If you ask any black person what the key is to liberation, most of them will tell you one word: unity. They will tell you that all it takes is us coming together, agreeing to be part of the revolution to facilitate change toward freedom and equality. This, in itself, is unity. We all know what it takes to get there. We all have the same idea.
Or at least, it seems that way on the surface. But what do we really mean by unity? Some of us mean all black people working together to demand justice from the racist system that has oppressed us for too long. But, unfortunately, heterosexual, cisgender black men seem to have another idea. Black lives matter to them very much, but not when those lives are lesbian or transgender or bisexual or gay or queer. Sometimes, black lives even matter less to them when those lives are female. They are only concerned with freeing themselves, too blinded by their perpetual battle against themselves and white supremacy to see that the ones who have made the most pivotal changes in the last fifty years have been black women and black LGBTQ+ people.
The reason you’re even saying Black Lives Matter is because of Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—three black women, two of which are LGBTQ+. These women created this movement in response to George Zimmerman being acquitted. They didn’t wait until a black person who fit the mold that they liked was killed. They fought for a black boy and created a national movement that sparked the awakening of black people everywhere. One of the frontliners of the Black Lives Matter movement, Deray Mckesson, helped create Campaign Zero along with other Black Lives Matter activists, which also helped change legislation and educate people on their rights and what they can do to help create change.
But Deray was arrested on his birthday, protesting for Alton Sterling, a black man. He spoke out for Philando Castile, a black man. He kept working to expand and develop Campaign Zero for all of black people, including black men, but his sexuality invalidates him in the eyes of some of these same black men. The people he fought for, worked endlessly for, and would undoubtedly die for, are showing no sympathy. They say that he asked to be in front of this movement so being arrested comes with the territory. They say that he’s been working too long and not enough change has come, but if he was a straight black man, we would’ve gotten somewhere already. They say that Micah Xavier Johnson, the black veteran who allegedly shot and killed five police officers in Dallas, made more change in one night than Deray has over the past five years. They say that it’s time for “real” black men to take matters into their own hands and follow in Micah’s footsteps and start fighting back.
What they don’t know is that even if they weren’t fighting back, even if they were just getting their identification for an officer or selling CDs or failing to signal when turning or playing loud music or walking with Skittles and a hood on, Deray would be defending them. Black women would be defending them. Gay black people, trans black people, and all black people would be defending them. The black women they shame for having dark skin would be crying for them. The black women they shame for being “hoes” would be protesting for them. The people who they’ve never supported but have always been loved by and forgiven by would be on the frontlines, risking their lives, for black men.
What they don’t know is that if it weren’t for Deray, a gay black man, and several black women and LGBTQ+ black people, they might not have even known about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. If it weren’t for these people calling police departments and investigating and tweeting and sparking outrage, black straight men could’ve still been at home spreading misogyny and homophobia, worrying about themselves.
The reason so many black men don’t know this, or at least don’t acknowledge it, is because they are so busy trying to bring ego into the fight for liberation that they forget who the real enemy is and who their real allies are. But, ironically, we never forget black men. Black women never respond to stories of their murder by police by saying “what about Sandra Bland?” LGBTQ+ black people didn’t respond to Philando Castile’s murder by saying “what about the Orlando shooting?”. All black people drop everything and focus on black men, mourn for black men, compromise their happiness, mental health, and literal survival for black men.
But all we hear is “black rights have to come before gay rights, it’s more important,” as if the two don’t intersect. If a man like Deray Mckesson was in the position that Philando Castile was, that officer would not look at him and know that he was gay. But he would look at him and know that he was black, and that would be enough to get his life taken away. If a black gay man was in that position and he lost his life, he would not only be subject to white people justifying his death and defending the police officer, but he would most likely receive less sympathy from homophobic black men.
Black members of the LGBTQ+ community experience double the oppression that heterosexual, cisgender black people do. It is one thing to be oppressed by a white supremacist nation, but it’s completely different to have your identity and existence invalidated by this nation and your own people.
So, for all the black men who said that it’s time to take matters into your own hands and do what Deray hasn’t been doing, why did you wait until he was arrested? While he was working with the Black Lives Matter movement, meeting with presidential candidates and forcing our issues to be acknowledged and confronted on a legislative level, what were you doing? If your heterosexuality makes you so superior and so much more important, then why didn’t it grant you the magical powers to make racism and police brutality go away before Alton Sterling was killed? Maybe if you had those powers, there would have been no protest for Deray to attend, and he would be free today.
Then again, he’s a gay black man. He may never be free.