Last year during Latino Heritage month I did a series of posts highlighting various Latinos in the U.S. and abroad who do important work on reproductive justice. I often find, and this is still the case, that many events celebrating Latino Heritage during this time rarely discusse or include conversations about reproductive justice, sexual and reproductive health, sexual orientation, or other topics that intersect with these. These posts are attempts to shed light on these issues during this time of Latino Heritage Month in hopes that we can continue to have them year-round.
One of the things I wanted to include this year that I didn’t last year during this time was featuring young people who are influencing reproductive justice, but also who are having a huge impact on our communities. Last year I did not include youth or youth activists and this year I’d like to change that for many reasons. One reason being that we, as older folks (some may even consider us elders), can learn a lot from youth. We not only have the privilege of mentoring some of them, but we get mentored by them as well.
Harmony Santana, Getty Images
This year the first person I’d like to highlight is actress Harmony Santana. Many of you who are into films, especially independent films by people of Color may have already heard of Harmony Santana as she is the transgender Latina who was cast in the film Gun Hill Road as the lead character: a transgender Latina.
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The film was one of the largest grossing independent films in the United States. It shares the story of Vanessa a trans-Latina poet whose father Ernesto (Esai Morales) is released from prison after several years of being incarcerated. Vanessa lives with and is raised by her mother Angela (Judy Reyes) and experiences challenges when her father reunites with the family. Ernesto and Angela work with and find ways to support their daughter as she establishes herself as a member of the family and community. This is not a review of the film, I wrote one of those and if you want to hear my perspective on the film, some critiques and some adoration you can read it in full here.
Harmony Santana is a young Latina whose existence is a reminder to us all that that the reproductive justice movement must be a space for all people in our community to be welcomed and help do important work. Including youth and trans people strengthens our community, work, and impact. They are essential to our community and recognizing the ways some of the work we may do may not be as inclusive as we think is an opportunity to make lasting changes.
She is a young person who is a representative of a community that is often ignored oppressed and excluded; even by those who claim to be allies. For many of us working within our communities, we may have come into contact with youth who have similar experiences to Harmony. Indiewire’s reporter Nigel M. Smith reports that Harmony was living in a LGBTQI group home in Harlem called Green Chimneys. Growing up one of 13 children in a Puerto Rican-Dominican home, Harmony is a Bronx native who has shared in several interviews that her relationships with her siblings and mother are strong, yet she remains estranged from her father. She’s not just an up and coming actress, she is many of the trans youth who experience homelessness and isolation. She is also representative of the youth who survive and thrive when discovering their worth and space in the community.
I’m thankful I am able to be a witness to Harmony Santana’s work, to see her thrive as a young person, but also as a leading Latina in film. She and her work are a part of and advocate for media justice. During an interview with Rev. Chris Carpenter at Movie Dearest, Harmony gave the following advice for trans people “Be yourself, be happy, and have hope in your family; they might not be supportive now but it takes time.”
“We need to have a national conversation about racism, homophobia, and transphobia,” said Alan Pelaez Lopez, a member of the organization Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement. “If these things do not happen, the nation, by definition, will have done nothing to support our communities.”
The same day of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting that would take the lives of 49 mostly Latino and LGBTQ-identified people, thousands of miles away in Santa Monica, California, a man was found with weapons, ammunition, and explosive-making materials in his car with plans to attend the annual Pride festival taking place in West Hollywood later that day.
But queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) say these responses are missing the mark, because what their communities really need are deeper conversations and more resources that address their specific experiences, including fewer police at Pride events.
House Democrats held a sit-in on gun control this week as a direct response to the Orlando shooting. Though Alan Pelaez Lopez—an Afro-Latinx, gender-nonconforming immigrant, poet, and member of the organization Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement—agrees that gun control is important and should be considered by Congress, they said it can also feel like the community affected by the shooting almost always gets erased from those discussions.
“We need to have a national conversation about racism, homophobia, and transphobia,” the poet said. “If these things do not happen, the nation, by definition, will have done nothing to support our communities.”
Rethinking ‘Pride’ for People of Color
In mid-May, Rewire reported on the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)’s week of action to #RedefineSecurity, which encouraged participants to reimagine what safety looked like in Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and called for them to push back against police presences at Pride events.
