Commentary Religion

Generation X: Finding Our Own Voices, Carrying Our Own Torches

Kierra Johnson

As my involvement in our movement grew deeper, the honeymoon was over, as they say. The imperfections of the movement, the Baby Boomer’s movement, became glaring. Their Second Wave ways didn’t resonate with my Third Wave thinking.

This article is third in a series published in conjunction with Choice USA in an effort to highlight the importance of intergenerational dialogue within the reproductive justice movement and to uncover ways to work together across generations in order to sustain and thrive. Read the first two in the series by Andrew Jenkins and Eleanor Hinton Hoytt here.

Generation X. The Lost Generation. The Forgotten Generation. The MTV Generation. Whatever you call us, we are that generation sandwiched in between the unstoppable Baby Boomers and the ever-growing Millennials. We’ve been characterized as jaded, individualistic and apathetic. Our impact on the reproductive health, rights and justice movement is undoubtedly as complex as we are.

I was first introduced to the movement in college in the early 1990s. After women’s studies, history lessons and a few meetings with local reproductive rights groups, I understood that the reproductive rights movement was a movement built and strengthened by the Baby Boomers. I was honored to have inherited such an influential movement. I revered those strong men and women who were there in 1973, who paved the way for me and my friends – those like Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan and Reverend Howard Moody. I understood and benefited from the sacrifices they made, the work they did to secure access to abortion. I wanted to put in that same effort to make sure that access was never eroded under my generation’s watch. I wanted to stand on their shoulders. Who wouldn’t?

As my involvement in our movement grew deeper, the honeymoon was over, as they say. The imperfections of the movement, the Baby Boomer’s movement, became glaring. Their Second Wave ways didn’t resonate with my Third Wave thinking, and I took that personally. I (along with many of my peers) had a growing dissatisfaction with the invisibility of certain communities within the movement’s leadership and goals. Where were contributions and influence of people of color? Of poor people? Of queer people? And why weren’t they giving us the space we needed to thrive as young activists?

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Slowly but surely, we learned that, with the help of some of our more supportive foremothers, we needed to create our own spaces. Thus was born Bitch and Bust and the Riot grrl movement and the Third Wave Foundation and even my stomping grounds – Choice USA. Thus was born a youth movement for reproductive justice.

Once we started to find and create those important spaces, we began to learn how to check those Baby Boomers and ourselves. We learned how to work together in productive, effective and efficient ways. We learned, and at times are still learning, how to balance our respect and critique of those who went before us. We learned that torches aren’t something to be passed; they are something we all carry. We stopped asking for permission. We found our voice.

Then came the Millennials – a generation so different, so politically ambiguous, so huge that we Gen Xers once again risked being “lost.” All the while, the older generations began to see Gen Xers and Millennials as one clump of youth, though we couldn’t be more different – our individualism and their search for community being just one key distinction.

These tech-savants were looking to climb the ladder we just managed to create. We were vigilant in creating spaces where young voices, ideas and strategies could flourish; where we could flourish. Before we could get our footing, though, Millennials emerged with such strength and force, with unique perspectives and needs. We feared being eclipsed, overlooked. We set out to create the space that we felt wasn’t created for us but we also wanted to hold the ground we won.

So, we have become bilingual, in a sense. We are becoming a bridge, able to speak with and work with both Boomers and Millennials. We are becoming able to simultaneously speak in “we” and “they.” We are becoming the translator to help these two, massive generations to work together. Sometimes, it seems to work. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

I want the mark of my generation to be a positive one, one that goes beyond critiques we gave and includes the great contributions we’ve all made and will continue to make. This movement we once thought was made of immortal and invincible icons, we have now realized is made of real people, as flawed and precious as ourselves. This consciousness – despite the frustration it breeds at times – keeps us engaged, helps us understand those who have gone before us and helps us foster the leadership of those who are coming after us.

Generation X isn’t lost. It’s just that sometimes people aren’t looking in the right places to find us. We all carry our own torches. We are as different and as dedicated as the other generations that make up our movement. And we are just getting started.

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.


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