Welcome to The Tea, a newsletter from the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) to celebrate and uplift the lives and experiences of Black queer, non-binary, and TGNCI (trans, gender-nonconforming, and intersex) people in the United States and globally.
This past month, we’ve seen everything from Black LGBTQIA making history in politics, to upswings in anti-trans policies and state-sanctioned violence. The time of exploiting and harming Black queer and TGNCI folks is over—and the time to protect and celebrate the contributions of our communities is now.
In this month’s issue, we are uplifting one of the base-building queer organizers in the M4BL ecosystem; talking about what’s happening in Georgia prisons; holding space to acknowledge the passing of another one of our Black trans sisters, and putting you on to what we are vibing to this month. Thank you for reading!
During Black August, we talked about how Black queer and TGNCI folks are at the forefront of being harmed and silenced through extreme violence by our carceral system. This rampant culture of violence and punishment targets and causes the greatest harm to the most vulnerable communities. This is especially disheartening since Black queer and TGNCI people have extremely high interactions with law enforcement and experience patriarchal violence due to biases.
Recently, the Department of Justice announced that they are launching an extensive investigation of foul play in Georgia’s state prisons and jails. According to USA Today, “the department’s action expands on an existing federal inquiry started in 2016 that had been focused on the sexual abuse of LGBTQIA prisoners.”
Between the lack of mental health care, inhumane living conditions, and sexual harassment, abuse, and assault, Black queer and TGNCI folks who are incarcerated have had much higher rates of suicide, suicidal ideation, and self-harm.
Although this investigation is only a bandaid for a much larger issue regarding prisons in our country, this is a small step toward holding the Georgia Department of Corrections accountable and protecting the lives of our Black queer and TGNCI incarcerated fam.
Civil-rights activists paved the way for us in 1964 when they created Freedom Summer, which led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act and laid the foundation for the electoral-justice and political-organizing efforts of progressive organizations today. M4BL’s 2021 Freedom Summer campaign continues the fight for our dream of liberation and leverages our power to keep the momentum for change going in cities across the country, including Chicago, Dallas, Louisville, Atlanta, Detroit, Miami, and more.
Join us in celebrating the leadership of one of the fearless LGBTQIA organizers of Freedom Summer, Jae Shepherd (they/them).
Jae is a 28-year-old Black, queer, non-binary, messy work-in-progress who is passionate about the liberation and healing of all Black people, twerkin, and staying hydrated. Jae is the Abolition Organizer at Action St. Louis, a grassroots organization that seeks to build power for Black people in the St. Louis region. In this role, Jae leads the campaign to Close the Workhouse, a hellish jail in St. Louis. The campaign focuses on closing the local jail and reinvesting that money into communities impacted by over-policing and other forms of violence. Jae is also the lead organizer on a new campaign to defund the St. Louis, Missouri, Police Department. Jae freedom-dreams about the abolition of police and prisons, and building a world where Black people have the resources to not just survive but also thrive.
We asked Jae a few questions about being a Freedom Summer Fellow. Here is what they shared with us:
How does your identity most inform your organizing work?
I bring my Blackness, transness, and queerness everywhere I go and think about those individuals with similar intersecting identities and the ways that the carceral state impacts us in my organizing. Black trans and queer humans have access to more humanity and deep desire for closeness that allows me to develop deep intentional relationships with people, to build power.
What has been most impactful in being a part of Freedom Summer?
Taking part in the abolition training and hearing how the other Freedom Fellows wrestle with new ways of dealing with harm in our communities that rely on accountability, transform the harm-doer, and actually support survivors. I also loved hearing the other Freedom Fellows’ freedom dreams.
In your local power-building work as Abolition Organizer what are some challenges/obstacles that you have specifically observed in the Black queer and TGNCI community? And alternatively, what are some of the positive things you’ve seen happening in the recent years?
As the Abolition Organizer [at Action St. Louis], some challenges and obstacles that I have observed in the Black queer and TGNCI community are figuring out ways to deal with harm that has happened and within community in ways that don’t feel punitive but also come with real repercussions. Some of the positive things you’ve seen happening in the recent years are Black queer and TGNCI folks are winning. We are at the forefront of winning campaigns, winning elections, [and] leading powerful movements that are changing this region.
To learn more about Freedom Summer, click here.
Who are some amazing folks in the TGNCIQ community that you’d like to see featured in The Tea? Living or Ancestors. Well-known or Unsung.
It’s with a heavy heart that we share the news that Disaya Monaee Smith, a young Black trans woman from the suburbs of Chicago, was tragically murdered on September 6, 2021. At the time this was written, her brutal murder was the 36th recorded death of a trans/gender-nonconforming person this year, putting us on track for another one of the deadliest recorded years for Black and Latine trans folks in history.
There isn’t much information online about who Disaya was, but we are holding this space to honor her life, her identity, her humanness, and her right to be remembered. #sayhername
There is a direct and unfortunate correlation between the violence in the Black TGNCI community and the bills brought about to cause harm in those communities. This year continues to be one of the worst years for anti-trans bills in our country.
According to them, “as greater numbers of anti-trans bills have been introduced across more states within the last two years, more trans homicides have taken place in those states. Last year, 56 percent of trans homicides took place in states that attempted to pass anti-trans legislation.” This violence has disproportionately affected Black and Latinx TGNCI people.
The protection of the lives of Black trans people is an urgent matter and directly affects our collective freedom and liberation.
First, text PROTECT to 90975 + reply CALL to hear our short script and be connected with your state rep. Ask how they plan to support Black trans folks.
Next, visit the Vision for Black Lives to learn more about M4BL’s vision for a future that celebrates and defends Black queer and TGNCI folks.
This is What We Are Vibin’ To this month! Check out these dope queer and TGNCI folks from our community who are doing amazing things.
“Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations—a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader.”
The Death of Vivek Oji
Check out these articles and interviews we’ve been hype about!
Refinery29 | by: Eliza Huber
Elle Magazine | by: Quinci Legardye
What have you been vibin’ to this month? Let us know which Black TGNCIQ artists, books, movies, shows, etc., you have been feeling this month! We might feature them in future issues and credit you!
M4BL’S COMMITMENT TO BLACK QUEER LIBERATION
For decades, Black queer and TGNCI people and allies have fought tooth and nail to ensure that the experiences of the people in closest proximity to oppression are centered, and to work toward models whereby those who are most impacted are a part of leading, identifying solutions, setting priorities, creating policy agendas, and shifting narratives.
M4BL aspires to a Black queer feminist framework—organizing in communities nationwide to not only abolish state-sanctioned and patriarchal violence, but to guarantee that our movements are intersectional, inclusive, and rooted in “Black feminist and LGTBQ traditions and knowledge, through which people and groups see to bring their full selves into the process of dismantling systems.” (Charlene Carruthers, Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements)
M4BL is made up of a broad ecosystem of innovative movement-makers, narrative power-builders, and organizers fighting for the liberation of all Black lives. Every. Single. Day. Many of us identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI), and are now—and historically, have been—at the forefront of Black social movements. That is because Black queer and trans communities are among some of the most vulnerable and constantly “under attack.”
Although we are not always successful, M4BL strengthens the movement to build Black power by building narrative power for the stories of Black queer and TGNCI (trans, gender-nonconforming, and intersex) people; by organizing under Black queer and TGNCI leadership; by advocating for Black queer and TGNCI political candidates who share our values; and by unapologetically centering Black queer and TGNCI communities in our day-to-day power-building efforts.
We believe there is no Movement for Black Lives without Black queer and trans power.