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Pride events and festivals take place each June to commemorate the Stonewall riots in New York City, a clash between police officers and members of the LGBTQ community—led by trans women of color—that would kickstart the modern LGBTQ movement.
Even after the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub, NQAPIA organizing director Sasha W. told Rewire their stance on police at Pride events hasn’t changed, but only grown more resolute.
As an organizer working with queer and trans Muslim, South Asian, and Middle Eastern communities, Sasha W. said the populations they work with say that framing the Orlando shooting as a “terrorist attack” makes them feel “increasingly unsafe.”
“I think part of what we need to remember is to examine what ‘terror’ looked like in queer and trans communities over the course of our history in this country,” Sasha W. said. They cited the Stonewall riots and the inaction by the government during the HIV and AIDS epidemic as examples of some of the many ways the state has inflicted violence on queer and trans communities.
Sasha W. added that pointing blame at Daeshis too easy, and that the oppression queer and trans people face in the United States has always been state-sanctioned. “We have not historically faced ‘terror’ at the hands of Muslim people or brown people. That is not where our fear has come from,” they said.
What’s missing, they said, is a conversation about why police officers make certain people feel safe, and “interrogating where that privilege comes from.” In other words, there are communities who do not have to fear the police, who are not criminalized by them, and who are confident that cops will help them in need. These are not privileges experienced by many in queer and trans communities of color.
Asking the mainstream LGBTQ community to rethink their stance on police and institutions that have historically targeted and criminalized communities of color has been challenging for queer and trans people of color.
What’s become clear, according to Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement founder Jorge Gutierrez, is that after a tragedy like Orlando, white LGBTQ members want to feel united, but many don’t want to discuss how things like race and citizenship status affect feelings of safety. Instead, some will push for a greater police presence at events.
There have already been instances of white members of the LGBTQ community publicly shutting down conversations around racial justice. Advocates say the public needs to understand the broader context of this moment.
“The white LGBTQ community doesn’t face the criminalization and policing that our community faces every day. Not just at Pride, but every day, everywhere we go. That’s our life,” Gutierrez said. “If you don’t listen to us when it comes to these issues of safety, you’re not just erasing us from a tragedy that impacted us, but you’re really hurting us.”
As Gutierrez explained, in the hours after the shooting, some media coverage failed to mention Pulse was a gay club, failed to mention it was people of color who were killed on Latino night, and failed to mention that trans women were performing just before the shooting broke out. Gutierrez told Rewire he felt like his community and their pain was being erased, so his organization put together a video featuring queer and trans immigrants of color, including Lopez, to discuss their immediate feelings after the Pulse shooting—and many shared sentiments similar to Sasha W.’s and Lopez’s. One trans Latina said the shooting was “years in the making.”
“The video was important for us to release because the shooting was being framed as an isolated event that randomly happened, but we know that’s not true. We know that the United States has a history of hurting queer and trans people of color and we needed to produce our own media, with our own messaging, from our own people to tell people what really happened, the history that lead to it happening, and who it really impacted. We didn’t want our voices and our realities as immigrants, as undocumented people, as queer and trans people of color, erased,” Gutierrez said.
Without even factoring in an increase in law enforcement, Lopez told Rewire Pride already felt unsafe for people like them.
“I have experienced a lot of racism [at Pride events], the pulling of my hair from people walking behind me, and I have also been sexually harassed by white people who claim to want to experiment with being with a Black person,” Lopez said.
Though Lopez didn’t attendany Pride events in Los Angeles this year, they told Rewire that in previous years, there was already a large police presence at Pride events and as a “traumatized person” who has had many negative interactions with police officers, including being racially profiled and stopped and frisked, encountering law enforcement was scary.
“Seeing [cops] at Pride makes me remember that I am always a target because at no time has the police made me feel protected,” the poet said. “Signs of heavy police presence are really triggering to people who have developed post-traumatic stress disorder from violent interactions with the police, for undocumented communities, for transgender communities, for young people of color, and for formerly incarcerated individuals. When I think of security, I do not think of police.”
