On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Protests are continuing across the country as citizens mourn the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, protesters are also marching on the streets for other black people killed by police brutality, including Tony McDade, a transgender man who was shot and killed by police officers in Tallahassee, Florida. Like the black community, the LGBTQ+ community also has a strenuous relationship with law enforcement.
For many in the LGBTQ+ community, this Pride Month feels different. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many pride events and parades being canceled. But some groups are throwing their weight behind racial equity and police reform efforts in the region. What are local LGBTQ+ groups doing to support this movement? And what should we expect Pride Month 2020 to look like?
Produced by Richard Cunningham
- Earl Fowlkes, Jr. President and CEO of the Center For Black Equity, Inc
- Patience Sings Director of Programming for Makers Lab
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast we sit down with the Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch to discuss the role of cultural institutions at times of social unrest. But first June is Pride Month for members of the LGBTQ community. However, with the coronavirus pandemic this pride month will be different. All Pride festivals and parades in the District were canceled months ago. And as protests continue advocacy groups and organizations are joining in the fight for police accountability and racial equity.
KOJO NNAMDIMembers of the LGBTQ community are working alongside local organizers to condemn racism and police brutality. Today we're discussing the connections between these communities and how the movements reflect these identities. How are various LGBTQ advocacy groups reacting to the protests? And how are people in these communities feeling right now? Joining me now is Patience Sings, Director of Programming for Makers Lab, a local artist collective. Patience Sings, thank you for joining us.
PATIENCE SINGSThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Earl Fowlkes is President and CEO of the Center for Black Equity. Earl Fowlkes, thank you for joining us.
EARL FOWLKESIt's my pleasure as always.
NNAMDIPatience Sings, I'll start with you, but this question is ultimately for both of you. But, Patience, what were your reactions to the death of George Floyd?
SINGSWell, again, thank you so much for having me. The reaction from me to the death of George Floyd was less of a reaction. I think black death sometimes is really desensitized in our body. So it's something that we've gotten used to, which is very sad, and it's not okay, but it was a very muted reaction to me. And to think about the death Ahumad Aubrey and the death of George Floyd and the death of Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade, those are everyday things that we have to think about, right? And I think the reaction for me was more towards the uprisings and so it's this very desensitized feeling in our body of being exposed to black death on an everyday basis. And I didn't actually have a reaction outside of sadness, outside of the normal anger you're supposed to feel when someone dies and grief.
NNAMDIDid you anticipate the uprisings?
SINGSDidn't anticipate it, but very proud of it, we've been seeing these uprisings happen since Baltimore and even before then. And so it wasn't anticipated. I didn't see it coming. But it was a very -- a proud moment to see that folks are in the street and saying, No. This is not normal. This is not the normal. This can't be the normal. We can no longer take this as the basis for how black folks are treated in America.
NNAMDIEarl Fowlkes -- go ahead, please. Go ahead, Patience.
SINGSI'm sorry. How black folks are treated globally, how we don't know about UFOs, but how black folks are probably treated everywhere, you know. So it was a moving movement to see that black folks are tired.
FOWLKESYou know, like Patience it becomes almost a regular thing like every few months something happens like this. But what struck me is the -- and I couldn't watch the entire eight nearly nine minutes of how the police officer murdered Mr. Floyd with the cameras on. And I saw it on television and I could not sleep Tuesday night. Two weeks ago I could not sleep. My spirit was in turmoil. And I knew there would be an uprising. I knew that between the COVID-19 and people being trapped in their house and social distancing that it was going to be -- the demonstrations and rioting would probably be the outlet that many people in the community would choose.
FOWLKESWhat has surprised me is the multiple racial aspect of the demonstrations. That in many places there were many more white people demonstrating or as many white people as black people signifying that even for the white community that the way this man was killed was police brutality at its very worse.
NNAMDIPatience Sings, what's the importance of making the message of racial equity inclusive?
