In today’s post, senior editor Tyler D. Parry interviews Siobhan Brooks on her new book Everyday Violence against Black and Latinx LGBT Communities. This book examines a broad collection of different institutions, such as educational systems, healthcare, and religious spaces, to examine “cultural beliefs and attitudes that engender violence toward LGBT Black and Latinx people.” Siobhan Brooks is a Sociologist who researches gender, sexuality, and race relations. She is Associate Professor of African American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. Brooks is the author of Unequal Desires: Race and Erotic Capital in the Stripping Industry, published by the State University of New York Press.
Tyler Parry: What inspired you to pursue this research and write this book?
Siobhan Brooks: I was inspired to do research for this book after the Pulse massacre in 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The fact that Pulse also happened during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which was built on overt racist attacks against Black and Latino/a/x people created the political climate for both anti-queer and racist state violence to happen. That was also a summer of police killings of Black people, such as the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. So, for me these forms of violence are inter-connected and shapes the way LGBT Black and Latinx people experience violence. It is not just because they are queer or Black/Latinx, but the intersection of all these identities. Pulse really brought that to the forefront.
But I don’t think the intersection was clear to everyone. I remember early news coverage of the shooting within white mainstream LGBT groups, which labeled it as a “gay shooting” and downplayed the racial element of the victims and the overall space. The fact that it happened on “Latin night” at the club is important. Often queer people of color don’t have our own clubs and have to take advantage of certain “theme” nights for visibility.
I also noticed my queer identified colleagues and friends posting on Facebook, horrified by the shooting, especially because it happened during pride month, which made it all the more frightening. Yet, many of my heterosexual identified activists friends who usually post about police shootings and violence against people of color, didn’t post about it.
After a few days of this observation I became angry and engaged in a Facebook discussion about this silence. Many people stated that they were silent because they didn’t know what to say. Others didn’t want to post for fear of being labeled gay. When I asked some of my straight friends what the discussion were like in their circles about Pulse, some replied that people thought it was wrong, but also felt that’s the risk gay people take when they are out.
Basically, this illustrated a couple of intersecting themes for me: 1) queer issues involving Black/Latinx LGBT people are not considered race issues, and are therefore not as important within race based social movements. 2) While there are more images of LGBT Black and Latinx people in the media, there is still a lot of societal stigma within and outside of Black and Latinx communities regarding LGBT identities. 3) While mainstream LGBT communities have made some gains in society, such as the legalization of gay marriage, the violence against poor and working class LGBT Black and Latinx people, especially trans women of color, continues to increase. This also showed me that the marginalization of LGBT Black/Latinx people comes from both progressive race-based social movements (even from those involved in movements like Black Lives Matter in spite of it’s founders being queer and women), and the conservative right.
Parry: What is this book’s primary thesis, and what type of impact do you hope your work has on the existing literature in this field? Where do you think this field is headed and why?
Brooks: The thesis of the book is that violence against LGBT Black and Latinx people are products of ideologies and institutions that exist both outside and inside of Black and Latinx communities. The main institutions I focus on are health care industries, educational systems, families, and religious spaces. When looking at something like Pulse, which is an extreme form of violence, we forget that most of the violence against LGBT Black and Latinx people is normalized within institutions and family systems. I also want to be clear that I am not making the claim that Black and Latinos are more homophobic than the white population.
When looking at the data we know that is not true at all, for example, when compared to whites, Black and Latino religious identified people believe that gay people are discriminated against, but because the book focuses on Black and Latinx populations, there is a focus on the institutions that impact them the most, such as churches and their families. These institutions are critical because those are the key spaces responsible for shaping notions of who belongs in a community. I also think it’s important to distinguish between acceptance and tolerance. Just because people think LGBT people shouldn’t be discriminated against or murdered doesn’t mean they are always accepted within their communities—and that’s where the violence lies. To tell someone that only certain parts of their identity are welcomed into a space, but not a core part of them, like their sexuality or gender identity, is a form of social, structural, and symbolic violence. On a national level the Trump Administration has enhanced violence towards LGBT Black and Latinx people with bathroom laws against trans people, support of police violence, and barriers to health care.
In the book I examine four murder cases involving LGBT Black and Latinx people and the institutional and societal failure that allowed for these murders to happen. I focused on the following cases: the murder of transgender Latinx teen Gwen Araujo, who was killed by a group of men at a party in 2002 in Northern California; the death of Sakia Gunn, a 15-year-old Black lesbian who was stabbed at a bus stop in New Jersey in 2003; the 2008 shooting of biracial trans teen Latisha King in Oxnard, CA, who was shot in the head in a computer class after asking a boy to a valentine’s dance; and trans Latinx activist Zoraida Reyes who was strangled to death in 2014 in Anaheim, CA.
In these cases one can see institutional failure was a factor in their death. For example, in the King case teachers punished them for wearing dresses and expressing their gender identity. The school also failed to protect King from bullying, and people within the community had sympathy for the shooter, whom they viewed as being deceived by King.
In some cases because of religious conservatism people can’t find churches to bury their loved ones. So, not only are people dealing with the trauma of losing someone to violence, they are re-traumatized by the spaces that should support them in times of need.
I view my work within the field of Black LGBT studies, which is a subfield of African American Studies; the field of African American Studies is going in a direction of exploring gender and sexuality, which is exciting. I credit the work of Black feminists and queer scholars for pushing the field to expand beyond focusing only on experiences of Black straight men as the barometer of racism against all Black people. The field is enriched when we research how racism affects various types of Black people.
I think there isn’t a lot of research that explores the effects of violence upon the families and communities of Black/Latinx LGBT people, and I see my book going beyond statistics and actually looking at how violence affects communities, and also ways they are resistant. Black and Latinx LGBT people have a long history of community building and fighting for a more just world. We see this within the Black Lives Matter movement.
Parry: In the last chapter you examine “Community Justice for LGBT Black and Latinx People.” Can you elaborate on this concept and provide a path for how it might be achieved?
Brooks: Sure, in the book I argue that justice won’t be found by the state in the form of the criminal justice system because of the contentious relationship Blacks and Latino/a/xs have with the police. So, we don’t need more hate crime laws or longer prison sentences for people who commit violent crimes against Black and Latinx LGBT people because these legal measures don’t get at why the violence happens in the first place. Instead, we need institutional and cultural transformation in our K-12 educational systems, religious spaces, heath care industries, and families.
I interviewed people like Patrisse Cullors, and Sylvia Guerrero, the mother of Gwen Araujo, both have been involved in restorative justice models for several years. Violence does not start with individual behavior, but is fostered by institutions. Examples of community justice are the transformation of religious spaces that don’t demonize queer people, educational systems that support queer students of color and diverse curriculum, health care systems that give culturally appropriate holistic and affordable care to queer people of color. This could involve hiring queer people of color as doctors, and getting rid of outdated language, such as ‘homosexual’ or ‘transsexual’ on intake forms; it involves families that love and support LGBT Black and Latinx people. Education is key in implementing these types of community justice, and it is not an overnight process, but the gains of this approach will be worth it, especially for LGBT Black and Latinx youth future leaders.