Shortly after the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, a funny thing happened. Well, lots of things happened that caused many around the US to question what their role was in combatting not just police brutality, but also the impacts of racism as a whole. One such instance was the curious decision of one Gina Mamone, owner of Riot Grrrl Ink, the world's largest queer record label. After encouraging staff to take time as they needed to protest and make their own noise about racialized injustice, she made a major decision that no one seems to be talking about. After meditating on what role a large, white-led organization in the queer community could do to be in solidarity with black queer people, she decided what she could offer, is rather than adding more folks to her roster that were of color, why not actually defer to the leadership of trans & queer folks of color in the art scene? Riot Grrrl Ink parked it's website in November and in December announced its endorsement of a tqpoc run organization called awQward.
I started awQward to support the creative work and leadership of trans & queer people of color late last year. As a black trans poet, I found myself having to validate the right of my art to exist outside of mutlicultural themed events when potential venues would tell me things like "Well, our African American History month is already filled" or, "You would be perfect for Trans Day of Remembrance!" What about the rest of the year? Was my work not important? Did my identity and what I brought to the table only get consideration when I was "in season"? I couldn't accept that. Not for myself, and not when I knowingly come from a brilliant community filled with talented artists and speakers that deserve a right to make a living wage off their contributions but are always pitted against white and/or cisgender counterparts that society has deemed more valuable. I was sick of watching institutions claim broke when my brown body offered services, but would find triple and quadruple amounts of money to pay a white and/or cisgender artist. I wanted to disrupt the systemic ways trans & queer artists of color are ignored.
In mid December, I received an email from Mamone and wasn't sure what to make of it. Why would a white person with a large business that in many ways could view me as future competition, want to support us? I have done numerous lectures and workshops on the need for solidarity, but in that moment I had never felt like I truly experienced it...just bits and pieces on some broken pathway to a mythological justice. Suddenly, here I was talking to someone who was an expert in her field (now my field), that wanted to make sure I had the support I needed. In the weeks that followed, we spent hours talking about radical capitalism, legal supports, benefits for my employees and what my 10 year financial goals are for every artist on our roster. This felt like a revolutionary moment.
When social media blew up after the Wilson decision, LGBTQ orgs of all sizes expressed their dismay and shook their heads. They even penned frustrated letters about the atrocities and implications of allowing government employees to kill unarmed black people without accountability. What about the black and brown people that are alive now? What are mainstream LGBTQ organizations doing now that actually disrupts systems of privilege in regards to race? As many posted their one or two statements regarding this profound moment in history some of their constituents pushed back. I remember scrolling through the HRC's facebook page after they made a statement about the grand jury decision and watched as their followers threatened not to donate anymore, barked at others to stop supporting them and expressed their disapproval with the most dismissive and racist of language. The question then becomes, what have organizations like the HRC and other mainstream LGBTQ orgs been communicating about race all year round that made people feel like it was okay for them to be that racist in public? I wrote an article before this revelation that spoke to why I felt mainstream LGBTQ organizations are extremely invested in white supremacy and the continuation of most anti-LGBTQ discrimination (spoiler alert: That's because the bulk of it hits people of color, trans women, and poor folks the most -demographics that many orgs at that level know very little about directly besides their monthly donor asks). What Riot Grrrl Ink offered me, was an opportunity to believe in true reconciliation and solidarity. I had no weapons pointed at Mamone. I did not hunt her down at a fancy gathering and plead my case. I did what I was supposed to do; I created an organization that filled a need and she did her part by using her privilege to dismantle a system that would always prioritize an agency like hers over anything I could put together.
When Riot Grrrl Ink sent out a letter to thousands of their constituents and queer media professionals about this transition, I expected a lot. I expected other white queer media outlets and mainstream organizations to ponder for a moment what their next steps might be. I didn't think there would be anyone signing up to implode their organization, but I did expect someone would take on the responsibility of sharing the importance of a story like this when our country is so publicly reeling from the toll of racial inequality. We as members of this community need to think about how we create and sustain intersectional movements that intentionally work against oppression. Instead, after that letter went out, we got mostly silence.
The fact that an organization with a roster of 200 people can find a way to concretely analyze their privilege sets a standard. I want to believe in a world where we do not shy away from conversations about racial justice. I want to exist aside a vibrant queer community that says yes, we will deal with racial inequity and white supremacy in honest and critical ways. This experience with Riot Grrrl Ink and awQward has taught me that the accountability I have been asking for is possible, so I refuse to let this moment of solidarity go unrecognized. Let this serve as one model out of countless other possibilities. How will other organizations hold themselves accountable to the leadership and expertise of trans & queer people of color as we are forced to endure the white supremacy of an LGBTQ movement that has been more than okay erasing us rather than making room.