April 12, 2012 at 6:37 am EDT | by Staff reports
Trayvon’s death should concern all who seek justice


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  But that pride has been replaced by embarrassment by the way it was misrepresented by this article—as a crude accusation that Zimmerman targeted Trayvon based on intentional racial bias.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.

  • Thank you for this excellent response, Maya Rupert.

  • Thank you for this! Thank you to the Blade for publishing this after Naff’s embarrassing article.

  • The GLBT Community needs a come to Jesus moment about race. The White GLBT Community’s, shall we say, “obliviousness” to the concerns of African-American GLBT Community members fuels the rift between blacks and gays, as African-American GLBT Community members feel – quite rightly – that their experience as black in a racist society impacts them more than their experience as gay. This dynamic influences the GLBT Community’s political priorities, with White Gay Males seemingly united to push for Gay Marriage, and everyone else noting that other concerns might matter more, particularly to African-Americans.

    Thank you for writing this piece.

  • Kevin Naff lost a lot of credibility and respect by publishing his repugnant views on the Trayvon Martin shooting, and the Blade will not cleanse away the stain on its reputation for a long time. Thank you, Maya, for this very necessary rebuttal.

  • I appreciate this rebuttal by Maya Rupert even if its motivation is primarily damage control for what I truly hope is the sinking ship that is the journalistic and media careers of both editor Kevin Naff and publisher Lynne Brown. In a just and fair world the publishing of Naff’s initial op/ed piece would have nailed the coffins on both Naff and Browns careers of influence in LGBT media and publishing. Alas and sadly, we do not live in a just and fair world. As for The Blade, well, as a wise person said recently, this rebuttal will not cleanse away the stain on its reputation for a long time.

  • A good and very necessary rebuttal. The Blade and Kevin Naff have not represented well this week.

  • I appreciate this rebuttal by Maya Rupert. Even if it is being motivated primarily by a desire for damage control in the wake of a truly unfortunate decision by editor Kevin Naff and publisher Lynne Brown to publish Naff’s original op/ed piece in the first place. In a just and fair world, the publishing of Naff’s original piece simply would not have occurred and there would then naturally be no need for a “rebuttal.” Instead, wisdom, good journalistic decision making, cultural awareness and sensitivity, and good judgment would have prevailed. Alas and sadly, we do not live in a just and fair world; not to mention one where poor judgment occurs infrequently in journalistic circles.

    As for The Blade–well–as a wise person said recently, this rebuttal will not cleanse away the stain on its reputation for a long time. And that is likely to be the only fair occurrence in this entire tragic affair.

  • Thank you for writing this rubuttal.

    For the record, Hispanic isn’t a race. Hispanics can be of any race and many Hispanics are black or Afro Latinos. However, many white Hispanics like Ricky Martin, Ricky Levy, and Desi Arnez can assimilate into white America and are accepted by white America, gay and straight. A black or Afro Latino isn’t accepted by white America and being black is seen as being inferior by most whites in America, and Kevin Naff is one of them.

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