Category Archives: social justice

TFW your tech work needs a trigger warning

It happens sometimes. I do web work and other kinds of tech support for community organizations, some of whom I work with outside of paid work. Working at this intersection of technology, my activism and my communities means I get shaken up at unexpected times.

Today I was working on a plan for a new website for the Audre Lorde Project, an organization I’ve worked with both professionally and politically for more than a decade now. I was checking out their site analytics to get a sense of what their site traffic might indicate about who’s coming to the site, and for what.

I pulled up a report of their site traffic over the past year and saw two huge spikes. I started looking into the first one. I got real nerdy excited over the rapid increase in traffic, jotting down some notes:

March 30 – 127 visits
March 31 – 340
April 1 – 1167
April 2 – 1586
April 3 – 634
April 4 – 244
tapers off from there

Next, of course, I had to see what was generating all that traffic, what was getting hit and why.

At the top of list of pages sorted by unique page views, I saw this URL:

http://alp.org/breaking-isolation-self-care-and-community-care-tools-our-people

I felt physically jolted, a little winded. I suddenly realized what I was seeing: the massive flood of people to Breaking Isolation: Self Care and Community Care Tools for our People, a resource that ALP posted after Taueret Davis, a community member I’d known of for years, a dear friend to many dear friends, committed suicide. So many of my friends, fellow queers, community members were amongst the unique visitors generating all of those page views. I was responsible for at least one of those page views.

I alt-tabbed to the work timer I had running and stopped the clock. I couldn’t just work past this. It brought up a barrage of memories and feelings, not only about Taueret’s death but about the other suicides we survivors have lived through this past year.

As I’m wont to do, I turned outward. Talked to my coworkers about it, a few of whom were similarly impacted by Taueret’s death. Tweeted about it. Wrote this.

After I’d expressed the contents of my head and my heart enough to keep going, I returned to work, now with even stronger inspiration for the work, plus a suddenly deepened understanding of why it’s so important to make sure that URLs don’t break when sites are upgraded.

http://alp.org/breaking-isolation-self-care-and-community-care-tools-our-people can never, ever break.

For Aubrey

After a webinar on blogging for social change earlier today, I found myself on the home page of my old blog, AngryBrownButch. Scrolling down the page, I was jarred to read these words from November 18, 2008:

Since writing about Duanna on Friday, I’ve learned about the killings of two more trans women of color in recent months. Ebony Whitaker was murdered in July, also in Memphis. In August, Nakhia Williams was killed in Louisville, Kentucky. GLAAD and the Kentucky Fairness Alliance report that not only was there minimal news coverage of Williams’ murder, but the coverage that did happen was transphobic and disrespectful. And just this past Friday, Teish Cannon, a young Black trans woman living in Syracuse, NY, had her life cut short at the age of 22 because she was trans. Again, the media coverage has been both sparse and disrespectful, identifying Cannon as a man who was killed for being gay, not a woman who was killed for being trans.

(It took me maybe ten minutes to type that last paragraph. It made me feel nauseous. I’m not sure how I’m managing not to cry at this point.)

Those words, written just over six years ago, are a terrible echo of words I’ve heard, read and helped write in recent weeks. Not even two months into 2015, at least nine queer or trans people of color have been killed, the majority of them trans women of color. We mourned those nine people on February 14 at a Valentine’s Day Action for Murdered Trans and Queer People of Color in downtown Oakland. Since then, the heartbreaking list of murdered trans women of color has continued to grow at a horrifying rate.

This epidemic of violence against trans women of color does a tremendous amount of collateral damage, beyond the devastating losses of the victims themselves. The toll this violence takes on communities of trans women of color and their allies is immense, immeasurable, and too often as severe as the murders themselves.

Hours after the dismay I felt at reading such similar words on my blog from all those years back, I received a text message from one of my housemates. He asked whether I knew Aubrey. I responded that I did; I’d met her and had gotten to know her through weekly hack nights at the POC-led, gender-diverse makerspace I’m involved in. I asked my roommate why he asked.

