In the wake the of the murder of unarmed teenager Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by police officer Darren Wilson and the ongoing protests demanding justice, many groups have written letters of solidarity to the Brown family and to the protestors. Though these messages are an important recognition of our common humanity and that we all suffer from this exploitative system, solidarity in words should not replace solidarity in action. Securing justice for Mike Brown and other victims of racist policing and brutality will require mass movements of united black, brown, and white working class communities.
Letters of Solidarity
On 15 Aug, PROMO, a Missouri’s statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, signed a letter of ‘solidarity’ in response to the murder of Mike Brown by Officer Darren Wilson and the continuing protests. Though many of the leaders of the Ferguson protests identity as LGBTQ, the final line of the letter “we will be with you,” was not backed by any substantial action. Despite endorsing the Ferguson October Weekend of Resistance, a national mobilization to Ferguson and St. Louis, PROMO never followed their letter with a call for donations or for its membership to be present at the protests. Similarly, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest nation wide LGBTQ group, presented a letter a week earlier, which failed to call on HRC supporters to join the protests.
In Missouri the only LGBTQ group to call on its membership to be present at actions is Show Me No Hate. Show Me No Hate announced a call and built for National Coming Out Day events to coincide with the Ferguson Weekend of Resistance and the October 11th downtown St. Louis rally, recognizing the need for the LGBTQ community in Missouri to stand with the people of Ferguson and the shared interests between the movements.
The fight back in Ferguson against systemic racism, mass incarceration, economic disenfranchisement, police brutality, and the non-indictment of Darren Wilson should also be looked at as a Queer fight. LGBTQ people of color live at the intersections of various marginalized identities and experience disproportionally higher rates of poverty and unemployment. Transgender people across the U.S. experience three times more police violence than non-transgender individuals. Though mainstream depictions of LGBTQ people are overwhelmingly white, homosexual, and rich, the vast majority of the LGBTQ community are among the working poor, immigrant community, and criminalized labor, in other words, the 99%.
The lack of action by moderate LGBTQ groups around the Mike Brown murder is another example of how class divisions affect what issues are addressed by the LGBTQ community. Issues like poverty, homelessness, incarceration, and detention seemingly get ignored while marriage is promoted. This ‘blindness’ to the need to address these issues is especially devastating for trans people of color, who are among the most marginalized and oppressed in our society. Many transgender people who are able to find work do so in either precarious, low paying jobs in the service industry, jobs where they are not visible to corporate clients, or in criminalized sectors of the economy like the sex and drug trades. This situation is made even worse in states like Missouri where LGBTQ persons can legally be fired and denied housing because of their identity. As the Williams Institute at UCLA’s 2009 report, “Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community” reveals, for same-sex couples, they are significantly more likely to be poor than heterosexual couples and are more likely to receive public assistance from government programs that support poor and low-income individuals and families.
Groups like HRC and PROMO have focused on campaigns that do not ultimately challenge the fundamental causes of LGBTQ oppression; therefore, they fail to meet the needs of the majority of LGBTQ people who face constant economic exploitation and oppression. LGBTQ groups such as PROMO and HRC moderate their demands to fit within the traditional social order and what is acceptable to the Democratic Party and the party’s corporate backers.
Black, brown, and LGBTQ, too
The failure of groups like HRC to focus on issues that affect the majority of the LGBTQ community is especially clear on the issue of immigration and incarceration. The LGBTQ population includes large numbers of immigrants. Of the nearly 904,000 LGBTQ adult immigrants in the United States, an estimated 267,000 LGBT individuals are in the U.S. without legal authorization (Center for American Progress, Oct 23, 2014). These immigrants have few options aside from minimum-wage jobs, and jobs that do not provide any benefits. When faced with discrimination based on their sexual or gender identity, unfair working conditions, or unfair wages, they may be afraid to speak up out of fear of being deported.
Under HRC-endorsed President Obama, more detention and deportations of immigrants have occurred and evidence shows that two-thirds of deportations have come from minor offenses like traffic violations. On November 20th, President Obama presented an executive order protecting up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation through temporary legal status. However, it covers too few people, gives only very temporary relief, and comes with increased enforcement against criminalized immigrants.
Though the executive order does not go far enough, the fact that Obama finally acted on immigration shows the power of organized protests of undocumented people, hunger strikes in detention centers, and the communities that have demonstrated for years for full legalization. Because the criminal justice system, including immigration enforcement, is founded on racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia and constantly reproduces the same biases, LGBTQ groups can stand in solidarity with the immigrant legalization movement by resisting the expansion of law and border enforcement and the targeting of immigrants.
With a prison population of approximately 7 million adults, the United States incarcerates people at the highest rate of any nation in the world. People of color and the trans community are disproportionately more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system than other communities. Because of policies like the War on Drugs and hot-spot policing, people of color and poor people are more likely to end up under the control of the criminal justice system. According to the Equality Federation, “nearly 16% of transgender adults have been in a prison or jail for any reason compared with 2.7% of all adults who have ever been in prison and 10.2% of all adults who have ever been under any kind of criminal justice supervision, including probation.” While an estimated 4-8% of youth are LGBTQ, a major study of youth in juvenile detention found that as many as 13-15% are LGBTQ.
The people united will never be defeated!
As socialists, we see the division of society along race, gender, gender-norm, and sexual identity lines as beneficial to the capitalist system that exploits all working people as it prevents working people from uniting in a struggle against their common oppressor. Attacking or oppressing different communities within the wider working class and fostering divisions and fighting among them allows the capitalist class to profit from the oppression of some communities more than others (e.g., paying women less than men), and to continue their exploitation of us all unabated.
To foster unity in the recent protests and to draw out the intersection between their oppressions, Socialist Alternative St. Louis worked with other LGBTQ activists and anti-racist organizers to cosponsor a community event called “LGBTQ and Black Oppression: Why We Should All Care about Ferguson” with members of Show Me No Hate and Millennial Activists United (MAU). This meeting helped lead to the November 22 intervention at HRC’s Gala in St. Louis, a protest led by LGBTQ people of color. Socialist Alternative St. Louis is currently working with other local anti-racist, and radicals in the LGBTQ community to build a LGBTQ Ferguson Solidarity group to create new radical discourse on Sexual Liberation, and to intervene and support the new Black Freedom Movement in Ferguson.
Leon Trotsky once wrote: “the most oppressed section of the working class always reflects the extreme horrors of capitalism.” To take his words to present times, we only have to look at the way people of color are treated, especially people of color in the LGBTQ community, to see the urgent need to transform society. We will not find sexual liberation under capitalism and must join the call in Ferguson that the “whole damn system is guilty as hell!”
We must reference historical events like the Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention in 1970, which saw a coming together of the Black Panthers, the Gay Liberation Front, and Women’s Liberation Front. Just like the sexual liberation movements that emerged after Stonewall and the later struggle for broad access to medication and research to fight HIV/AIDS, the movement for sexual liberation must be anti-racist, politically independent, and represent the broad interests of working people.
If we are to win our struggle for sexual liberation, we must link with the Black Freedom Movement that has emerged after the murder of Mike Brown. This movement can unite behind demands focused on an end to racism and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and full legalization of marriage equality, as well as social and economic demands, including a $15 minimum wage, fully funded schools, and an end to mass incarceration.