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Editor's Letter: To Be Intersectional or Illegitimate

Editor's Letter: To Be Intersectional or Illegitimate

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Will our advocacy be real and encompass all people who face marginalization and oppression?

This issue is being finished just after Thanksgiving 2014, when the crisis in Ferguson, Mo., is fresh on the minds of anyone with access to American news or social media. Days ago, a Missouri grand jury voted not to bring criminal charges against the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, a black man. And on the day I write this, a New York grand jury voted not to bring criminal charges in the death of Eric Garner, a black man who died after being placed in an illegal chokehold by a white police officer.

Web sites and social media reported the response of LGBT organizations that decried the Missouri grand jury decision and expressed support for Brown's family and protestors around the country. A shocking number of Facebook posts wondered why these were topics our communities were discussing.

"This is about them," they insinuated. The meaning was distressingly clear: There are still LGBT people who feel there's an us and a them.

In this issue we've included a 1985 essay from activist-scholar Barbara Smith. I was struck by Smith's explanation of how she came to understand something we now call intersectionality, how her feminism and lesbianism was informed by her understanding of being black, which was informed by her heroes in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Though it's now three decades old, it's a reverberating artifact; the question of how to form coalitions, how to have one another's backs, is as resonant now as it was then.

Smith described leaders in the black civil rights movement who, against significant internal opposition, expressed support for LGBT rights in 1983. Since then, as Lane Hudson notes in his essay (about the shortsightedness of LGBTs with an I got mine attitude), the NAACP and other organizations of people of color have supported LGBT rights institutionally, and have brought a lot of people to our cause with them.

In looking for the LGBT (or queer-focused or queer-led) organizations that are actively working to further the rights of people of color, I received lots of great suggestions from colleagues and acquaintances, including GetEQUAL, Black Youth Project 100 (Chicago), Southerners on New Ground, Audre Lorde Project, National Black Justice Coalition, Project One America (a program of HRC), Color of Change, Pride at Work, BreakOUT! (New Orleans), Get Yr Rights, Missouri GSA Network (as a member of Don't Shoot Coalition), and I'm learning about more.

In the outcry against police brutality happening so clearly along race lines, I kept hearing something in my head: My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit. The phrase comes from a pithy title to a wild essay by Flavia Dzodan. And I kept thinking about snappy ways to turn that into a phrase about how our LGBT activism will be intersectional or it will be illegitimate. I'm still working on the wording, but I'm hoping the sentiment is clear.

Yet the question remains: Will our advocacy be real and encompass all people who face marginalization and oppression, or will it be bullshit?

Matthew Breen tweets at @matbreen

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