As I waited for his reply, I felt my stomach sinking. Aubrey was a young trans woman of color. I knew that with those overlapping oppressions and the other challenges she faced, she didn’t have an easy life. I’d seen my roommate post a question about suicide on Facebook earlier in the day. I knew what he would tell me before I received his next message: Aubrey had taken her own life.

The internet has created some strange new rituals of mourning and coping. After more texts consoling each other and planning how to share the awful news with others who knew Aubrey, I looked for her on Facebook, feeling odd about it but not knowing what else to do. We weren’t “friends,” so I could only see her public posts.

Towards the top of Aubrey’s wall, posted the day before she died, is an article about Sumaya Dalmar, a young trans woman of color found dead in Toronto on February 22. Below that, an article about how some trans women had created a now-defunct Facebook event declaring the last week of February “Worldwide Don’t Kill a Trans Woman Week.”

Aubrey’s comment on the article about Sumaya Dalmar: a crying emoticon, and the terrible question I’ve heard far too often from trans women of color in recent weeks: “me next?”

My heart is broken tonight, again, this time for Aubrey. I fear the next heartbreak. I feel like my community keeps bracing itself for the next heartbreak. It takes a terrible toll.

Three things keep going through my head:

The words of Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” I will.

The words of Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” With all of the loss that we experience, it’s important to remember that it’s not the fight that creates that loss; the fight keeps us alive, gives us strength, brings us hope in the face of these heartbreaks. And, oh yes, we must love each other and protect each other. We must protect each other. We must love each other.

Finally, the memory of Aubrey the last time I saw her. I can’t say I remember exactly what we talked about that last time she came to hack night; I won’t pretend that I have more than a vague memory, most likely an amalgamation of that and all the other times I’d seen her in the space. We were only acquaintances, not close. But we were still kin. We were still community. I remember her smile, her laugh, her awkwardness, her earnest enthusiasm. I remember looking forward to seeing her again.

I’ll fight like hell for the living, and for you, Aubrey.

Thoughts on transmisogyny

What do you mean trans women are women? (Meme from Radicallyqueer.wordpress.com)
Meme courtesy of Radically Queer

Transmisogyny–transphobia directed specifically and often exclusively at trans women–has felt continually rampant in many of my communities for an entire decade now.

I frequently witness transphobia against trans women expressed by people who do not similarly target trans men, thus rendering this particular expression of transphobia sexist in a somewhat traditional sense.

I witness transmisogyny practiced most often by cisgendered (i.e. non-trans, female-assigned at birth) women.

I see transmisogyny excused most often by other cis women or other folks who were female-assigned at birth, including trans men, genderqueers, and gender non-conforming women.

As a genderqueer butch, female-assigned at birth person of color, transmisogyny personally upsets me most when practiced by women and gender non-conforming people of color; especially when their transmisogyny ends up being directed explicitly at trans women of color; and most of all when said transmisogyny is practiced by individuals and groups who possess and articulate clear analyses of how feminist and women’s movements have frequently marginalized certain classes of women, including women of color, queer women, and gender non-conforming folks who were female-assigned at birth.

And I dare say that I see folks who claim to be allies to trans women, people of color and white folks alike, excusing or explaining away transmisogyny committed by cis women way more often than those same people would ever excuse acts of racism, sexism, or even transphobia against trans men or gender non-conforming folks who are female-assigned at birth.

These are simply my observations, from my particular perspective, with all of my privileges and lacks thereof. What do you think? What have you seen or experienced?

Editorial note: Facebook comments and shares are nice, but comments and discussion here are even nicer! That way folks who aren’t on Facebook can both read and participate.

