By ana g. lara lópez and Jarvis Benson of the Kairos Center and Tyrone Hanley of the National Center for Lesbian Rights
Across the country, a campaign is being waged by extremist anti-LGBTQ+ groups to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people and target transgender youth and adults. In 2023 alone, over 500 bills have been introduced in state legislatures, aimed at rolling back progress toward equality and justice. Yet, we know firsthand the power that lies within collaboration, and the possibilities collaboration brings for a transformative path forward.
This past February, we convened a diverse team to attend a life-giving, person-centered, Economic Justice Institute at the Creating Change conference. We were joined by more than 70 queer and trans organizers, policy experts, and scholars from around the country. Through a historical grounding, personal narratives, and power mapping, intertwined with drag performance, the institute created a space for individuals to envision, practice and experience what is possible when we work together.
This space was a counter to the anti-LGBTQ+ campaign carried out by a network of organizations that are emboldened by their own narrow and distorted interpretation of scripture and spread hateful and harmful rhetoric to pit people against each other. These organizations falsely claim that children are being exposed to “explicit sexual content” at drag shows, while remaining conveniently silent on pressing issues like childhood poverty and the impact of gun violence on children.
It is essential to recognize that this situation goes beyond the boundaries of left vs right. It is a battle between what is right and what is wrong. Their vision of society is not only wrong, but also deeply unpopular: polls show that a majority of Americans resoundingly reject these attacks on LGBTQ+ rights.
Division weakens collective power. It hampers progress. We cannot allow our movements to become divided. By siloing our movement work, we contribute to the fragmentation and miss the opportunity to build a truly transformative contingent against this anti-LGBTQ+ campaign. Homophobia and transphobia – along with the evils of poverty, structural racism, militarism, ecological devastation, and the distorted moral narrative of Christian nationalism – have been exploited by those in power to distract and divide the working class and poor people, and undermine efforts to politically organize and unite.We invite LGBTQ+ groups to actively address economic and racial justice issues – and we invite progressive movements focusing on economic and racial justice to prioritize addressing anti-LGBTQ+ views. This will help our cross-movement building.
As we work towards building a more inclusive and equitable society, we must understand that the resurgence of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is part of a larger effort to preserve white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. These tactics are not only harmful, they also divert attention from pressing social and economic issues. The 140 million poor and low-income people across this nation, which disproportionately includes people who identify as LGBTQ+, desperately need us to organize better investments in housing, education, healthcare, food assistance, and social services for all. Indeed, one in five queer people lives below the federal poverty line and trans people are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty than their cisgender counterparts. Thousands of LGBTQ+ people are unhoused. Queer and trans youth are often forced into dangerous and exploitative situations because leadership refuses to fund affordable housing and safe emergency shelters. People living with HIV cannot access medically necessary treatment because of many states’ refusal to expand Medicaid. Moreover, the impact of these anti-LGBTQ+ policies takes a devastating toll on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth. Alarmingly, 29% of trans and/or nonbinary youth reported feeling unsafe going to the doctor or hospital because of these policies. Transgender and non-binary youth in particular experience an overwhelming sense of fear, especially when policies like name/pronoun usage and access to medically necessary care are restricted. Although it is difficult, we must resist the temptation to simplify this struggle and instead confront the complex and intersecting oppressions that underlie these issues, so we can, together, address the systemic wrongs that fuel them.
As we worked through what a more just world would look like at the institute, we also acknowledged the abundance of love and resources that we have to bring those visions to fruition. Held together by a shared commitment to economic justice, we showcased the strength that emerges when we work together, even when we don’t know each other. In the face of increased violence and divisive tactics used by those who are against us, we witnessed the transformative potential of solidarity and collective struggle.
We know collective action can be implemented in the day-to-day operations and strategy of our work. We will carry forward the spirit of collaboration from this institute into our work, recognizing that our movements and struggles are interconnected and that true change requires us to stand united against all oppressions and build a world where we all can be as we are and realize our true potential. We call on everyone to join us in the loud and courageous fight against oppression and injustice toward queer and trans people, families, and communities. As bad actors stoke division and polarization, we resist harmful interpretations of the Bible that are used to justify oppression of any kind, as well as anything or anyone that pits us against each other.
This Pride Month – and beyond – may we continue to cultivate a new world where all people can thrive while living openly as their authentic selves. May we have those most impacted by the interlocking injustices lead the way, and may we continue to be grounded in the chant we loudly proclaimed back in February, “A-B abundance, we are abundant!” because we are!
Queer and trans liberation means economic justice for all!