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VIEWS Uplifting Black LGBTQ workers all year round
by Joan Jones

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Black History Month may have ended, but at the National LGBTQ Workers Center, we center Black queer and transgender ( trans ) people 24/7/365.

Why? Because we enthusiastically believe that in order to be an effective social justice organization, we have to center the most marginalized people among us. And we want other social-justice leaders to take our lead. So, we have put together a list of three ways that movement leaders and activists can uplift Black LGBTQ workers all year round.

1. Support the Raise The Wage Act

The Raise the Wage Act was proposed in Congress on Jan. 16 to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour within five years. It would also make it illegal to pay tipped workers and disabled workers less than the federal minimum wage. If enacted, this bill would benefit LGBTQ people across the country.

But we are here to talk specifically about Black LGBTQ people. Why?

Well, when talking about the economy, oftentimes Black queer and trans workers get left out of the conversation. The truth is, according to the Williams Institute, there are over one million LGBTQ African Americans in the US, including myself, and the Raise the Wage Act could dramatically affect our livelihoods for the better.

Here is the problem: Despite growing poverty rates among Black LGBTQ people, organizations have largely failed to prioritize our economic justice issues, and when they have, it has not been done through a racial justice lens.

What has been the result? A large number of Black queer and trans workers are being relegated to the brinks of our economy. According to the Williams Institute, Black LGBTQ folks face higher rates of discrimination, poverty and incarceration than both Black heterosexuals and LGBTQ white people. Stories like those of Tee—an AfroLatinx trans person who ended up homeless as a teenager and struggling with housing discrimination when they transitioned— paints a realistic story of what it is like for many young Black trans folks trying to survive. Their story was featured in the Transgender Law Center's stories of discrimination and is ongoing.

If you are not already doing it, advocate for policies that make change for queer and trans Black workers. It can make a real difference for people like me and Tee! Call your Congressional representatives, show up at their offices, attend a rally, get out on the streets, make your voice heard on social media—all of these things help create change in their own way.

2. Treat Black LGBTQ workers like more than a statistic

"We have to be more reflective of our demographics!" is a rallying cry that I have heard often when working at labor and social justice organizations. It's true. The leadership of organizations that explicitly work to support marginalized groups are often themselves not run by marginalized people. It would almost be funny in an ironic sort of way if it didn't cause huge real-life issues for the populations they seek to engage.

In the case of one of the Workers Center's board members who is Black, queer and non-binary, they were demoted after speaking out about the lack of people-of-color leadership at their nonprofit workplace. Their experience, unfortunately, is not unique. Marginalized folks too are often punished when holding organizations accountable to their alleged social justice values.

On the other end, many times organizations spend months and sometimes years to collect statistics, facts, and demographics just to prove Black workers' voices matter. Why does there need to be so much evidence or push back simply to prove that we are humans worth fighting for?

In 2019, let us celebrate Black folks just for being Black folks. Skip the stats, the headache of arguments that leave both parties bitter, and invite us to your board anyway. Employ us. Bring us into high-level visioning conversations. Give us leadership positions. Do these things not just to fulfill some level of representation or dacorum but because Black people are magic ... PERIOD!

3. Unapologetically prioritize Black queer and trans people in your organizing efforts

I'll never forget the time I walked into a Black-led labor event, and one of the leaders declared, "LGBTQ people will be welcome here over my dead body."

At that moment, time stopped, and my heart dropped all the way to the floor. I was heartbroken as I saw half of the room mumble in agreement, the other half stay quiet, and one person voice dissent who was eventually dismissed. Needless to say, it was the last time I ever stepped into that space.

Juxtapose that to my experience only a few weekends ago, when my fiance and I went to see Ivy Queen, a prolific rap and reggaeton artist. In a room full of Black and Brown working-class individuals, Ivy Queen shouted, "Where are my LGBTQ people in the room? I love and support you." The statement changed the room. My partner and I held hands and embraced with greater ease. People looked at us and smiled. They clapped and cheered. We felt seen.

If LGBTQ people can be centered at a rap and reggaeton concert in 2019, the organizations that are supposed to represent us should have no excuse. Folks are ready for decisive inclusion.

When social-justice and labor organizations support Black queer and trans folks, everyone wins. People feel accepted. Folks on the fence feel challenged. Bigots leave, and leaders are forced to practice being strong enough to say out loud, "Hate doesn't belong here."

Finally, prioritizing Black queer and trans folks does not mean deprioritizing other people. On the contrary, when Black LGBTQ folks are prioritized in organizing, all LGBTQ people, people of color, and even cisgender heterosexual white people are lifted up. We have seen this happen all over the country as Black Lives Matter activists created police reform efforts that spurred change for people of all races, backgrounds, and abilities who were brutalized by the police.

The same can be said about the trans Black women who started the Stonewall Riots that launched the movement for LGBTQ rights as we know it. Black queer and trans folks leading organizations and movements have and will continue to transform this country.

Y'all, it is March 2019. Things are in full swing. Programs are being planned. The pedal is to the metal. In the rush to fill up your 2019 calendar, don't let February be the only month your organization mentions Black LGBTQ people.

If you're looking for an opportunity to organize at the intersection of LGBTQ rights, workers' rights, and racial justice, consider joining the National LGBTQ Workers Center Advisory Board. We're a group of majority queer and trans people of color who are serious about winning grassroots economic justice for all LGBTQ people and having fun while doing it. Visit or become involved in other ways!

Joan Jones is the founder and president of the National LGBTQ Workers Center. They reside in Chicago with their fiance. Joan is also a lover of #BlackGirlMagic, QTPOC liberation and microbrews.

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