This week, Mamas of Color Rising sent the following letter to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, thanking them for their decision to make a rules change that adds Licensed Midwives as health care providers under Texas Medicaid. For more than a year, they partnered with Texans For Midwifery to collect petition signatures asking HHSC to make the change.
Once the new rules goes into effect, pregnant women are receive health insurance through Texas Medicaid will be able to choose a Licensed Midwife for their prenatal and labor/delivery care. Mamas of Color Rising believes that all women should have equal access to the full spectrum of choices about the care they receive when they are pregnant, when delivering, and postnatally. That Licensed Midwives will now be able to serve pregnant women receiving Medicaid benefits is an important victory toward full and equal access.
See their letter here:
Dear Mr. Millwee,
Mamas of Color Rising, an Austin-based grassroots organization of working class and poor mothers of color, would like to congratulate you and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for your decision to add Licensed Midwives as a category of health care provider under the state
Medicaid plan. By making this change, the goals of our organization, which include increasing access for poor women of color and their families to basic needs like food, housing, healthcare, quality education and safety, are closer to becoming a reality.
For the past two years our focus has been our Birth Justice Campaign. Through this campaign we aim to make options like midwifery care, homebirth, and birth companion (doula) support, options which currently are most available to those who have the resources to pay for them, equally accessible to poor women of color in our community. We believe that equity in birthing options is both a matter of social justice and empowerment for birthing women, such access also leads to improved pre-natal, post-natal, and maternal outcomes for mothers and babies that can have long-lasting positives effects. (See Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the U.S. by Amnesty International). In addition to working with Texans for Midwifery in advancing this rules change, our Birth Justice Campaign also includes a partnership with local WIC offices to offer a free pre-natal clinic where services will be delivered by volunteer midwives (CPM’s and CNM’s )and volunteer birth companions who were trained in our Sankofa Birth Companion Project. With each element of this campaign we are working to educate the public at large about the barriers to access the poor women of color face when they become pregnant, as well as educating poor women of color about their birthing rights and options in here in Austin.
By making it possible for Licensed Midwives to receive reimbursement for their services and for attending out of hospital births, HHSC is opening a new door to empowering Medicaid recipients to choose the type of pre-natal, labor/delivery, and post-natal care they receive. On behalf of our organization and the women and families that we serve, we thank you.
Mamas of Color Rising considers itself a stakeholder in issues of rulemaking proceedings that involve maternal or child care in the Medicaid or CHIP program, including any rulemakings involving midwives and/or maternity care, particularly the upcoming rulemaking procedure for adding Licensed Midwives as a type of Medicaid provider and Medicaid payment for birth centers. We request to be added to the agencies list of stakeholders for future with the contact information below.
Mamas of Color Rising
A great discussion of the history of community-based responses to violence!
by Andrea J. Ritchie
As we celebrate National Coming Out Day – a day to stand up for who we are, honor our individual and collective power, and stand up for what we believe in – dozens of LGBT groups are “coming out” against a federal program that places thousands of LGBTQ people and communities at risk of violence and violations of our human rights.
The Secure Communities Program – dubbed “S-Comm” because there is nothing secure about it – dramatically widens the immigration enforcement dragnet by sweeping everyone fingerprinted by local police into the sights of immigration authorities. While there are already immigration agents stationed in many of the country’s jails to check the immigration status of anyone detained while awaiting trial or sentenced after conviction of a crime, by requiring that all fingerprints taken at the point of arrest be forwarded to immigration authorities, S-Comm dramatically increases the number of people subject to scrutiny of their immigration status. Under S-Comm, anyone arrested and fingerprinted by police – regardless of whether the charges against them are ultimately dropped, found to be baseless, or dispensed with through community service or a diversion program – could potentially be placed in deportation proceedings, regardless of whether they were profiled, arrested without any basis whatsoever, or picked up on a minor offense.
The program is coming under increasing attack from all quarters – not only by immigrant rights advocates, but also law enforcement agents and politicians. The governors of Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts all decided to pull out of the program, only to be told they couldn’t when the federal government took all pretense of consent out of the picture and made the program mandatory. After some minor adjustments, the administration set up a task force to assess and address concerns with the program. The task force’s listening tour was met with growing criticism, protests, and walk-outs. Ultimately, a number of task force members resigned prior to the release of the final report, including a former Sacramento Chief of Police. At the same time the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) released a report highlighting the devastating impacts the program has already had on immigrants across the country.
