linked to disparities in economic security, educational attainment and health and wellness. In a 2012 report by Aisha C. Moodie-Mills on black LGBT equality, it was revealed that black same-sex couples are more likely to raise their children in poverty, black lesbian women are more likely to suffer from chronic disease, and black LGBT youth are more likely to end up homeless and living on the streets. Discrimination against LGBT women of color is also associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, suicide, violence and victimization.
One way to enhance quality of life for black LGBT women is through a policy agenda. Legally recognizing same-sex relationships is one of many efforts, but surely not enough to stand on its own. For LGBT women of color, we’re often times left out of the conversation because we are lumped in either a “black” or “gay” category; and as a result of our complexities, we continue to experience further discrimination. Therefore, our agenda must not prioritize one over the other, but instead offer a framework that takes into consideration the intersectionality of race, gender, sexual orientation and sexual identity.
4. Raise awareness about hate crimes and black LGBT murders.
October 2014 marks five years since President Obama signed into law The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 which added sexual orientation, gender, gender identities and disability to the categories covered under federal hate crimes law. Despite this important measure, violence against LGBT people remain steady while other bias-motivated hate crimes have declined.
In the U.S., state laws on hate crimes vary considerably. Currently, only 15 states and the District of Columbia have laws that address bias-motivated hate crimes based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. Fifteen states address hate crimes based on sexual orientation only, and another 15 states that have hate crime laws do not include crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The remaining five states do not have hate crime laws that include crimes based on any characteristics. As a result, the patchwork of state laws prevent federal law enforcement officials from being able to effectively identify bias-motivated hate crimes and investigate and prosecute perpetrators.
For black LGBT women, the intersection of our race, sexual orientation and gender identities puts us at greater risk of victimization than our white counterparts. In fact, existing hate crime statistics show that LGBT people of color are nearly two times as likely to experience violence — particularly for black trans women, who are victimized, persecuted, and murdered at alarming rates. For that reason, it is vital that we take a critical examination of public policy and law enforcement responses to violence against our community.
All in all…
As lesbian, bisexual and trans women of color, we have achieved so much progress in the past 12 months. Riding the wave of momentum into the new year, I’m inspired to continue to fight for the rights of our community and use the triumphs and losses to prepare for the work that lies ahead.