By MAYA RUPERT
In a surprisingly confrontational piece, the Washington Blade’s Kevin Naff takes aim at a number of national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality organizations that joined a chorus of voices supporting the family of Trayvon Martin as they try to come to terms with the tragic killing of the 17-year-old at the hands of neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman and calling for justice in the case where there has still been no arrest made.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) was one of the organizations to join this joint statement of support. I was proud to be part of a movement that was not only expressing sympathy for Trayvon’s family, but addressing the urgent need for action to address the pervasive stereotyping and scapegoating of young African-American men. But that pride has been replaced by embarrassment by the way it was misrepresented by this article—as a crude accusation that Zimmerman targeted Trayvon based on intentional racial bias. Naff’s piece also illustrates the dangers of a perspective that inadvertently construct the LGBT community as white.
As an initial matter, Naff’s piece misunderstands the role that racial bias played in this situation and the way systemic racism operates in this country. The statement joined by several national LGBT groups neither characterize this killing as a hate crime nor Trayvon as a “hate crime martyr.”
I am not aware of anyone who claims that Zimmerman intentionally targeted Trayvon for this shooting because of Trayvon’s race. The role that racial bias played in this case was more subtle, but equally fatal. It is undeniable that a number of factors likely contributed to why Zimmerman thought, despite police warnings and no evidence to support him, that Trayvon posed a threat when he didn’t. But it is equally undeniable that one of those factors was Trayvon’s race. That is the tragic effect of a society that has created a culture of suspicion and an assumption of criminality around young, black men.
Systemic racism is what tells neighborhood watch captains that a black, unarmed 17-year-old is more likely to need to be watched as a potential threat than to be watched out for. It is what enables many commentators to claim that Florida’s draconian self-defense law could justify Zimmerman shooting an unarmed child.
The broader problem with Naff’s piece is a broader problem with the way the LGBT community is too often viewed and portrayed. There is a divisive and untrue insistence that LGBT identity is a white identity and an assumption that problems of racial justice are for another community. Naff’s curious and insulting terminology that we are jumping on a bandwagon reveals this bias. The implication is that we are joining a cause that is not ours. It is that there are no people in the LGBT community who look at Trayvon Martin and see a brother or who could echo President Obama’s words that if they “had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” It is that there are no LGBT people who see reminders of the deadly effect of systemic racism as their issue.
That implication is wrong. Naff is wrong. Racial justice is an LGBT issue.
As we have seen recently, and I have written about elsewhere, opponents of equality have attempted to use this divisive strategy to make LGBT people of color feel like their LGBT identity is inconsistent with their racial identity, and it happens at the expense of LGBT people of color who are left with a damaging cultural displacement. This is a tactic of our opponents. We can’t do it to ourselves. Trayvon’s death and the circumstances surrounding it should alarm and outrage every person who is committed to justice and safety for all people regardless of race. The LGBT community should be a part of that group.
Maya Rupert is an attorney and serves as federal policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Reach her via nclrights.org.