As I was speaking at the recent Lavender Law conference about the issues raised by Queer (In)justice, someone said “there was time when we would be arrested just for being who we are.” The sad truth is that all too many of us continue to be arrested just for being who we are – particularly if we are poor, of color, young or immigrants in addition to being LGBT or Q. Under S-Comm, arrests based on persistent, pervasive and deeply rooted perceptions of LGBTQ people as inherently disorderly, sexually deviant, and violent will be more likely to lead to immigration detention and deportation for LGBTQ immigrants.
As documented in Queer (In)Justice, LGBTQ people, and particularly LGBTQ people of color, immigrants and young people, continue to be profiled by police at alarming rates on a daily basis as more likely to be engaged in “lewd conduct,” “loitering for the purposes of prostitution” and other sexual offenses – often without any basis beyond gender nonconforming appearance or expression. LGBTQ people, communities and establishments continued to be targets of discriminatory enforcement efforts. Thousands of LGBTQ youth who live on the streets because they have been pushed out of or runaway from their homes or foster care programs are at risk of arrest every day for minor offenses such as turnstile jumping or sleeping on a train because there is nowhere else safe for them to sleep at night. These are the members of our communities for whom the criminalization of LGBTQ people and the injustices of the criminal legal system will only be compounded by programs such as S-Comm.
I need look no further than my own client files to put faces on the people in our communities who will be affected by S-Comm: a Latino gay man falsely arrested for “lewd conduct” based on a police officer’s entirely false accusation that he inexplicably dropped his pants as he took a walk in a park near his home in Queens; a homeless gay man who may in fact have been looking for some anonymous companionship in a remote area of Central Park where no one but the officer who arrested him was present, while heterosexual couples make out freely on the Great Lawn; a Latina transgender woman profiled as being engaged in prostitution as she walked to the store; a homeless LGBTQ teen arrested for “loitering”; a lesbian immigrant who was arrested when the police were called to respond to violence against her, who now lives in fear that the next time they come she will be arrested again. All were released from police custody shortly after arrest and never went to jail. Under S-Comm, because fingerprints taken from them at the police precinct would be forwarded directly to ICE, those among them who also happen to be undocumented would immediately find themselves in the cross hairs of immigration enforcement, even as the original charges against them were dismissed.
Concerns about the consequences of S-Comm for LGBTQ people go far beyond what will happen once they are deported – homophobia, transphobia, violence, and denial of basic needs await them in U.S. immigration detention facilities. Christina Madrazo, a Mexican transgender woman, was raped by a guard at the Krome Immigration Detention Center in 2000. Antonio O., a gay man and legal permanent resident from El Salvador arrested on a minor drug offense in 2007 was repeatedly denied HIV medication at an ICE processing center. Victoria Arellano, a Latina transgender woman held at the same facility, ultimately died shackled to her bed after being denied appropriate HIV/AIDS medication and treatment over an extended period of time.
S-Comm is clearly an LGBTQ issue.
The over 60 signatories to the call from LGBT organizations for an immediate end to the program feature groups large and small, national and local. They include the nation’s oldest anti-violence program, Community United Against Violence in San Francisco, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, along with Gay Straight Alliances, campus-based Outlaw groups, statewide LGBT equality coalitions, the Center for Constitutional Rights, legal advocacy programs, organizations working with homeless LGBTQ youth, and grassroots groups working on a range of issues from supporting LGBTQ people in prisons to building safer communities for LGBTQ people.
It’s time for more LGBTQ groups and advocates to follow their lead and join the chorus of voices speaking out against S-Comm, and the license to profile, detain and deport LGBTQ people it creates. Come out against S-Comm, sign onto the statement, and let’s put our energies, advocacy, and political capital behind our signatures. S-Comm is one of my top 6 LGBT Equality issues – I hope you’ll make it one of yours.
Sign the LGBTQ letter to the White House calling for an end to S-Comm. Click here.
Andrea Ritchie is a police misconduct attorney and organizer in New York City. She co-coordinates Streetwise and Safe (SAS) and is co-author, along with Joey L. Mogul and Kay Whitlock, of Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Beacon Press 2011). She is also a former member of INCITE! National.
We want to thank all of you for sustaining the work of INCITE! through your organizing, vision and support. Under the guise of national security, our communities, bodies and lives are increasingly threatened with escalating state violence and surveillance that targets, blames and shames women, girls, trans and gender non-conforming people of color. With an increase of global natural disasters and the rise of economic crisis (while our social systems are being gutted), it is critical for us to lift up our analyses, voices and strategies that seek to transform conditions, confront systemic oppression and ensure our collective safety and survival. In celebration of over a decade of INCITE! and in light of a new decade having begun, we want to honor your work and vision. Together we are shaping a new collective vision for our movements and communities!
