White Queers: Come out for Racial Justice

A letter from SURJ co-founders on #NationalComingOutDay

On this National Coming Out Day and all the celebrations it entails, our mood is somber as the Supreme Court make-up threatens hard won LGBTQ equity. We are STILL fighting for basic human rights for queer and transgender people.

With this threat, our eye must remain on our connections to who else is threatened. Trump is anti-poor, anti-disabled people, anti-Black, Brown, Indigenous and immigrant people, and anti-earth. He is also anti-LGBTQ — and put into power by white people.

As Black queer and trans people lead the charge with a vision that will free us all, there is no clearer call to see how queer liberation is connected to fighting racism. This is the moment in our history when we must unite to defeat Trump and his totalitarian posse.

As white lesbian/queer identified women, with a combined 80 years in the trenches for queer equity and racial justice, we know that we cannot win Queer Liberation without Black Liberation. These struggles are inextricably linked, morally and strategically.

It took us fifteen years to win basic protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations for Louisville, Kentucky’s queer community. We marched, we lobbied, we testified, and we went to jail. People who thought they knew better than us, on this country’s east and west coasts, and within our own community as well, told us, “What? In Kentucky? Impossible to win.”

It took us 15 years, but we did win. In fact we won protections based on gender identity before New York City or Chicago.

We won because we centered racial justice, and led with an intersectional politic and strategy that recognized the interconnections of oppressions and the need to build a broad base of support to make change.

The Fairness Campaign, as our Louisville struggle is called, launched in 1991. But we were marching in Louisville’s annual March for Justice, for what we then called Lesbian and Gay Rights and now would call LGBTQ Liberation, for years, centering this chant:

Back then, in the mid 1980’s, people were so afraid of losing a job or a rental housing, they came to meetings in disguise. We laid out a liberation plan that explicitly named the connections of gender, race, sexual orientation and workers’ rights, and in particular, racial justice.

The far right was betting on the race divide to keep us from building what we needed to win.

And that is the same strategy of those who rule today, all these decades later.

As we come upon yet another anniversary of National Coming Out Day, racism is still being used to keep too many of us who are white, including LGBTQ white people, from seeing our mutual interest in ending racism. Too many of us are still silent or on the sidelines in the fight for racial justice.

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is an organization born out of the lessons of the Fairness Campaign and decades of organizing work in Louisville. SURJ organizes in majority white communities to undermine support for white supremacy and bring more white people into multi-racial coalition fighting for all of us. Today, those practicing leadership throughout Showing Up for Racial Justice are overwhelmingly queer and trans people. We know we have a deep stake in the fight for racial justice, and are building with others around us to support more and more of us to break white silence and move into action alongside our siblings of color leading the way. This is our piece of work to do. We hope you’ll join us, find a chapter, or get involved in our work to defeat Trump.

What if more of us were doing the work in our own communities to reach other white folks about how ending queer oppression and inequity is bound up with ending white supremacy?

Imagine what might be possible if we did.

Pam McMichael and Carla F Wallace
Showing Up for Racial Justice Co-Founders

SURJ is a national network that moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice.

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