Calling Out Privilege in the HIV and LGBTQ Movement Is Not Blasphemy

Calling Out Privilege in the HIV and LGBTQ Movement Is Not Blasphemy

This year’s Pride activities around the country undoubtedly took a more political and activist turn under President Trump, with protests and resistance marches replacing or supplanting the traditional parades. But like the Women’s March that preceded it, Pride was marked by a growing number of disruptions from its own community members, as dissenting voices protested andquestioned the direction taken by Pride events while others deplored such public displays of conflict within the movement.
 
As a chorus of voices call for unity in the face of renewed political threats under the new administration, dissent and critique are being treated as counterproductive at best and irresponsible at worst. But at the core of this infighting is a historic wound from the way that power has been distributed in the mainstream LGBTQ movement, and we must take it seriously. Masking the movement’s long-standing racial, gender, and economic inequalities won’t give us unity. Accepting and addressing these difficult truths will.
 
At the heart of these tensions is the tendency all movements have to mimic and recreate our society’s existing power structures. Movements have always tended to center the communities who are deemed the “safest” — who are middle-class and privileged in most ways except for the single issue at hand, such as being LGBTQ, a woman, a person of color, etc. This has resulted in a sort of social justice movement rising from within and disrupting the mainstream approach. The Women’s March, for example, sparked criticism over the lack of representation of women of color, trans women, and sex workers, and debates on whether pro-life groups should be able to join the march. But through the ashes of discord rose a historic, worldwide movement organized and led by women of color who pushed forward an intersectional agenda that mainstream feminists had long ignored.
 
That’s why when movements get “called out” or disrupted from the inside, we need to listen. Just like a pain in your own body warns you that something is wrong, the movement is too being warned. Because what is called “infighting” is often historic pain that has reached a boiling point. It’s a rejection of the idea that rights will “trickle down” from people who hold the most privilege in a movement to those who hold the least. In the end, conflict, discourse, and disruption are all a necessary part of creating a movement that has the capacity to fight for the dignity, worth, and rights of everyone.
 
And if there’s one thing that maintains or challenges existing power structures, it’s money. Behind the calls for a more inclusive LGBTQ movement is a critique of who receives funding and who doesn’t. There is a fundamental imbalance in the way individuals, corporations, and philanthropic organizations have been directing their resources toward social change for LGBTQ people. Right now, philanthropic giving often contributes to maintaining a privileged class within the LGBTQ movement. Much of the resources go to groups and initiatives that are already visible and “polished,” while grassroots work gets left behind.
 
For two decades, Third Wave Fund has been committed to redistributing wealth so that communities who are most impacted receive the bulk of the resources that are out there, not the least. As a small community fund, we’ve distributed over $3.3 million since our inception toward nearly 300 organizations led by and for young women, trans, gender-nonconforming, and queer people of color. With our support, these fearless activists lead actions against LGBTQ discrimination, police brutality, the harassment of immigrants, and attacks on reproductive rights. They are also fostering a new generation of young activists for whom intersectionality is not an abstract concept but the lived experience of people who have faced compounded discrimination because of their sexuality, race, ability, gender, and immigration status.
 
But we can’t do this work on our own. Since the election of Donald Trump, Third Wave has received four times the number of requests for funds toward communities in crisis. Fourteen transgender people, mostly trans women of color, have been murdered just this year, and killings of black people, including women, continue to make the headlines. We need individuals, companies, and philanthropic organizations to rethink how they perceive social change, get their hands dirty, and transfer the decision-making power to those who are leading the fight for justice every day.
 
RYE YOUNG is a trans activist and executive director of Third Wave Fund, the only activist fund in the United States to be led by and for women of color, intersex, queer, and trans folks under 35 years old.

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