INCITE! Chapters and Affiliates have been busy raising our resilient voices for the safety and lives of our communities! The INCITE! LA Chapter organized youth leadership programs, film nights, campaigns against the racist legislation of Arizona SB 1070 and more. Two INCITE! Affiliates, Young Women United (YWU) and Mamas of Color Rising, continue to build together for access to healthcare and birthing options throughout Texas and New Mexico, traveling to meet and share strategy and community around their shared work and offer free Certified Birth Companion (Doula) trainings to women of color. Women’s Health & Justice Initiative of New Orleans released a critical statement, ‘Stereotypes, Myths, & Criminalizing Policies: Regulating the Lives of Poor Women’ and continue to organize for the health and safety of women and trans people of color in New Orleans and the global south. INCITE! Affiliate Young Women’s Empowerment Project released a truthtelling participatory action report, “Girls do what they have to do to survive: Methods used by girls in the sex trade and street economy to fight back and heal” and launched the “Street Youth Rise Up” campaign in Chicago, along with a recent march and speak-out. The INCITE! Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Chapter organized self defense community classes, and the INCITE! Denver Chapter continues to organize around community accountability and collective well-being, holding a day of workshops on wellness & resiliency as part of their chapter work and publishing a powerful statement on hate crime laws and violence against queer and trans people of color.
For the last 5 years, the INCITE! network has hosted a track at the Allied Media Conference (AMC), bringing INCITE! members, analysis and organizing models to this national movement-building space, and developing new media-based organizing practices with our allies there.
There is so much more to share, and so much more on the way. We hope you’ll share your stories and local work with the wider network through our blog and newsletter!
THE INCITE! NATIONAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITIES
Some people have asked, “Who and what is the INCITE! National Collective?” To put it simply, we are a small collective of volunteers that does infrastructural maintenance to support the INCITE! National Network. This includes tending to email accounts and list-servs, managing finances, producing newsletters, websites, and merchandise, and tracking book orders and sales. We often connect and coordinate with INCITE! Chapters and Affiliates, make some decisions about national gatherings and collaborations, and occasionally work on analysis and written statements about issues and events.
Through a long-term listening process that involved surveys, in-person meet-ups and one-on-one interviews, we developed a “Working Group” structure to support collaboration across the chapters, affiliates and individual members in the INCITE! Network. A Working Group may be infrastructural or issue-based. Members can start issue-based Working Groups that reflect leadership from across the network; they do not need to be hosted by the National Collective but should commit to sharing info with the network through the website and blog. Any that are infrastructural should be hosted by the National Collective. Currently there are two of these infrastructural Working Groups in the network:
- The Media and Communications Working Group is comprised of National Collective members, affiliates, chapters, and allies. This working group is building a new website and other media tools to share and give visibility to the amazing practices, strategies and resources of our network. Members are working to decentralize and help the INCITE network become more transparent and horizontal in its communication practices. We believe it is necessary for members of our network to build and maintain our own online communications infrastructure. Part of this includes building a radical tech support community, teaching and learning digital skills, and creating an online space for the network to connect, all through a collaborative, cross-geographical process. The Media Working Group has met twice for in-person skillshares and plans to organize more.
- The Grassroots Fundraising Working Group is building grassroots fundraising strategies to raise funds towards more potential gatherings of membership to cross-share skills, ideas and leadership, and to help provide material support for local Chapter and Affiliate work. We see the action of raising monies and sharing resources — from our political strategies to opening our homes to each other — as a political practice that transforms how we support each other, leverage resources and build our sustainability for the long term. Through grassroots fundraising, we seek to build our collective capacity, wealth of knowledge and resources for, by and with each other.
In addition, throughout the next year you can expect these things from the National Collective: more brilliance and collaboration on the blog; a new interactive website; an INCITE! Membership Guide; a new INCITE! Values Statement; a Resource & Resiliency Toolkit including fundraising ideas and tools; and a Structure Handbook to help explain how INCITE! as a network is organized. We will also be reaching out to you to build more collaborative leadership & skills-sharing within the INCITE! network and are in the last stages of producing an INCITE! chapter & affiliate toolkit, which is a compilation of all the most useful tools for starting and sustaining INCITE! organizing from across our network.
Thank you for being INCITE! and for trusting us and yourselves with this work. This is a love letter of liberation to all of you. As the National Collective, we are here to support you, the Chapters, Affiliates, and other allies who are the heart of what INCITE! does. We want to lift you up and give you deepest gratitude and appreciation for the vital work you are doing for our collective survival.
In Vision & Legacy,
Jenny, Cara, Emi, Karla, and Kiri
Originally published at Kenyon Farrow’s blog; republished with permission.