SINGSBlack queer folks and black LGBTQ folks have really driven these movements for years and years. And a lot of the time black queer folks are erased on both sides or on all sides of our identities, because identity is multifaceted. And the importance of acknowledging all of those sides is that we don't turn them off, right? Like we don't turn our queerness of. We don't turn our blackness off. We don't turn our womanhood off or our transness off. Those are parts of our identity. And this idea that you can't be black and queer or the queer movement erases your blackness is just untrue. And a lot of these movements like the Black Lives Matter movement was started and created and given light by black queer women. And so that erasure of us is unacceptable.
SINGSAnd we will no longer stand in the darkness or the shadow of movements, because these are all of our identities. We are at the forefront. We are at the frontlines. We are creating the demands. We are doing all of the things that demand change and demand a shift. And black queer folks deserve to be acknowledged as such and deserve to be talked about in the same light.
NNAMDIHere is Anne in Delaware. Anne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNEYes. Hi, Kojo. I just wanted to know, I don't understand how these protests happen. Why are these protests being canceled and then this other pop-up protest was allowed to happen? It seems to me that it's not fair that these other protests or marches can't happen when I saw thousands of people with and without masks protesting like a pop-up. And I just don't think that's fair that these others cannot take place now. That's all I want to say.
NNAMDIPatience Sings and Earl Fowlkes, do you think that in the wake of the marches protesting the death of George Floyd that there will now be renewed interest in making sure that some of the Pride events that have been canceled are now made public again?
FOWLKESYou know, I think one doesn't necessarily have to do with the other. I'm actually personally as a person, who helps organize black Pride around the world, I'm actually glad that the Prides were -- you know, as unfortunate for the reason they were canceled, but I'm glad that we did not come to a conflict with trying to celebrate black Pride or celebrate Pride and dealing with this police brutality, this horrible incident of police brutality. My fear would have been that some of the organizers of Pride especially our white queer community would not have been wise enough to have canceled their parades and their celebrations, because this is not a time to celebrate.
FOWLKESThis is a time to -- I think the world is calling for new types of leadership and more radical leadership for a dismantling of the present systems that we've been tolerating, and looking at things throughout a censurist view. We need radical change, and I think that Prides would have been a conflict and it would have caused a lot of pain for people having to choose whether they demonstrate or whether they go to Prides.
NNAMDIEarl Fowlkes, there's a long history of the LGBTQ community and law enforcement as well as protests. I'm thinking of the Stonewall uprising in New York City. Can you talk about that and why protests against police brutality may resonate?
FOWLKESWell, you know, the sad thing about the Stonewall riot is that the people who were at the forefront of rioting at Stonewall who were the lightening rod of the riots were queer transgender people of color, black and brown folks. And those people have been completely written out of the history books of having started the riots. Our country was founded on the basis of revolution, and so revolution is part of our DNA. And this is how we overthrow oppressive systems as through revolution and rioting. And so the distinction is that like Pride, like the present situation, Stonewall was started by a riot.
FOWLKESAnd the other important thing to realize about Stonewall is that there were people and many of color who were protesting against oppressive systems and the police brutality and prejudice and homophobia before Stonewall. Stonewall was just the particular moment in time that electrified the nation at a time when we were complaining about Vietnam and racial injustice. And Stonewall happened at that particular moment. And all the stars align. And that's why that took off the way it did.
FOWLKESBut, you know, there is the direct connection. Oppressive systems have to be overthrown, and whether they're oppressive systems towards LGBTQ people or oppressive systems towards black folks, rioting is the way we do this in our country. And people shouldn't be shocked. This is how our country was found.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Richard, who mentioned a name I've been thinking about all morning. Richard says, "Please take a moment to remember the great the Bayard Rustin. He was the chief architect of the march on Washington, but pushed aside because he was an out gay man." Patience Sings, are you seeing a connection between race and sexual identity within the current movement?
SINGSAbsolutely. We do often forget Bayard Rustin and we do often forget the Marsha P. Johnsons and the folks who are -- who threw the first brick, right? And who created it and organized these movements. And I don't know if there's this connection between sexual identity and black folks. But black and queer folks are often radical, like we are all radical. Especially black queer folks we have radical -- a lot of us radical thought. And we are the driving force behind feminists theory and movements that really shift -- womanist theory and movements that really shift this nation and the world.
