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White supremacy, racism killed Sandra Bland

Constantly being stereotyped, marginalized, vilified eats away at us

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Sandra Bland, gay news, Washington Blade
Sandra Bland, gay news, Washington Blade

Sandra Bland died in a Texas jail after what should have been a routine traffic stop. (Photo courtesy Facebook)

Ever since Sandra Bland died in a Texas jail cell earlier this month, her case has been on my mind. I noted in my January column titled, “Black Women’s Lives Matter, Too,” that black women are subjected to police brutality and have been murdered by the police, but the community never rallies around those cases, and are often not even aware of them. Until now, none of those cases had garnered the amount of attention or outrage as the deaths of black men by law enforcement.

For whatever reason, people could not wrap their heads around women being brutalized, so the dashboard camera plays a major role in allowing people to see much of the interaction between Bland and the officer. Bland was also an outspoken, attractive, college-educated, Black Lives Matter activist. This matters in terms of folks who only like to fight for “the right kind of people,” which is also known as the “respectability” mantra.

Most people who feel Sandra Bland was unjustly killed believe she was murdered by the police and are demanding accountability for that murder. It matters if the police murdered her in terms of getting the harshest sentence for the perpetrators. However, it’s already clear, whether Bland died by a police officer’s hand or her own hand, they killed her. White supremacy and racism killed her the same way it slowly kills millions of African Americans in this country. Constantly being stereotyped, marginalized, vilified, and, all too often, working harder than most for a meager subsistence gets to you. Each day, it kills a part of your spirit.

Take, for instance, the stereotype of the “angry black woman.” Although I’m soft-spoken and though I sometimes hate to admit it, shy, I have recently been stereotyped as an angry black woman by some white people in the local political and media scene. My ethnic features have been used as a source of disdain and derision as these mean-spirited, racist bullies have spread rumors that I’m always angry and walk around with my bottom lip sticking out. Um, I have thick lips and, yes, my bottom lip protrudes out further than my top lip. But no, I’m not poking out my lip in anger, my bottom lip just sticks out—and many of my African brothers and sisters happen to think I’m quite cute, I may add. The fact that this, and other, malicious gossip has been spread continuously by people who don’t look like me, don’t share my culture, and apparently have no knowledge of or respect for African features, is just one illustration of what it’s like to navigate a society that constantly kills your spirit. This is the type of stuff that eats at you each day.

It also lets me know that the “angry black woman” stereotype is so pervasive and so believable to white folks that all actions can be made to fit into the stereotype when displayed by black women, even if those actions contradict one another. Thus, if you are a passionate vocal advocate, you’re angry. If you are soft-spoken, you’re not overly vocal because you’re angry. If you look people directly in the eyes, you’re angry. If you take a more subservient demeanor and divert your eyes or look down, you’re angry.

To be a black woman in America often means that a piece of your spirit is crushed each day. You graduate from college and maybe even get an advanced degree, but none of that shields you from the daily indignities that you will face.

A few years ago, in the Eastern Market area, I pulled behind a minivan as the minivan’s occupants were getting into the car. Happy to find a parking space, I patiently waited as they got into the vehicle and put the kids into the car seat. There was a white male police officer on the other side of the street. I didn’t think anything of it when he walked over to my car. I let my window down, so I could hear what he wanted to tell me. He then started to berate me about parking illegally and I calmly explained that I was not parked, I was waiting for the car in front of me to pull out of their parking space, so I could park there. He then starts speaking in a very aggressive and hostile tone, and when I try to respond, he snaps back, “shut up, don’t say a word.” He then goes on about whether I can afford a $200 ticket. After he finished his rant, I pulled into the parking space and he walked away. His hostility was unnecessary and I was boiling inside. I was too taken aback at the time to get his name or badge number. After I got out of the car, I saw him standing on the corner, but I chose my personal safety over confronting him to get his badge number. On Inauguration Day in 2008, I also experienced this same hostility from a white male police officer, whose hostile tone and aggression startled me so much, I dropped and broke my camera.

So, when the officer started speaking in a hostile tone toward Sandra Bland, I recognized the tone immediately. It is the same demeaning, hostile tone that white male officers have used toward me on several instances.

This hostility comes from a place of interacting with someone who you don’t deem to be equal. When you are black, a woman, and either young or young-looking, my experience has shown that some white male officers take any assertion that you are their equal as a personal affront. This belief extends far beyond interactions with law enforcement and the repercussions of this mentality often manifest itself in hostile behavior from some white men in other settings.