In Defense of Brontez—and the Rest of Us Too Proud or Too Trashy to Go Down Without a Fight
by Kenyon Farrow
Let me first state that there is no pretense of objectivity or an emotional distance here for several reasons.
One, Brontez Purnell is a very close friend of mine.
Two, this issue cuts at the core of some thoughts and problems I have with existing frameworks of victim, and the demands made on victims of violence to behave (past or present behaviors) in a fashion acceptable to others in order to claim one has been victimized; the role of police and questions of political alignments and authenticity; and the demands on victims to recall and script every fact in exactly the right chronology in order to be seen as credible.
Last week, I received a phone call from Brontez—again, close friend and musician/dancer/writer who lives in Oakland, California. It was the day after he and friend/bandmate Adal had left the Paradiso nightclub when two Black men with some Caribbean accent began harassing them as they left the club. Adal is not queer, but the two men, according to Brontez, assumed that they were a couple, and began calling them “batty boy” and other epithets. Finally, they made the statement, “if we were at home you’d be dead by now.”
Brontez, clearly enraged, went the fuck off. After more words were exchanged, and Brontez says he spit at the car the men were in, and then he was punched in the face. Brontez says he then hit the man’s car with his bicycle lock and they assaulted Brontez and Adal (who’s face was broken in five places). The police were called but no arrests have been made.
After talking to Brontez about the attack—I read an article in the Bay Citizen, followed by a pretty vigorous debate in the comments section. The debate mostly sparked by comments made by Kevin Bynes, who is known for his work in HIV prevention for Black gay men. Bynes, a bay area resident said he witnessed the incident nearby (and I know of Bynes through my own work in HIV prevention), and that Brontez was lying about the details of the incident noting:
I’m sorry I have to tell the truth because I live in this area and saw the entire incident. The so called victim rode around on his bike yelling at the two guys in the black SUV repeatedly and it wasn’t until the so-called victim spit on the driver and tried to break his window with his bike lock that the two accused “gay bashers” reacted by chasing the guy away. This man TOTALLY provoked this situation and initiated the violence. He took the first swing, spit in the man’s face and tried to damage his car. I’m a gay man who lives in this area and the club they were leaving used to be a gay club that was there for 20 + years and the area is VERY safe for gay people. That was NOT a gay bashing and I think it is dangerous for us to suggest that everytime a gay person gets into a fight its a gay bashing. The guy that is being called a victim really harrassed these guys and they did not attack him because he was gay they acted in self defense. In fact the only gay slurs that I heard came from the victim. I’m so sorry that I didn’t speak to the police this morning.
To which Brontez responded:
Yo, this is Brontez. You SADDEN me Mr. Bynes (whoever you are). We we’re unlocking our bikes and these guys stared harassing us. How did you see “everything”? It was only us four outside in the beginning! You act like we just saw these dudes and went in on them and thats a lie. Ive attended the Paradiso since it was Cabel’s Reef and have NEVER had anything like this happen. Me cursing, and yelling at them is true like after someone threatens you with VIOLENCE who wouldn’t? Sorry im NOT the type of girl whos gonna cross her legs and act fucking nice after some jock tells me im “at the wrong club” two blocks from my own fucking house! FUCK YEAH I YELLED BACK AT THEM. If your such a sensible homosexual why didnt you HELP US when these guys were fucking with us? And also my bandmate who was sitting on the sidelines got his face broken and we did NOTHING to warrant that. WE WERE THE VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE, verbal and otherwise. I threw my bike lock AFTER they punched me and Adal (who wouldn’t?) I used this tactic to pause them long enough to get their plate number. You call someone a “batty boy” threaten them with violence and then hit someone that didnt provoke you YES THAT IS A HATE CRIME. I was REACTING to being fucked with. How dare you?
My problem here is not that Bynes disagrees with Purnell’s timeline of the events or that he was “disgusted and ashamed” by Brontez’ behavior.