SINGSAnd so there probably is -- I'm sure there is a direct correlation between queerness being radical, being not wanting to just fix the systems that are at hand, but dismantle those systems and recreate new ones that work for us. And yeah.
NNAMDIWe're hearing a lot of about something called intersectionality. Another person I was thinking about today was somebody who I knew used that as an activist herself, Flo Kennedy, the radical New York Lawyer. But what for you does intersectionality mean? And how does it relate to this moment?
SINGSWell, Kimberley William Crenshaw actually coined that term intersectionality about 30 years ago to effectively discuss race, class, gender and other characteristics, how they interact with one another and how they overlap. And I think that term has been expanded upon, because there is so many intersections of like differently abled and queer and black and woman and trans.
SINGSAnd the term intersectionality for me is how I show up in all of my identities, how I show up in all of my glory and my power, because being black and being queer is glorious. Being woman is being glorious, being fem is being glorious, right? And so intersectionality for me is not only the ways that I am oppressed and not only the ways that I am seen as other inside of my identities, but how I show up in my glory in those identities. And that is what intersectionality means to me.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we will continue this conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the relationship between the LGBTQ community and protests for racial justice with Patience Sings, Director of Programming for Makers Lab, a local artists collective. And Earl Fowlkes, President and CEO of the Center for Black Equity. Earl Fowlkes, can you talk about the connection between your race and your sexual identity?
FOWLKESWell, you know, as it was previously stated there's an intertwine of my identities of who I am -- of all of who I am and the expression of such, and also the barriers that I have to deal with as intersectionality. For example, as a black man I have to deal with race everyday as a black man. But as a black man in a predominantly white gay community I also have to deal with another layer of racism. So I get it two ways.
FOWLKESAnd I see my sexuality through my black lens, because I was born a black man and I have to feel the pain of racism twice from the gay community, which, you know, in theory you would think would be more open to understanding discrimination and oppression and from the white general community. And if the truth be told I felt more racism from the gay community than I had from the general community over the years.
NNAMDIHow has your organization, Earl, been supporting black LGBTQ people in this moment?
FOWLKESWell, we have 47 affiliates in 47 cities including Minneapolis. And what we've been doing is -- what we do is we train leadership. Many of these organizations conduct black gay Pride events, which are a little bit different from celebrating Stonewall. They're more of celebrating the diversity within our community and they also -- they're entertainment. And they're workshops. And there is poetry slam. There's culture. And it's celebrating the totality of who we are. But what we've been doing for the last 20 years and is bearing fantastic fruit now is that we've been training leaders locally on how to deal with the issues in their community, the oppressive forces in the community, and building relationships and building allyships with different organizations of color and queer organizations in their community.
FOWLKESAnd what's happening now is that these leaders are taking their place with the demonstrators. They're actually conducting meetings and they're actually being part of the conversation around police enforcement. And the dismantling of the oppressive parts of the policing that has been so oppressive for long that turn really kind of almost paramilitary. And whenever time the police are called into the black community, to the queer community, because most black queer folks live in the black community. We are part of a black community. We live in the black community.
FOWLKESThe forces that oppress us and keep us in the black community impact both queer black folks and black folks in general. And so these -- our leaders are part of these discussions and they're part of the movement. And as it was said before queer folks are part of radical and have always been part of radical change. And black queer folks are right there with the rest of the folks.
NNAMDIHere is Samantha in eastern Maryland. Samantha, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMANTHAHi, yes. I just called in when you all were speaking about intersectionality. And what I think is so important and what we always fail to forget is we see people who live at what I call the corners of life, like I live at corners of multiple roads of existence at these intersections. And we are the people who are coining the terms. We're giving the movement the language. And we're somehow begging to be included in conversations that we started. And so I think this conversation is so important. I think it's so important to highlight that we have laid the framework of resistance. We have showed what it looks like to beg for humanity. And yet somehow our conversations will always focus even on the queer community on cisgender people whether they're heterosexual or not.
SAMANTHASo at the forefront of the LGBT movement you see cis-hetero or cis-hetero passing white males. So not to fem, you know, that kind of thing or in the black struggle we're going to talk about cis-hetero black men, but we are the ones who laid the framework for resistance. We are the ones, who coined the terms and gave the conversation language. Why should I have to beg to be included in a conversation that I started?