Another reason Lopez chose not to attend Pride this year: It was being sponsored by Wells Fargo. The banking corporation sponsors over 50 yearly Pride events and has been called a “longtime advocate of LGBT equality” by organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, which also lists Wells Fargo as a top-rated company on its Corporate Equality Index. But Wells Fargo has a history of investing in private prisons, including detention centers. Calls to drop Wells Fargo from Pride events have been unsuccessful. For queer immigrants like Lopez, attending Pride would mean “financially contributing” to the same corporation and system that they said killed their friends, the same corporation that they said has incarcerated their family, and that they said has tried—but failed—to incarcerate them.
Sasha W. told Rewire that for QTPOC, it’s easy to forget that the event is supposed to be about celebration.
“For many of us, we can’t really bring our whole selves into these places that are meant to make us feel free or we have to turn off parts of who we are in order to enjoy ourselves” the organizer said. “And as far as the policing of these events go, I think it’s worth noting that policing has always been about protecting property. It’s always been about property over people since the days of the slave trade. When we see police at Pride events the assumption [by our communities] is that those police will protect money and business over our queer brown and Black bodies.”
“Really Troubling Policies”
As organizations and corporations work to meet the short-term needs of victims of the Orlando shooting, advocates are thinking ahead to the policies that will adversely affect their communities, and strategizing to redefine safety and security for QTPOC.
Gutierrez told Rewire that what has made him feel safe in the days since the Orlando shooting is being around his QTPOCcommunity, listening to them, mourning with them, sharing space with them, and honoring the lives of the brothers and sisters that were lost. His community, the organizer said, is now more committed than ever to exist boldly and to make the world a safer place for people like them—and that means pushing back against what he believes to be a troubling narrative about what safety should look like.
However, Gutierrez said that politicians are using his community’s pain in the wake of the Orlando shooting to push an anti-Muslim agenda and pit the LGBTQ community against Muslims, conveniently forgetting that there are people who live at the intersection of being queer and Muslim. Perhaps more troubling are the policies that may arise as a result of the shooting, policies that will add to the surveilling and profiling Muslims already experience and that will further stigmatize and criminalize vulnerable communities.
“The government, the police, politicians, they’re trying to equate safety with having more police on the street, at gay clubs—that are like home to many of us, and at Pride. We know that doesn’t make us safe; we know police are part of the problem,” he said.
“Of course we need to make it more difficult for people to get guns, but we also need more resources for our communities so our communities can truly be safe on the streets, in the workplace, at school, at the clubs, and at Pride,” he said. “That means having healthy communities that have resources so people can thrive and live authentically. The answer to our problems is not more police.”
Sasha W. echoed Gutierrez, saying that their community is already fearful of what’s to come because moments of national crisis often create the space for “really troubling policies.”
“That’s how we got the Patriot Act,” the organizer said. “There is a fear that we are in another one of those moments where there are calls for protection and it’s being tied to the false idea of a foreign threat that requires an increase of surveillance of Muslims. Think of how calls for protection have also hurt queer communities, communities of color, trans communities, like the idea that bathrooms aren’t safe because of trans people. Who is really unsafe in this country, and why do policies hurt us instead of protect us?”
Lopez added: “The Orlando shooting was powered by the fact that the United States has a history of violence against LGBTQIA communities, a history of violence against immigrants, a history of violence against women, and a history of colonization of the island of Puerto Rico …The U.S. needs to address institutional problems of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sex, and sexuality if it wants to put an end to future massacres.”
Sasha W. urges QTPOC to “expand their political imagination” and re-envision what security looks like. In the long term, the organizer said, they hope more people recognize who their communities’ “actual enemies” are, instead of turning on each other.
“Let’s recognize that the state has always been something we’ve had to fight to survive and that institutions that hurt us are growing increasingly strong in this moment of crisis, as they often do, so we have to work to disarm and dismantle the institutions that terrorize our communities” they said.
“On another note, we have always been our own best defense, especially in communities of color,” they said. “Supporting each other to protect ourselves better doesn’t happen overnight, I know, but so much of this starts with building community with each other so that we know each other, love each other, and throw down for one another.”
If we learned anything in 2015, it was that activists of all ages and backgrounds are up for the challenges that lie ahead.