First, Brontez and Adal both say that the men had been saying shit to them from jump, for which Bynes (in my opinion) was likely out of earshot or just didn’t hear. Brontez is just not the type, drunk or not, to start a fight with two other men for no reason, having been out in San Fran, Oakland, and all over NYC with Mr. Purnell over the years of our relationship—even where it is clear that Adal was trying to convince Brontez to let it slide. But as Brontez himself said, and I very much believe, he wasn’t going to just let that shit slide. Brontez actually states in the article what Bynes re-asserts in his comment—he didn’t expect to be threatened with violence at a place he’d frequented for years (both men live in the neighborhood where this incident took place), so I am not sure why Bynes re-states this point in his comment—unless he flat out does not believe anything at all transpired to make Brontez angry in the first place (The Bay Citizen published a second story where Adal corroborates Brontez’s assertion that the men started harassing them first). Bynes’ assertion that the club used to be a queer space but is still frequented by queers seems to ignore the realities many of us know from experience. Many of us have been at “the club” in any city USA that used to be a queer bar, and the straights who then take it over act brand fucking new and further marginalize queers who continue to go there. And since when did neighborhoods or establishments with lots of LGBT people mean they were free from homo/transphobic violence? That doesn’t make any kind of sense.
So the question for me here, and where I vehemently disagree with Bynes, is how one defines “provocation” and who judges what then is the socially acceptable response. I tend to agree with Brontez. Too often people who are targeted for violence have to have their motivations and their recollection of all the “facts” or chronology of all the events hyper-scrutinized beyond recognition if they at all do anything other than lay down and take the abuse (or in the case of sexual assault, you’re accused of lying if you don’t have any physical evidence that you fought back, or you choose to try to still (and steel) yourself to try to avoid further violence, or are simply in a state of shock). And what is more true than not, most of us, in some way, respond verbally or physically fight back.
I think Brontez was enraged by the situation and responded accordingly. But rage, as bell hooks once stated, is an appropriate response to oppression. I actually have never seen Brontez angry to the point of fighting the way he clearly must have been that night. But any of us, caught at the right place at the wrong time, may have responded similarly. People get tired of this bullshit. I am tired of it. I have had people hurl similar epithets and make threats to me. One day I may walk away. Another day, I walk right into that fire. Once, similar to what happened to Brontez—two Black men started with me, but when I didn’t run or back down, they punched my non-black friend instead—who once they engaged, thought was going to be an easier target. So I know what it means to reach that point where you say to yourself, Fuck it. I don’t give a fuck what happens today. I am not going to be disrespected and let you walk away from here thinking that shit is OK to do. Not now.
That’s what happened to Chrishaun McDonald, a Black transwoman in Minneapolis currently on trial for murder. She was outside one evening this past spring when she and some friends were approached by a white man who hurled both racist and transphobic remarks. I don’t know who threw the first blow, but that man was stabbed (many say not by Chrishaun) and is dead. I don’t celebrate his death and yes those trans women could have done a million things to try to get away from him. But maybe they were tired of running, or were so bold as to think they didn’t have a reason to run.
I am reminded of Sakia Gunn, when she told a man to leave her friends alone—they were lesbians. I don’t know if she kicked his car, or flipped him the finger. I don’t know if she told him he had a dick smaller than hers, called him a faggot or some other name to push his buttons. But he did what patriarchal men do—he assumed it was his right and Christian civic duty to accost them, and “check” them for being “out of hand.” He got out of the car. She, or one of her friends, may have punched him first. She may have spit in his face. But he killed her. Was that justified? Was she “at fault” for provoking him? Should she have collected her friends and run back into Newark Penn Station? She could have done any of those things, but maybe, even at 15 years old, she decided she was tired of running, or it never occurred to her to run.
I think of the New Jersey 4—originally the group of seven—young Black lesbians also from Newark who one night in a “gay friendly” part of town, NYC’s West Village, were walking and a man made a disparaging comment about them being lesbians, and a fight ensued, with the man being stabbed, which he later described as “a hate crime against a straight man.” They could have went to the other side of the street. They could have decided to leave the Village and go home. They could have quoted Bible passages at him. But they didn’t. I don’t know if one of them struck him first. Nor do I care.
I respect these young women for, despite the enormous consequences that none of them could forsee, making a choice to not live in a world where they could be denigrated for being lesbians, bisexuals, aggressives (AGs), queers or however they think of their identities. And they, like Brontez, don’t present as “victims” in the way our society constructs, because they didn’t just let that shit go. They didn’t run. They saw the danger, decided to move towards it and do what it was trying to do to them, even if it meant they might not win. The “behavior,” like Brontez’s was not befitting of any victim—most people in the moment are resisting being a passive victim (and this is not to also say that people who choose not to fight back in certain moments are less than heroic, nor am I glorifying violent retribution). But it is to say that I think anyone who tries to condemn someone for not allowing themselves to be intimidated by people, especially in this case who are saying if they were a few thousand miles away they’d just as soon kill you for simply existing. I don’t know how I’d react.