Anaheim youth speak out

It’s heartbreaking and awful that these kids had to experience and witness police brutality in Anaheim. But it’s also amazing to hear this group of young Latin@s of many genders speak about their experience. They were scared by what happened to them — the girl in the preview frame was hit in the leg by a rubber bullet — but they’re not scared to speak up, to come up with their own opinions about the situation, and to demand justice. It might sound corny or trite but youth like these give me hope for our future.

Compiled: mostly mainstream media coverage of recent police violence in Anaheim and Brooklyn

I really did mean to go to sleep early tonight. But I didn’t, and at around 1am I started seeing hints of what’s going down in Anaheim via my Twitter stream. I’d actually seen — and even retweeted — some very specific and worrisome info on Anaheim earlier today, but it was while I was working and trying to stay as focused as possible. Yes, I’ll admit, I sometimes retweet even big deal things without getting to peruse them thoroughly. Probably not the best idea.

Anyhow, this tweet from Liz Henry tipped me off again:

RT @: "@: Reports from @ and @ of more police mobilizing in #Anaheim"
@lizhenry
Liz Henry

I started doing some more research and was shocked by what I saw. First, the video I’d actually retweeted about earlier but never fully processed or watched (which I’m somewhat ashamed and appalled to admit):

My reaction on Facebook: “What the HELL. This is on the regular old channel 9 news. Earlier in the day in Anaheim the police shot a guy who was one of three men who ran away from the police. Not drew on the police, not NOTHING, just ran. Then the community dared to meet about it, dared to demand ACCOUNTABILITY from the cops, and they opened FIRE with rubber bullets. They let a K-9 loose and it went at a woman CARRYING HER BABY and then brought down a man, a cop trying and failing to control this dog. Towards the end there is a heartrending, enraging image of children carrying a seemingly unconscious child — un nene, carajo, un chiquito — away from the mayhem. Everyone there under fire is brown, so many Latinos, apparently no one armed at all. “Dozens of people had their cell phones and at least four different people told me that police officers offered to buy their videos from them with no explanation,” the reporter on the scene says. This is terrifying and real.”

Next: this article from the Washington Post that describes the event that sparked the community outrage: the Anaheim police’s killing of an unarmed man who had fallen to his knees as tried to run away from the police. They shot him in the back of his head.

The 16-year-old niece of the man who was shot and killed, Manuel Diaz, said her uncle likely ran away from officers when they approached him because of his past experience with law enforcement.

“He (doesn’t) like cops. He never liked them because all they do is harass and arrest anyone,” Gonzalez told the newspaper after lighting a candle for her uncle. She cursed at officers who were nearby and a police helicopter that hovered overhead.

As I posted on Facebook: “Again, this is what the plain old mainstream media is reporting about what’s going down in Anaheim. Usually I assume that the mainstream media version is the watered down version. In this case, that’s just frightening.”

After that, a friend provided this article published Sunday by the Orange County Register. It’s very long and detailed; included is some background on the long history of police violence and misconduct in Anaheim:

Saturday’s shooting was the latest by the Anaheim Police Department, which is under scrutiny for several recent officer-involved shootings.

For nearly two years, families of others who have been fatally shot by Anaheim police in recent years have been holding protests at Anaheim police headquarters each Sunday.

Those protests led city officials last month to order an independent investigation of “major police incidents,” several of which resulted in suspects being killed.”

Also notable from this article: the Anaheim Police seem to love the label “documented gang member,” as demonstrated by how often they threw it around, as if to justify their acts of extreme violence both during the shootings and the severe crackdown on unarmed community members. I’ve never seen the word “documented” being used to refer to Latin@s so much outside of the context of immigration. To what agency does one go to get their gang papers, one might wonder.

UPDATED: 9:36am ET, 7/23/12

A few things to add since I signed off last night:

Gustavo Arellano of the OC Weekly posted a video of the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Manuel Diaz. The video is graphic. It shows Diaz laying on the ground, still moving, with no one attending to him; the police on the scene are milling around, then focus on pushing the crowd back away from the scene. You hear people telling the cops that Diaz is still moving, asking why no one is helping him. At around minute 3:13 of the video the cops pull him over roughly, his face a mask of blood. The video cuts off immediately thereafter.