We at Rewire are certain not a day went by this year without a Republican presidential candidate or anti-choice public figure saying something awful about already marginalized groups, a person of color being killed or assaulted by the police, an anti-abortion bill being introduced that was more terrible than the last one (not an easy feat), or a woman being prosecuted for her pregnancy. You could say we’re seeing a half-empty glass. But what gives us hope are the dozens of justice movements happening nationwide to fight back against the anti-choice policies, state-sanctioned violence, wage violations, and so much more.
We salute you, grassroots organizers and pro-choice leaders. Here are just ten of the biggest movements we followed this year.
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Writers Lindy West and Amelia Bonow launched a campaign in mid-September to put stories to the statistic that one in three women have had an abortion. #ShoutYourAbortion went viral, drawing more than 150,000 posts on Twitter, even as anti-choice lawmakers sought to defund Planned Parenthood in federal and state legislatures. The women wrote that anti-choice efforts rely “on the assumption that abortion is still something to be whispered about.” By writing about their own abortions, and encouraging others to do the same, they hoped to reframe the national debate. “I have a good heart and having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way,” said Bonow. “Why wouldn’t I be happy that I was not forced to become a mother?” (Zoe Greenberg)
This year marked an important shift in the messaging of Black Lives Matter, one that sought to center the lives of Black women and girls within the larger movement to end police brutality. Using the #SayHerName hashtag, coined in early 2015 by the African American Policy Forum, activists fought the erasure of Black women and girls from protests and discussions around state violence. The hashtag helped amplify incidents like the police attack on a Black teenager in McKinney, Texas, and the violent assault of a Black schoolgirl by a white deputy officer in Columbia, South Carolina, which made clear that Black girls are as vulnerable to police violence as their male counterparts. Activists mobilized around the killing of Natasha McKenna and the fatal shooting of Mya Hall, among others in 2015, which demonstrated how Black women, too, regularly die at the hands of the law enforcement establishment. #SayHerName bolstered efforts in Oklahoma City to bring justice for the 12 Black women and one teenager who accused former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw of sexual assault, and helped frame ongoing protests against the in-custody death of Sandra Bland this summer. (Kanya D’Almeida)
Throughout 2015, low-wage workers organized strikes and marches across the country in a campaign to win a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. In April, workers in more than 200 cities walked out on their jobs, in what organizers called the largest protest by low-wage workers in U.S. history. The crowds included home-care assistants, Walmart employees, adjunct professors, child-care aides, and McDonald’s cashiers. In November, tens of thousands of workers again took to the streets to demand “$15 and a union.” “There is not a price tag you can put on how this movement has changed the conversation in this country. It is raising wages at the bargaining table. It’s raised wages for 8 million workers,” the international president of the Service Employees International Union told the Guardian. (Zoe Greenberg)
In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages if they were performed in states where marriage equality was legal. What followed were two years of state-by-state battles, with more than a dozen continuing to resist by the time the issue made its way to the Supreme Court. On June 26, 2015, the Roberts Court ruled 5 to 4 in Obergefell v. Hodges that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, legalizing marriage equality throughout the United States and granting same-sex couples and their children access to thousands of rights already enjoyed by opposite-sex ones. Supporters flooded the Court plaza, chanting “Love has won”; online, millions of people took to Twitter to celebrate using the hashtag #LoveWins, which automatically appended a rainbow emoticon. These included President Barack Obama, who wrote, “Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else” in his post, which was retweeted nearly 450,000 times. Ultimately, #LoveWins was one of Twitter’s Top 10 trends of 2015. (Kat Jercich)
In September, ninth-grader Ahmed Mohamed became internationally renowned when he brought a homemade clock to school to show his teachers. Instead of being praised as a budding young scientist, the principal pulled Mohamed out of class and local police arrested him for bringing what they described as a “hoax bomb” to campus. A day later, Mohamed’s story went viral, providing a touchstone for a national conversation about racism and Islamophobia. His story ultimately led to 370,000 Twitter posts, including notes of encouragement from President Obama, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, comedian Aziz Ansari, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “Thank you for your support! I really didn’t think people would care about a muslim boy,” he tweeted in response to his newfound fame. (Zoe Greenberg)
The informative campaign shined a light on the ways in which CMP’s practices were unethical, deceptive, and intentionally inflammatory. The organization asked supporters to use a pink filter with the hashtag #StandWithPP on their social media profile pictures, and on September 29, many hit the streets for Planned Parenthood’s #Pinkout. During #Pinkout, protesters wore pink and took to social media to spread their support for Planned Parenthood and its array of health-care services, including abortion. (Jenn Stanley)
7. America in Transition
Transgender Americans live all over the country—in rural areas, cities, suburbs—and have as differing experiences as cisgender Americans. While media attention and presence for trans and nonbinary Americans did increase in 2015, many activists point out that celebrities, like Caitlyn Jenner, who bring national attention to issues facing gender nonconforming people often have atypical experiences themselves and do not represent the lives of trans people across America. This year, Andre Perez, co-founder of the Transgender Oral History Project, took his documentary series to a new level to create America in Transition.