And if we’re going to claim that we don’t want to see more Black men going to prison potentially, I totally agree, but if that’s your position then it means that we have to find ways to help and de-escalate situations, even if you think someone is in the wrong and not wait till after cops are called to raise judgement about whether someone exhibited exemplary model citizen behavior in the midst of being threatened. Also, I think that those of us who think critically about calling the police (because of the nature of policing and the prison industrial complex as an anti-Black project) have to be clear that we do not begin to use this as a reason to excuse violence, or question a person’s Blackness or other racial/political authenticity against a person who, for whatever reason, calls the police in a particular moment. It’s not as though Brontez is someone the police don’t also target, threaten and violate. And while the fact that these men were likely Caribbean immigrants invokes racist narratives about Black criminality and homophobia in the Caribbean, clearly these men were quite willing to try to intimidate Brontez and his friend using those very same narratives when they declared “if we were at home you’d be dead by now.”
I think Bynes is making an assumption that even if Brontez had never responded, he and his friend would have been safe (on their bikes!!!!) from those men once they turned the corner, even if they were supposedly trying to avoid an altercation right then and there—maybe they were initially shocked that a Black gay man would have the audacity to even respond back to them. Maybe they were trying to impress the women they were with, and they clearly got a response they weren’t prepared for. I don’t know their motives, but I don’t believe Brontez decided to just pick a random fight with two dudes leaving a club he frequents regularly (as a musician this fucks with your ability to make money), two blocks from his own house, in a community he has to continue to live in.
I do hope that rather than starting a war of words (and I have to admit I was mad as hell when I first heard there was some backlash calling one of my best friends a liar), this can actually give us pause to think about what standards we’re holding people to who have been threatened, when one day, it might be you, for whatever reason, who decides not to take the high road.
Kenyon Farrow has been working as an organizer, communications strategist, and writer on issues at the intersection of HIV/AIDS, prisons, and homophobia. Kenyon is the former Executive Director of Queers for Economic Justice—an organization dedicated to organizing, research, and advocacy for and with low-income and working-class lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Prior to becoming ED, Kenyon served as the National Public Education Director, building the visibility of progressive racial and economic justice issues as they pertain to LGBTQ community through coalition-building, public education, and media advocacy. Currently he serves on the Executive Committee of Connect 2 Protect New York, and the Center for Gay & Lesbian Studies (CLAGS). Kenyon is working on a new report on the Tea Party and LGBT Politics with Political Research Associates, as well as working as a book editor with South End Press. Check out Kenyon’s blog here.
Originally posted at AfroLez®femcentric, reposted with permission.
No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed ~ August 6, 2011 SlutWalk Philadelphia Speech
by Aishah Shahidah Simmons
“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.”
Black. Lesbian. Feminist. Mother. Warrior. Poet. Audre Lorde’s written words taught me that my silence will not protect me, and that silence is not golden. I am a Black feminist lesbian who is a survivor of incest and rape. When I was ten, my paternal (step)grandfather molested me over a period of two years; and when I was 12 the eldest son of a family friend fondled me. My rape happened when I was a soon to be 20 year old sophomore in college. I was on a study abroad program and broke all of the university-enforced rules to go out, very late at night, with the man who would become my rapist. In spite of my having second thoughts about going out with this new acquaintance, I was both afraid to articulate them and to turn around because my friends were covering for me. In the hotel room, for which I paid, I told my rapist “I don’t want to do this. Please stop.” I didn’t “violently” fight back. I didn’t scream or yell to the top of my lungs” because I was afraid. I didn’t want to make a “scene.” I blamed myself for saying, “Yes”…for breaking the rules…for paying for the hotel room.
The morning following my rape, I went back to where the school housed us and lied to my friends. I didn’t tell them that I was forced to have sex against my will. In an effort to both deny what happened on the night of my rape and to be in control of my body, I had consensual sex with another man that evening. When it was time to return home to the United States, I was pregnant and didn’t know which of the two men was the biological father. I was fortunate to have a safe and legal abortion at the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women in Philadelphia, PA.
And, before I continue, I want to be explicitly and unequivocally clear that I am NOT a lesbian because I was molested and raped. I am a lesbian because I’m attracted to and love women. So, please do not walk away making the homophobic and heterosexist comment “Oh, that’s why Aishah is a lesbian. It’s because she was molested and raped.”
If molestation and rape made women and girls lesbians, then most of the girls and women in the world would be lesbians. Just check the global statistics on molestation and rape.
I share what some of you might view as personal, private—and perhaps—seemingly unnecessary because the personal is directly related not only to the political but also the professional in my life.
