White Queers’ Stake in Ending White Supremacy
Long before I was out, I was known. I was in 7th grade the first time a group of boys yelled “Wehman’s a Man!” up the stairwell at me. Over the next five years the yelling escalated to shoving, to being buzzed off the road by cars of teenage boys yelling homophobic slurs, to teachers punishing me for not adhereing to gender dress norms, or for kissing my high school girlfriend in public — like hundreds of other teenagers around us. As I became an adult, homophobia and transphobia continued to shape my life in the form of job, housing, and healthcare discrimination and the ways that fear of violence and discrimination restricted where I went or what I thought was possible in my life.
My name is Grover, I’m a Butch parent with two young kids, a writer, the kind of person who puts bright pink wallpaper in their house. I joined the staff at SURJ two months ago as the Deputy Director of Communications, and know that storytelling is one important way we can come together to make sense of the world and gain the strength to take action together.
As we close out LGBTQ pride month, I want to share my story with you that shapes my motivation– my shared interest– in ending white supremacy as a white queer person. What do I mean by shared interest? I mean the specific ways I, in my specific humanity as a white person in a racist world, have a personal stake in the work to end racism and white supremacy.
Not just a duty as a person who cares about others, not just a responsibility for repair as white person in a racist system, but a fight-for-our-lives shared investment with communities of color in ending white supremacy and racism and creating a better world for us all.
When I was 19, I lost stable housing for the first time, and became one of the many gender-non-conforming, queer, and trans young people who experience homelessness and housing insecurity in their lifetime. I slept in my car, a storage locker, my friend’s couch, a basement, my workplace’s couch before opening shift. I changed cities, I walked into social service offices, waiting, waiting, only to be sent out with no help. Maybe some of you reading this share this experience too?
The racist strategy of those at the top is to present homelessness prevention and affordable, publicly supported housing as a handout, rather than tell the truth: that the system of homelessness is a violent choice our nation makes and justifies with racist, classist messages and greedy policies, and we can make it rare, brief, and singular like other nations have.
White queer and trans people, white people who’ve experienced housing insecurity, have everything to gain by ending white supremacy.
The system that creates and upholds white supremacy requires conformity, obedience, and constantly shifting the rules of institutions to maintain its power. It requires violence in the active sense of white nationalism, and it requires violence in the administrative sense like decade-long wait times for federal housing vouchers while corporate landlords get rich evicting people and hiking up the rent. White supremacy harms people of color in profound ways, and it harms me too.
This past month, we have watched with horror and rage as a white nationalist murdered 10 Black community members in Buffalo, filed out of a U-Haul with batons, smoke grenades, and shields blocks away from a Pride celebration in Idaho, and threatened a social worker and drag queen as she was about to read storybooks to children. We have watched as state governments pass laws to restrict the rights of trans children and their parents or even the ability for anyone– queer or not– to talk about our lives in public.
I want to tell you that being queer has brought me joys in community far beyond what I could have imagined. I have known the joy of a kitchen full of dykes, laughing. I have known the joy of trans people sharing our names with each other for the first time. I have known dancing in barns and fields and sweaty bars, full of all the swagger and swish I could muster. I have known the joyful sound of a table full of queer-parented children spontaneously sharing their stories of how they came into their families. I have known the joy of being seen. I have known the joy of realizing brave queer people made space for themselves, and therefore me, and left stories about how they did it and why.
As a queer white person, the world will be a safer place for me when we end white supremacy.
White nationalists are among us, embedded in the leadership of majority white communities and being radicalized every day by intentional organizing online and in person. They are dangerous to communities of color, Jewish and Muslim communities, and must be stopped. They are dangerous to LGBTQ people across race and faith, to children whose genders don’t conform to a narrow sense of what boys and girls should be and must be stopped. They are dangerous to cis and straight white men and women of conscience and must be stopped. We must out organize the right.
The story I told here is an example of mutual interest or shared interest storytelling. As white people organizing, we can all identify a shared interest– or two or three– in ending white supremacy.
Want to learn more about how white people can organize out of shared interest? Join SURJ on August 4 at 8 pm ET to hear from Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us: What racism costs everybody and how we can prosper together and Erin Heaney, SURJ’s National Director.
Grover Wehman-Brown is a butch parent, writer, and the Deputy Director of Communications at SURJ.