Op-ed: To Help the Trayvons of the World, We Need Intentional Allies
“We are Trayvon
Martin,” hoodie-clad crowds of brown and white faces have been chanting at
rallies across the country. As we grieve the murder of Trayvon Martin, an
unarmed 17-year-old African American
who was gunned down by Neighborhood Watch captain George Zimmerman, I cannot
help but reflect on how black and brown bodies are culturally and
systematically policed as a result of unwarranted stereotypes and fear.
While I am heartened
by how community members and high-profile figures like NAACP president Ben
Jealous and Reverend Al Sharpton have mobilized to garner public attention
around this injustice, organized marches and obtained almost 2 million
signatures in just one week, I am troubled that a petition calling for a fair
investigation for openly gay Florida A&M (FAMU) student Robert Champion,
Jr. who was hazed to death could
not get even 900 signatures in over two months. It is no secret that justice drags her feet when the lives of our
black boys and girls are at stake. The nationwide cries of outrage, however,
are even more muffled when it is a life of a black lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender person on the line, as if the double layers of oppression further
tints our lens for fairness and urgency.
string of attacks against African-American LGBT youth serves as a clarion call
that more deliberate action within the black and LGBT communities is needed now
more than ever. While black LGBT people are at the intersection of laws like
the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, federal law
enforcement alone will not address the systematic and societal realities around
violence in our community. Honest dialogue centered on both ownership and
intentionality needs to happen — ownership of how we have failed to help young
people own their power and intent-driven action to make it right.
non-African American brothers and sisters must also own up to their biases and
privileges and actively challenge them daily. Combined with legal protections,
these conversations in our media, schools, churches and homes can begin to
create the cultural shifts needed to literally save lives. While
these conversations are certainly beginning to happen, we must make it
unequivocally clear to our young people that they matter and we are listening.
The Internet went abuzz last month when a video of Brandon White, a 20-year-old
black gay man in Atlanta, being brutally beaten went viral. The 30-second clip
shows a group of men suspected to be members of the gang Pittsburgh Jack City
kicking and punching the unsuspecting young man as they repeatedly call him
antigay slurs. Media outlets and social networking
sites had quite the opposite reaction when a 23-year-old black transgender
woman, Deoni Jones, was fatally
stabbed in Washington, D.C. that same month. According to a press release from
the D.C. Transgender Coalition, an altercation between the victim and her
attacker broke out at the bus stop, which resulted in the victim being stabbed
in the face. The Metropolitan Police Department has charged and arrested Gary
Niles Montgomery, a 55-year-old black man. Where was the nationwide outrage for
our fallen trans sister?
while there has been extensive coverage about the hazing death of gay FAMU
student and drum major Robert Champion, Jr., little talk has been had about the
unwelcoming environment LGBT students face at Historically Black Colleges and
Universities like FAMU. Friends of Robert believe that his orientation may have
been a factor in the severity of the brutal beating that killed him.
are not isolated incidents. In fact, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence
Programs found that violence against LGBT people is up 23%, with people of
color and transgender women as the most likely targets. Of the victims murdered
in 2010, 70% were people of color, and 44% were transgender women. Brandon, Deoni and Robert are just three of the
incidents we know about. Many more attacks, assaults, and incidents of
harassment go unreported. Enough is enough. Our children are dying and they’re
suffering in silence.
That is why the National Black Justice Coalition gathered
more than 150 emerging black LGBT leaders in Washington, D.C. for a White House
briefing that included Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama;
George Walker, the first openly gay man to serve on the President’s Board of
Advisors on HBCUs; and John Brown, the associate director of the White House
Initiative on HBCUs. Students from across the country convened to understand
the resources available to them to own their power.
haven't stopped there. After a national call to action demanding a fair and
thorough investigation of Robert Champion, Jr.'s death, NBJC has partnered with the Department of
Justice Community Relations Service to host a Hate Crimes Prevention Act Forum
at FAMU. The forum will include students, faculty and staff, representatives
from local LGBT advocacy organizations as well as local, state and federal law
enforcement (including campus police) to provide a better understanding of the
federal hate crimes law.
to ensure that young black LGBT people have a seat at the table continues. Our
future and our collective movement for equality depend on it. So let us — black,
brown, white, LGBT, straight — come together and act now before we lose another
Trayvon Martin. We are also Brandon White, Deoni Jones, and Robert Champion,
Jr. We are all
of our fallen brothers and sisters.
join me in letting youth of today know that we hear them loud and clear? How
will you or your organization commit to being an intentional ally and helping
our young people own their power?
LETTMAN-HICKS serves as executive director and CEO for the
National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), a civil rights organization dedicated
to empowering black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. NBJC’s
mission is to end racism and homophobia.