America in Transition is a web series, interactive multimedia map, and mobile app featuring the stories of the often silenced transgender people across the United States. Currently in development, America in Transition will highlight the stories of trans people of color and others with intersectional identities. Unlike the few trans stories highlighted by the mainstream media, America in Transition “seeks to amplify the stories of people from all walks of life and show how their environments—supportive, rural, educated, religiously fundamental, and more—have shaped who they are,” according to the organization’s website.
America in Transition also has a MyTransStory social media campaign, which asks people to add a purple filter to profile photos and write three words that encapsulate their experiences and identities. (Jenn Stanley)
8. Black Youth Project 100
Social change often starts with young people determined to make the world more manageable for themselves and the generations to come after them. The Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100), an activist organization of Black 18- to 35-year-olds, has been successfully chipping away at injustice since its founding in Chicago in 2013.
In November, the group had made headlines for declining a meeting with Mayor Emanuel to discuss the incident, and instead announced it would be “focusing on reaching out to the people who are directly impacted by the occupation of militarized police and community disinvestment.”
“Mayor Emanuel’s decision to fire Supt. Garry McCarthy comes as a result of massive community organizing and direct confrontations between young Black organizers and the Chicago Police Department to expose the ongoing structural abuses of power Black people are subjected to everyday,” reads a press statement from BYP 100.
However, its work on the matter of police violence and systemic discrimination within the Chicago Police Department isn’t done. It is still pushing for the resignations of Mayor Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez for their parts in delaying the release of the police camera video that captured Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times.
“As young Black people who organize Black communities in Chicago, we are clear that Supt. McCarthy, Mayor Emanuel and State’s Attorney Alvarez represent elements of a system that must not only be reformed, but radically changed,” the statement reads. (Jenn Stanley)
9. College Protests Against Racial Discrimination
Inspired by protests at Yale University, as well as the resignation of Missouri University’s president following a sustained student movement, a hunger strike, and an athletic boycott in November, campuses across the United States erupted this year in a wave of actions calling for an end to institutionalized racism. The hashtag #BlackOnCampus created an online space for students to share experiences of racial profiling and express anger over racist attacks and hate speech at colleges and universities, fueling a nationwide protest movement that quickly garnered the attention of mainstream media. The second week of November alone saw some 22 campuses standing in solidarity with Mizzou and Yale, including groups at Ithaca College, Howard University, Emory University, Brown University, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Twice in the final two months of 2015, a group known as the Black Liberation Collective called for a nationwide #StudentBlackOut, which saw student groups speak out against anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and the need for more diverse faculty in colleges and universities. (Kanya D’Almeida)
10. Organizing to Protect the Undocumented
It was a tough year for immigration. Donald Trump’s hate speech against undocumented migrants reached a fever pitch; President Obama’s executive action for the undocumented parents of American citizen children remained in litigation; and the year is ending with GOP presidential candidates blaming immigration for terrorist attacks. But immigrants’ rights organizations have been pushing for more and better. The National Domestic Workers Alliance was instrumental in getting domestic worker bills passed in Connecticut and Oregon this year, protecting thousands of women, many of whom are undocumented. Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation raised awareness for those living at the intersections of being queer and/or trans and undocumented, while fighting for the release of trans women from detention. These grassroots organizations are the reason for Immigration and Customs Enforcement releasing new standards of care for trans detainees, including detaining them according to their gender identity. The UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center continued to push Undocumented and Uninsured, the first study about and by immigrant youth on health-care access. And the #Health4All movement was influential in the creation of Health for All Act, a bill that if passed, will enable undocumented people in California to participate in the Affordable Care Act. (Tina Vasquez)