SINGSThat actually sounds like one of our collaborators, one of our amazing collaborator Sam G. And yeah, everything she just said was poignant. We create the language, right? We create this language and we create the framework as queer as other LGBTQ folks who are not cispassing, who are not cispassing and who are fat black queer women, who are fat black queer fems, we create that language. We create that framework and we continue to do so even when it works against our own interests sometimes, because to be honest, black fems are still being killed by cis-het men in droves. Black transwomen are still being beaten. Black transwomen are still not being given the same respect and the same honor in death or in life.
SINGSAnd so we are the ones who create this framework. And we are the ones who create these systems and breaking these systems and breaking down these things. But we still have to beg for our lives, right? There's no safe space for black queer especially fem folks or other folks.
NNAMDIAnd thank you for you call, Samantha. Karen emails, "In Crofton there's going to be a social distanced Pride walk and a car parade. Also I've seen many people adding a brown and black strip to the traditional rainbow flag to emphasize including black and brown queer people. Patience Sings, what's the importance of Pride Month and how necessary are spaces for black members of the LGBTQ community in it?
SINGSI think the month itself is important, right? Again, we get erased from I think -- the month of June we get erased from Pride Month because again as Sam likes to say parades are not protests, right? Or protests are not parades. And we have gotten erased in this fight for our lives as black queer folks in Pride. The month of June sometimes feel co-opted and it doesn't always feel like a safe space. To what Earl was saying there aren't many safe spaces for black queer folks in that larger structure of Pride.
SINGSSo in the vain of black Pride, which has been happening for 30 years we have black Pride in May, right? Makers Lab just organized this virtual event Black in Space, which was a five day festival centering black joy even in the midst of this pandemic even in the midst of us having to fight for our lives, we find other ways to center our joy, not just during Pride Month, which is important, because you think about Stonewall and you think about how these parades began as riots and protests.
SINGSBut we center black LBGTQ folks all year round and especially in the month of May around Memorial Day where we created this five day festival that not only supported black queer artists and curators, but the proceeds from this festival went to Black Lives Matter to get masks created during the early time of the pandemic -- get masks created by black LGBTQ folks. So we're centering black joy and black safety all the time. And June is just another time for us to do that. And that's what we do.
NNAMDIHere now is Bryce in Laurel, Maryland. Bryce, your turn.
BRYCEHi, Kojo. This is my first time calling. I was calling, because earlier you were talking about that you wanted to dismantle the oppressive system rather than fix it. You want to dismantle it and build it up so it would work better for LBGTQ and the black community. I was curious to how does fixing it and dismantling it, how do they look different?
NNAMDIAll folks we only have about a minute left, but go ahead, please.
FOWLKESWell, we've tried fixing it. There have been all kinds of alleged police reforms over the history -- especially in the 60s. We had a reaction to the riots of unrest in the 60s and 70s and it continues. Every time the police act inappropriately we talk about, you know, putting a Band-Aid on the gaping wound. We need to dismantle. We need to go back to community policing. Police have become paramilitary since the 9/11. When the police are called in, they're coming in riot gear and fatigues and weapons that are used for invading, you know, countries not invading communities. And, you know, the police used to be -- there was an attempt to have the police living in communities where they police and being part of the communities.
FOWLKESNow that's been abandoned and every time the police comes it's an invasion. And people have disrespect for the police, because they're not part of the community. And they don't try to do community policing, and we need to break it down and build it up again and try to make it better. You know, fixing an old -- sometimes you have an old car that needs to be fixed. And you fix it and fix it and fix it. At some point you need to get a new car, because you're tired of putting old money into new -- putting new money into an old vehicle. And this is one of those situations.
NNAMDIThe old model isn't working. Earl Fowlkes is President and CEO of the Center For Black Equity. Earl Fowlkes, thank you for joining us.
FOWLKESMy pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIPatience Sings is Director of Programming for Makers Lab, a local artist collective. Patience Sings, thank you for joining us.
SINGSThank you so much for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come up we'll be talking with the Secretary of the Smithsonian, Lonnie Bunch. You can start calling now 800-433-8550. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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