Speak Up! Show Up!
Do the Work of Creating Justice in the World
“True community is based upon equality, mutuality, and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.” — Pauli Murray (civil rights activist, lawyer, Episcopal priest, author).
“We are all stronger, smarter, talented, beautiful, and more resilient than we were told.” — CeCe McDonald (black transgender woman activist).
Great spiritual teachers, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, Desmond Tutu, Starhawk, and Thich Nhat Hanh (to name only a few), remind us that it is never the goal of a spiritual life to disengage from injustice in the world; rather, we must work to create a better world for everyone. But how do we implement positive change? How do we ensure our communities refuse to tolerate bullying, name-calling, put-downs, prejudice, and shaming—even from the President of the United States? How do we stop the killings of black people?
June is Pride month. As such, I want to use this space to share the voices of transgender and nonbinary individuals. A crucial first step as an ally is listening to the people who are being oppressed. In solidarity with the ongoing national (and international) protests for justice, below are voices from the black LGBTQ community. Like the spiritual visionaries named above, these individuals are also our teachers.* They explain how allies can help create the type of world that respects and honors the dignity of each person.
Ryan Smith (age 23): “It’s important for allies to know that showing up itself really means a lot. Not just being there for when the fun things happen. Pride parade is beautiful…but being an ally means also showing up when things are hard. So, when these legislative bills are being passed that minimize the rights of trans people and their healthcare, make sure allies are there. …The whole point of being an ally is a verb. It’s the essence of being and doing. And it really translates into being an advocate. … With regard to Facebook, it’s not just posting about dramatic things. As an LGBTQ person and as a black person, it’s traumatic. … There’s nothing wrong with posting articles, but reach out to the people who are directly impacted, rather than just posting something. I would like to see more affirmation in our general society. … Also, I would really like to see people be able to express themselves while also feeling secure in their jobs.”
Sa’hara Miller (age 31): “You can say gay or trans but put other things in front of those characteristics. Put a degree. Put a diploma. I am an Educated Black Trans Woman. … I’ve accomplished one of my future goals and that’s being a black trans woman alive after the age of 30. Our lifespan often ends before age 25. … Allies need to understand the background because every trans and queer individual has a background. All of us aren’t born with a silver plate or a gold spoon in our mouth. If you really get to know everyone’s background…we’re really just the same, and we have emotions and feelings too. … When it comes to the community, it is a very touchy situation. I’ve seen so much in the news. I am proud that we have Pride month. But I wish that Pride would last 365 days instead of one month.”
Kimberly Acoff (age 53): “Speak up. Get out and vote on issues that matter. Call your representatives and make them aware that you are allies, and you are out here. It’s more than just being an ally. It’s about recognizing humanity and ensuring that every person is given what the constitution guarantees each person. … No one should have to be oppressed or depressed or discriminated against in this day and time. I think we can change what is currently happening, what we see today. … My hope for the community is that we all can live as a community, as a whole, as Americans … a great melting pot, free to dream and live our best lives.”
When we listen, we learn how to help. Collectively, we can then engage in the work that moves us toward a world that never permits the harassment and killing of black lives, including the lives of LGBTQ people of color.
Listen. Learn. Love.
Peace & Solidarity,
Diana J. Ensign
* These stories are from the book, The Freedom to Be, which was recognized as a 2020 Outstanding Books (IPPY) Gold Medal Winner.