My situation with the police officer in Eastern Market could have escalated if I did not swallow my pride and allow this hostile officer to disrespect me. However, I wanted to respond as Sandra Bland did. You can’t imagine how demeaning it is for someone to yell “Shut up” in your face and to say nothing back because you’ve decided it’s the “practical” way to deescalate the situation and not get arrested or an unwarranted ticket. We go through this type of blatant hostility and disrespect every day and it gets to you.

Bland chose a healthy way of addressing the societal and systemic racism by connecting with the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet, she still found herself demeaned and in jail for a minor traffic offense, after, if her experiences have been anything like mine, a lifetime of pushing to persevere and thrive in a hostile society.

We may never truly know if the police murdered Sandra Bland or if she technically died by her own hand. But one thing is abundantly clear: No matter the circumstances, white supremacy and racism killed her.

 

Lateefah Williams is a regular contributor to the Washington Blade.

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Someone needs to answer for monkeypox

A giant middle finger to Xavier Becerra for blaming us

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Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra. (Photo public domain via HHS Facebook)

Did you lie to get your monkey pox shot? 

Well, maybe not lie, lie, but were you perhaps a little, say, economical with the truth? I mean, those eligibility questions were at times ping ponging between the highly personal to the incredibly vague. How many men have you slept with in the last two weeks? Have you come into contact with anyone with monkeypox? Probably, maybe? What exactly is a ‘skin-to-skin’ party? Is it sort of if you know, you know thing? Or can you say Peach Pit, the incredibly 90s dance party, where, as really most gay dance parties, gays shed shirts and dance skin-to-skin come midnight or so? Also, I’m not a sex worker. But, as a real estate agent, I think I can imagine it pretty easily. No disrespect to sex workers, of course. Everyone paused before checking boxes, wondering what were the right answers.

Do I feel bad for finding a category for eligibility that I could cram myself into? Maybe a little. But I wanted the shot. And let’s be clear — I didn’t create this panic, they did. And just who is ‘they’ I think we as the queer community deserve some answers. How could we fail a test like monkeypox so badly? A test that we had all the questions far in advance. We all saw this coming a mile away. And the lion-share of the credit as to the success of the vaccine rollout so far seems to go to the queer community itself. Activists dusting off old playbooks from the ACT-UP days, and coupling new clout and access to city government and officials, we were able to get what was available to us out to as many as possible as soon as possible. That wasn’t them, that was us. 

And I know two people that have had it. And they have assured me that it was by far the worst pain and most humiliating experience of their lives. Just seeing them quarantining for three weeks in excruciating pain was enough for me to hunt down my second shot. Did I lie to get it? Not really. Was I a little liberal with the truth? Perhaps. But again, that’s really on them. This panic is theirs. 

So what about them? Who are they? Whose head should roll? You might have missed it. But Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra was asked essentially ‘what the hell?’ in a conference call with reporters last month. The Blade’s own Chris Johnson was on the call. Just to be honest with you, I’ve thought Becerra was a disaster long before he ascended to his current position. But in the interview, Becerra became hostile and pointed the finger back at us, the “communities at risk.” In a pre-Trump world, that would have been a career-ending interview. But I suppose it’s a different world now. Let me give one giant middle finger back at him. And to anyone who thinks a ‘community at risk’ somehow means a community to blame. He’s a disaster. But then again, so is this whole rollout. 

Let me be clear. I’m not blaming D.C. Health here. On the contrary, I’m incredibly grateful to them. When I walked into the Georgia Avenue clinic for my first shot back in June, I felt terrible for them. A nondescript white building, un-air conditioned, the place looked like something from the developing world. Not something you’d want to find in the nation’s capital. I thanked them all for being there. They deserve better.

We all deserve better. And someone needs to answer for why we didn’t get it. 

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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Casa Ruby’s services must survive

But the organization’s name doesn’t matter

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A group of asylum seekers gather at Casa Ruby on March 5, 2019. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A judge approved putting Casa Ruby into the hands of a receiver and approved the D.C. Attorney General’s recommendation of the Wanda Alston Foundation, of which June Crenshaw is the executive director. She is an amazing person. Founded in 2008, according to its website “the Wanda Alston Foundation provides housing and support services for D.C. homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth ages 18 to 24 and advocates for expanded city services for LGBTQ youth.” 

Contrary to what Ruby Corado said at the hearing she apparently Zoomed into from El Salvador, it is only important to have someone who knows the work of Casa Ruby and if it is someone who worked for a successful organization in the area all the more reason for them to be named. 

It’s not important that the name Casa Ruby survives. What is important is the services it once provided to the transgender community survive, and even expand. That can be done under any name. 

Taking over as receiver will not be an easy task. Crenshaw will have to unravel the mess that is there now. The receiver will have to face the fact money may have been stolen and deal with employees who weren’t paid. They will have to deal with the fact, which now seems clear, that Casa Ruby was out of compliance with the District Non-Profit Corporations Act. 