Now, I admit when Executive Organizer Hannah Altman invited me to be a speaker at SlutWalk Philadelphia, I was very, very apprehensive. However, after quite a bit of thought and deliberation; and in spite of my many conflicting feelings as a Black feminist lesbian whose contemporary reality and ancestral lineage has been rooted in the legalized name calling/marginalizing/denigration of mind/body/spirit for centuries without too much recourse, I accepted the invitation to be a speaker.
I am here today because I want to see an end to the victim-blaming in my lifetime, and I’m 42-years old. No, victim-blaming is not going to stop because we are all here participating in SlutWalk Philadelphia. If only it were that easy. However, I believe it is important that the faces, voices, and perspectives of women of color (inclusive of all sexualities) and trans people of color are seen and heard. Documented herstory and contemporary reality has shown us that more often than not, it is our bodies that catch the most hell not only by the State but also by people in and out of our communities (however we define them). It is our bodies that have a demonstrated track record of being on the frontlines of the movements to end all forms of oppression.
I believe words are very, very powerful. At the same time, I really struggle with many who are hostile to the “SlutWalks” because they say it gives the wrong message. What is the right message? I think about Take Back the Night, which was founded in the early ’70s, when I was a toddler. As strange as it may seem today, especially now that Take Back the Night has become an “acceptable” movement throughout this country and globally, I know there was resistance. I’m sure some, if not many people took the position, ‘What do you mean take back the night? You shouldn’t be out at night!’
Personally, I do not embrace the word Slut at all… And, at the same time, I will not say or subscribe to the patriarchal and misogynistic thinking that “we can’t do this or that type of behavior; or wear this or that type of clothing and not expect to get harassed, fondled, and/or raped.
There are some places in the world that would say that presently, I’m not properly covered in what I view as very modest attire (by most US standards). There are many in the United States; and throughout the world who believe I should be raped, assaulted, and/or harassed for the mere fact that I’m an unapologetically OUT Feminist Lesbian.
Where do we draw the lines of who can and can’t be rape, assaulted, harassed, and/or called vicious and vitriolic names? Why are we okay with RAPE being the penalty for ANY type of behavior (including heterosexual women having multiple sexual partners) or for wearing ANY type of attire of clothing (including thongs and bustier? ). This line of thinking is inhumane, egregious, wretched, and should be unacceptable.
Sexual violence is one of the only crimes where the victim behavior’s determines if a crime happened or not. I could be in a drug-infested neighborhood with a lot of money on my person and even bragging about my money and showing it off. If someone steals my money, they are a thief, plain and simple. Yes, one could say “Aishah, what were you doing with all that money in that neighborhood. Are you crazy?” And yet, at the same time, it would be clear that I was robbed. If I left my macbook pro in Starbucks and someone stole it, we may think I was dumb for leaving it there, but that doesn’t take away the fact that someone stole my macbook pro.
How can we have more empathy for the loss of money or even the loss of a computer than the (hopefully, temporary) loss of one’s body for a few seconds, moments, hours, or even days? Why do we tend to be clear about the impact of the loss of material possessions in ways that we don’t want to be clear about the impact of the loss of the right to ones own body. For too many, rape has become a word, almost devoid of the horrifying experience from which too many of us never ever fully recover.
There is something very disturbing and painful that there is this widespread (as in global) notion that material possessions are worth more than a woman’s body… There is something wrong that too many of us believe that a woman doesn’t have the right to show or flaunt her body, if she desires… That a woman doesn’t have a right to agree to one form of sexual activity and not agree to another form of sexual activity. That she doesn’t have the right to say “yes,” and then have the courage or even the audacity to change her mind and say “no.” Whose body is it anyway? Contrary to global belief, it’s not the perpetrators body. And yet, too many of us defend the perpetrators RIGHT to violate the body of another.
When will we stop treating boys and men as if they are wild beastly animals or innocent toddlers (not sure which one) who can’t control their words and/or actions? When will we put the blame on the perpetrators? When will we stop saying “Well, women have to take some responsibility?” Take responsibility for what, men and boys being unable to control themselves resulting in them violating a woman or girl’s body because of what she said, wore, and/or did?
Again, I ask where do we draw the lines of who can and can’t be assaulted, harassed, and/or raped? As long as there is any group of people including but not limited to adolescent and teenage “fast” girls, women, trans people, queer people, and sex workers who are marginalized, then all of us are vulnerable both because it’s all subjective; and the lines of the margins shift all of the time. Who’s acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow.
We must stop subscribing to this notion that rape is the justifiable penalty for ANY type of behavior or attire of clothing that we may not like or even disapprove of.
