By: Camellia Lee
Gender and sexual diversity is ancient and global, not new. The escalating bigotry on trans and non-binary youth are connected to the dog-whistle racism of campaigns against critical race theory. To consolidate political power in the wake of the failed January 6 coup, the far right is targeting Black history and stoking bigotry against gender and sexual minorities. Children and schools are in the crosshairs of a legislative and attack on bodily autonomy with a long history, and Black LGBTQ+ youth are particularly impacted. This blog focuses on the intersectional experiences of Black LGBTQ+ youth in particular because their experiences are erased when racism is artificially separated from homophobia and transphobia.
Educators of conscience must continue to teach accurate history and support marginalized students. Denying children access to accurate history, bodily autonomy and self-determination harms all youth. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote, “When there are enough books available that can act as both windows and mirrors for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and similarities, because together they are what make us all human.”
Teaching for Black freedom is fundamental to equity for all identities
The late bell hooks asserted, “The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy.” The history and theory of the Black radical tradition offer learners the tools to understand the circumstances of their lived experiences, and strategize effective change. As Lisa Delpit wrote, “Issues of power are enacted in classrooms [and]… If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier.”
The rules of power in anti-Blackness, the operating system for modernity, are always gendered and sexualized. Sylvia Wynter, W.E.B. DuBois, and other Black scholars have identified anti-Blackness as the organizing principle of the modern world system. Enlightenment thinkers defined humanity explicitly through whiteness and in opposition to Blackness, creating the ideological infrastructure for chattel slavery and racial capitalism. Afro-Pessimist scholars such as Frank B. Wilderson III have articulated that slavery is the central antagonism of modern society, and Hortense Spillers revealed an “American Grammar” of race and gender that entangles Black women. Moya Bailey and Trudy of Gradient Lair gave name to misogynoir, the anti-Black gendered racism that Black women experience. Calvin Warren theorized the profound dehumanization of Black queer (more on the reclaimed slur here) people as onticide. Black LGBTQ+ people have always been part of movements for freedom. Further, white supremacists have long used sexualized, gendered tropes of Black people to incite anti-Black violence.
Those who say that the accurate recounting of documented history teaches white children to feel bad about themselves reveal an implicit anti-Blackness. While Black students are in danger of literal death – Black children are 6 times more likely to be murdered by police – white children’s emotional state takes precedence. Learning about the reality of racial violence is not optional for Black children, as Caron LeNoir points out. “They say, ‘Our children are too young to hear about racism.’ Who is our children?” This white centering approach doesn’t even serve the children it’s purported to protect, demonstrating a belief in young people’s inherent fragility and incapacity to deal with reality.
For children with marginalized gender and sexual identities, the stakes are high. The mother of a trans child shares, “Just the act of writing anti-trans bills, holding hearings and later casting votes sends a direct message to them: “You aren’t real to us. We don’t believe you when you tell us who you are. Your existence, even on a baseball field or basketball court, is dangerous to the other kids around you. We are OK if you feel lonely, isolated and unwelcome. We are willing to take away even the smallest acts of inclusion toward you because we have power and you don’t.”” Suicide rates for LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately elevated in relation to their cisgender, heterosexual peers. Educators can make a difference: chosen name use is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior among transgender youth.
Margins to the center
From the margins to the center, all learners benefit in an equitable learning environment. The Combahee River Collective affirmed that “the major systems of oppression are interlocking [and]… the synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives… If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”
Black LGBTQ+ youth are living in the crossfire of assaults on their embodied identities while trying to navigate an education system they are mandated to attend. Book bans and policies consistently target both Black and LGBTQ+ voices and choices. Educators have a mandate to protect these youth from harm (schedule a quick call with AdaptiveX for an equity landscape analysis), not only for the most vulnerable but for all learners. Emily Style wrote, “It is limiting and inaccurate to only educate our children provincially when they must live their lives in a global context, facing vast differences and awesome similarities.”
The right is using social media, the courts and school board meetings to impose a reactionary politics of harm upon multiply marginalized youth. Those who choose solidarity do risk backlash. However, passivity is neither ethical nor in the interests of any of the children we serve. As Martin Niemöller wrote,
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Start here to show up for Black and LGBTQ+ youth
Books Unbanned: youth anywhere can receive a Brooklyn Public Library card to access censored audiobooks and ebooks
Keep an eye on legislation that could come to your district and support your students in preparing
Email supportive messages to email@example.com
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- Families Sue Alabama Over Felony Ban on Gender-Affirming Care for Transgender Adolescents
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- Texas health providers are suspending gender-affirming care for teens in response to GOP efforts
- Texas Parents of Trans Kids Stuck in Legal ‘Limbo’
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