D.C. was an amazing place for me to come out and I did so after moving here in 1978.  As a political person I got involved with what was then the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which had just played a major role in electing Marion Barry as mayor. Over the years I got more and more involved in the LGBTQ community. I, along with Rick Rosendall, founded and incorporated the Foundation for all DC Families, the organization we set up to fight for marriage equality in D.C. We worked hard, raised funds and had Celinda Lake do the first major poll on the issue in D.C. We found the white community in D.C. was heavily in favor of marriage equality and the Black community was partially supportive based on age and religion. We recognized many of us who began the organization had white privilege, which made life easier for us. We never earned that privilege it was something society just awarded us. We worked hard to recruit a diverse board for the organization and involved the faith community in the fight as well. Then along with Sheila Alexander-Reid and Cornelius Baker we incorporated the Campaign for All DC Families as the 501(c)(4) to do the political work to secure marriage equality. We continued to raise some money for the organization and worked with HRC, which lent us staff and meeting space. We recruited new people. We won the fight working with Council member David Catania and the rest of the Council. Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the D.C. marriage equality bill and I still have one of the pens presented to me at the signing. 

White privilege made it easier for me to be out. Because of this over the years I supported groups like the Wanda Alston Foundation, and Casa Ruby, because there are so many members of the LGBTQ community who still struggle in the District, no matter how LGBTQ-friendly our laws are. We must all work to ensure no one falls behind due to homophobia, transphobia, racism, or sexism. Again, I will continue to support the services for the transgender community, which Casa Ruby provided, but don’t care what the organization providing them is called. 

The problem I have with Ruby Corado was compounded when I read in the Blade what she said at the virtual hearing disputing “the allegations, saying among other things, that claims that she was not in communication with the Casa Ruby board was a misconception.”

If Corado cares about the people Casa Ruby served, why is she in El Salvador? Who has she been in touch with — which board members, and will they confirm this? If she cared about the organization and people it served, and has done nothing wrong, why is she not here in the District fighting for the employees, calling a board meeting (if there is a board)? Non-profit boards hire executive directors and oversee their work. I don’t think Casa Ruby ever had a real ‘working’ board overseeing Corado’s work. We need to question and get affidavits from former ‘board’ members as to what they did and what they know about what Corado did.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Opinions

Supporting LGBTQ rights is good for business and the right thing to do

Equity and inclusion must be a corporate imperative

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Brad Baumoel is the Global Head of LGBT+ Affairs at JPMorgan Chase.

In communities across the United States, LGBTQ+ people and their families are facing a growing number of significant barriers to equal rights and protections. In 2022 alone, at least 30 states have introduced anti-LGBTQ+ bills, with a majority targeting transgender and non-binary youth, on top of continued anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and bias in various states across the country. Despite progress toward equity and inclusion, the LGBTQ+ community is increasingly struggling for equality and basic human rights.

I’m truly concerned for members of my community, given the impact these actions are having on our mental health and wellbeing. Several of my LGBTQ+ colleagues and colleagues with LGBTQ+ family members have expressed fear for themselves and their children. Some are scared their transgender child will be taken from them and placed in foster care. Others feel they might be personally prosecuted for seeking gender affirming care for their child. Many are worried they’ll need to move to a different state just so they can continue accessing essential forms of health care.

I feel lucky to work for a company that opposes discriminatory actions that could harm our employees, customers, and the communities where we do business, and has equally advanced policies, practices, and benefits to support our LGBTQ+ workforce. It comforts me to know my employer supports a society that serves all Americans, including the LGBTQ+ community. But not everyone has the same assurance when they go to work.  

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion must be a business imperative. Business leaders must use their voice to condemn the hate, bias, transphobia and homophobia that sadly exist in our communities. We also need businesses to take meaningful and measurable action in promoting and advancing inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community year-round, not just during Pride month. While it starts with inclusive benefits, policies and networks of support, this commitment requires businesses to lead with the values of acceptance and belonging in every decision they make. It’s only then that your LGBTQ+ employees, customers and communities will truly feel included and equal. 

Since the first LGBTQ+ Business Resource Group at JPMorgan Chase was created in the 1990s, many, like me, have worked hard to make our company a place where LGBTQ+ employees feel they can be their authentic selves when they come to work. Last year, we strengthened this commitment by creating the Office of LGBT+ Affairs, a full-time, dedicated team focused on advancing equity and inclusion for LGBTQ+ employees, customers, clients, and communities. It’s my sincere hope that we don’t see our efforts slowed down by attempts to threaten the rights of people for who they are, whom they love or how they identify.

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