The statistics are sobering. It is undeniable that LGBT people are disproportionately impacted by systemic violence as “41 percent of all transgender people questioned reported that they had attempted suicide, compared with a national estimated rate of 1.6 percent,” according to a study in American Bar Association Journal. When consider intersecting identities including race and gender, we find that violence only increases.
An op-ed in the Advocate also reminds us that “the average life expectancy of a black transgender woman is 35 years. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence programs reported that in 2013, 72 percent of anti-LGBT homicides were against trans women, 89 percent of whom were transgender women of color.” Despite an active BlackLivesMatter movement, not nearly enough attention has been paid to women who have lost their lives.
We have watched as men like Robert Downey Jr. or most recently hip hop artist Tyga, sensationalized in the media for relationships they have had with Trans women. Writer Janet Mock has spoken openly about the stigma applied to partners of Trans women, and offers this important insight:
"People's bodies, their attractions and sexualities, should not be policed or shamed. There are many kinds of women, as there are many kinds of men. And there's nothing shameful, laughable, or headline-worthy about that.”
The persistent narrative around the violence and stigma facing LGBT people and partners creates a culture of lovelessness. These stories not only eclipse relationships and families that are supportive, they also feed into negative one dimensional stereotypes. It creates a culture where our relationships are constructed as illicit and we are made to be ashamed of the people we are and we love. These attitudes contribute to violence and are internalized by our community in toxic ways.
In the midst of this kind of climate, it becomes increasingly important to counter the negative messaging with alternate narratives. I have watched over the past year where there are increasingly positive and diverse portrayals made by and for Queer & Trans communities of color.
Earlier this year, a coalition of individuals and organizations including my husband Tiq Milan, writer Darnell L. Moore, GLAAD and EBONY.com launched “This Is Luv” (#ThisIsLuv), a multi-media campaign highlighting affirming LGBT love in Black communities and families.
“I, along with countless other Black gay and transgender people, have an amazing support system in my family. Their voices are constantly drowned out by the pervading idea that there is no room for Black LGBT people within our own communities,” said Milan. “This February as we celebrate love and Black History Month, this campaign is a much needed recognition and examination of where love and Black LGBT identity intersect.”
Having visible, impactful Black celebrities across industries including former NBA Star Jason Collins, EJ Johnson (Son of NBA Great Magic Johnson), Mychal Denzel Smith (The Nation), and Miss Lawrence (Real Housewives of Atlanta, Fashion Queens) had a powerful impact for so many people to witness them expressing pride in their community and in their relationships.
Black communities are unfairly stigmatized as being more homophobic and transphobic than all other communities, while all LGBT people share stories of love and antagonism across cultural groups. This bias often ignores the ways that imperial and colonial forces have exported homophobia as well as the resiliency of our communities.
Recently in the capital city of Kampala, LGBT people and allies attended a Pride parade despite the damage done by American evangelicals. Months of planning in secret – given homosexuality still illegal in Uganda – organizers assert “Pride for me is resistance, persistence, and a celebration of being who we are in our country,” said Shawn. “Most importantly Pride Uganda 2015 was a victorious time for me … seeing all those people at all the events embrace their sexual orientations or gender identities. We were truly proud of who we are.”
These are just a few of the examples of Black LGBT led celebrations of love happening despite intersecting layers of antagonism from church, state and communities. With the emergence of localized and social media, our communities are finally able to have greater platforms to share our own representations.
Growing up, both Tiq and I had an absence of possibility models. The stigma created in culture and popular media are impossible to ignore both as individuals and for those who loved us. We have had our parents wonder if we would ever find loving healthy relationships as Black, Queer & Trans people. But once we started talking, we loved each other right away despite all the messages that told us it would be impossible. We married within 3 months and began fusing our collective work using our visibility as a tool to advocate for the civil rights for our communities.
We were invited by Danielle Moodie Mills to contribute to NBC’s “special series focusing on telling the stories of LGBTQ communities of color. The 'Love is Revolutionary' video series seeks to highlight the love stories of black transgender couples and discuss why for them, loving OUT loud as proud transgender and queer black people is a revolutionary act.”
You can take a look at the video here.
It was important for us to share our love story in a way that was proud and celebratory. We have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for each other both personally and professionally. We advocate for issues that are central to each other’s respective communities and support each other actively. We have never been each other’s secret and love each other out loud. We hope that by sharing the way we love each other, we can encourage others to openly express or feel affirmed in their love as a Black LGBTQ person.
For those of us who work in media, our goal is to not only to transform policy but change the hearts and minds of the people. Diverse representations of loving LGBT relationships work to shift the persistent negative public perception – but they also serve as a beacon to young LGBT folks facing bullying in school or having just been thrown on the street by their families that there is hope. In sharing our stories, we can provide possibility models for communities and families where we are loved and valued.
Kim Katrin Milan is a writer, multidisciplinary artist, activist, consultant, and educator. Milan is the co-founder and current executive director of The People Project, a movement of queer and trans folks of color and allies, committed to individual and community empowerment through alternative education, art activism and collaboration.