Strength from the Margins

Krishna Pattisapu, Ph.D., Board Member

Recently, our nation has seen its people rise up in unparalleled large-scale movements like the Women’s March, protests in airports opposing Islamaphobic travel bans, and the forthcoming “Day Without a Woman” strike set for March 8th. These events, while inspiring testaments to democracy in action, present opportunities for us to consider how the most privileged members of our communities have the power to center their narratives in political struggle. For example, by questioning which women can afford to participate in a strike, we can engage in conversations about the racialization of feminized labor. In other words, women of color tend to occupy lower paying and more physically demanding roles that are associated with women. According to a July 2016 report by the Congressional Joint Economics Committee, women of color constitute more than half of workers earning less than minimum wage.

National strikes and protests undoubtedly send messages to political leadership. But who gets to send those messages? How does our activism systematically silence the most vulnerable among us?

For queer and trans folks who reside at the intersections of marginalized identities -- undocumented queer and trans folks, queer and trans people of color, and working class queer and trans folks, to name just a few -- the need to address terrifying political realities comes as no surprise. As individuals who navigate interlocking systems of oppression like transphobia, racism, Islamaphobia and ableism in addition to heterosexism, we have known for far too long how it feels for laws and policies to dehumanize us and for our own communities to abandon us at the slightest promise of political gain. We know what it means to be excluded from white queer activism, our bodies and our stories always relegated to the margins.

Amidst this exciting time of democratic engagement, the LGBTQ community must take the opportunity to ask ourselves whether or not we are making the same mistakes of yesterday. Is our activism accessible to rural queer and trans people, queer and trans people with disabilities, and our incarcerated queer and trans siblings? And if the answer is no, then is our activism really activism?

In Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde writes, “We are all more blind to what we have than to what we have not.” In these uncertain times, it is our instinct to focus on how we feel threatened and erased based on our marginalized identities as queer and trans people. We have shown our strength as a community by rallying together to fight back. However, it is more difficult for us to turn inward and examine how the unexamined privileges we have (read: white, able-bodied, documented and middle class) lead us to marginalize and erase others as we advocate for ourselves. For example, how can cisgender queer women dismantle cisnormativity by making sure that we support all of our sisters and not just our cis-ters? How can we push ourselves past our discomfort toward activism that is inclusive of all members of our community?

As we engage in national movements and protests, feeling the warmth and solidarity of our community around us, let us question whose voices we do not hear and whose faces we do not see. And in recognizing those absences, let us remind ourselves that we are truly strong only when we leave no members of our family behind.