We must centralize the margins of the margins of the margins of society so that ALL of us are free from assault, harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed. NO ONE IS FREE WHILE OTHERS ARE OPPRESSED.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons is the producer/writer/director of NO! The Rape Documentary, the internationally acclaimed, award-winning feature length film, which examines the international atrocity of rape and other forms of sexual violence through the first person testimonies, scholarship, activism, and cultural work of African-Americans. You can follow her on twitter, connect with her on Facebook, and/or read her AfroLez®femcentric blog.
In honor of World Indigenous Peoples Day, Native Youth Sexual Health Network and Girls Action Foundation has officially launched Indigenous Young Women Speaking Our Truths, Building Our Strengths national project and gathering! Check it out:
Indigenous Young Women: Speaking our Truths, Building our Strengths
November 18th to 21st, 2011 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Deadline to REGISTER is September 9th, 2011.
To read the information and register in Inuktitut, please click here
Want to speak your truth and build on your strengths? Are you a young Indigenous woman between the ages of 16 and 25? Whether you are already involved in your community or are just starting to learn about your Indigenous culture, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and Girls Action Foundation invite you to join other young Indigenous women from across Canada to learn, share and have fun together!
This project offers opportunities to come together as sisters, with the inclusion of Elders and other traditional leaders in the spirit of unity to discuss what is happening, and act upon our vision of what needs to change in our communities. This is the time to be yourself, all of yourself and celebrate it!
This project is for and by:
Self- identified young Indigenous Women between the ages of 16-25, including First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, status or non-status, beneficiary or non-beneficiary. Those who identify as women, Trans, Two Spirit, or gender non-conforming are welcome.
What is the project about?
The Indigenous Young Women: Speaking our Truths, Building our Strengths project focuses on Indigenous young women’s leadership, empowerment, building solidarity amongst each other and stopping violence. The project will focus on skill sharing and facilitation, emphasizing the fact that youth ideas matter and that youth are experts in their own right! We will also have opportunities to learn important teachings from our elders and other traditional teachers, with an understanding that women’s strength has always existed in our communities and continues to grow.
The project is also lead by a peer Advisory Committee consisting of ten Indigenous young women from across Canada.They are:
Theresa J Lightfoot
Opportunities will be created for different types of mentorship, both informal and formal. Mentorships will be created between Elders, traditional teachers and young women, and there will also be peer-to-peer mentorship as youth have important knowledge to learn from each other as well.
A key area that has been identified as part of this project is making sure there are opportunities to continue the work started at this gathering. Ten communities will be chosen to use the skills, knowledge and mentorship gained from the project to implement local community actions! This is your chance to let your voices be heard, and act upon the changes you would like to see in your communities. More information on the community action opportunities will be provided at the gathering.
A 4-day gathering will explore key areas such as:
- Stopping racism and violence
- Reclaiming knowledge and teachings from Elders and moving into new traditions
- Healthy sexuality
- Pride in cultural diversity and difference
- Leadership in all its forms
- Arts for social change
- Learning practical skills (How to start a youth council, grant writing, political leadership, becoming your own advocate)
- Get to know your rights!
- Self-care and burnout prevention
- Plan community actions
- Create resources
- Keeping in touch after the gathering
Possible activities: workshops, concerts, talk show, fashion show, film night, giveaways, feasts, hip hop and more. Come ready to share and exchange your skills, talent or knowledge.
When & Where:
The gathering will take place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan between November 18th and 21st, 2011.
Accessibility: We will make every effort possible to meet the needs of all participants, including but not limited to language, mobility, disability and dietary needs. Please make note of this on the registration form. If you are selected to participate, we will work together to ensure accessibility needs are met.
Language: Please note that this gathering will be held mainly in English, French and Inuktitut. The Native Youth Sexual Health Network and Girls Action are committed to making the event accessible in these three languages, so let us know if you have a different language preference we will do our best to arrange for whispered translation.
Childcare: Where we can, we support the participation of those who would not be able to take part if their young child was unable to accompany them. Please make a note of this on the registration form where indicated and read our Policy for Children for more information.
There are NO fees to participate in Indigenous Young Women: Speaking our Truths, Building our Strengths. If you are selected, we will cover your air travel and accommodation costs.
REGISTER NOW! Deadline to register is September 9th, 2011. Participants will be notified of acceptance by September 26th, 2011.
Registration forms can also be faxed to (514) 948-5926 or mailed to:
24 Mont Royal West Suite 601 Montreal, Quebec H2T 2S2 CANADA
For more information please contact Natasha@girlsactionfoundation.ca or call 1-888-948-1112
More information and registration in Inukitut is available here: http://www.girlsactionfoundation.ca/en/special-projects/indigenous-young-women-speaking-our-truths-building-our-strength.