Earlier this morning, Arellano sent out this tweet:

2nd man killed this weekend by #anaheim police ID'd as Joel Acevedo, Mother had Facebook premonition of his death http://t.co/aPw3pL6s
@GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano

Yes, this is a report of another Latino being shot and killed by the Anaheim police department just last night.


While reading through all of this, I couldn’t help but think of another recent incident of police officers violently and indiscriminately cracking down on unarmed people of color. As I shared on Facebook: “Take what’s happening in Anaheim, then connect it to this account of NYPD cops’ violent response to what amounts to standard swimming pool horseplay at McCarren Pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Pepper spray was involved; a kid got maced.” Chavisa Woods’ accountaccount begins:

It was one of the hottest days of the year. I went to McCarren Pool at six oclock. I’d always imagined what it would look like as an actual pool. This was beyond my expectation. It looked like a paradise (although there was a heavily imbedded police presence). I didn’t know I was about to witness people wearing nothing but swimming suites getting brutally arrested, slammed on their stomachs, shoved aside and to the cement, children and adults being haplessly maced and rushed by very large, enraged police officers, all because some people, most of whom were kids, decided to do a few flips into the water.

Aside from this account, which I only saw thanks to a few friends who shared it online, there has been very little coverage of this incident. What little is out there leaves out much if not all of the detail and analysis that Woods’ account contains. I did find and appreciate “The Politics of McCarren Park Pool,” a lengthy and detailed history of the pool, the surrounding neighborhoods, and the race and class tensions therein. One quote shocked me:

One Parks worker even floated the idea of charging for pool use. “There will be fights and problems throughout the summer—because it’s free,” he said. “They need to charge a little money to keep the riff raff out.”

Because being broke, even in this decrepit economy, automatically qualifies you as “riff raff” who doesn’t deserve to access the public city pool on a boiling hot summer day.

(Autobiographical aside: my mom spent some of her early years in the states living in south Williamsburg. I often wonder how shocked she’d be by what the neighborhood has become.)

Now it’s 2:39am ET, and I’ve really got to get to sleep. I’ll sum up by saying that as shocking and upsetting and frightening as all of this police violence leveled at unarmed people of color is, this is nothing new. This heightened policing, automatic suspicion, and violence is an everyday fact of life for people of color, especially low-income and poor people of color, in this country. That’s the sad, sick truth. But that’s why we’ve got to keep working so that solidarity, struggle, community and justice are also our everyday facts of life, as hard as we need to work to get it.

So, Catholic nuns kinda rock.

Today a high school friend of mine shared this NPR piece on Facebook: An American Nun Responds To Vatican Criticism. In the NPR interview, Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, speaks to the issues being raised by the Vatican’s current patriarchal attack on the organization; the Vatican has announced that three American bishops have been appointed to oversee it. According to the official Vatican assessment, the Conference is promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

An excerpt of the interview with Sister Farrel, in response to criticism regarding the organization’s attitude towards sexuality:

We have been, in good faith, raising concerns about some of the church’s teachings on sexuality. The problem being that the teaching and interpretation of the faith can’t remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in. And new questions and new realities [need to be addressed] as they arise. And if those issues become points of conflict, it’s because Women Religious stand in very close proximity to people at the margins, to people with very painful, difficult situations in their lives. That is our gift to the church. Our gift to the church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That’s where we spend our days.

Preach!


This recent news coverage of apparently social justice oriented Catholic nuns has fostered the most pronounced positive feelings about anything connected to Catholicism that I’ve had in a long, long time. It’s also making me think fondly of my high school education by the Sisters of Mercy (and their fellow teachers and administrators who were lay people).

It’s funny — my all-girls Catholic high school was actually not the most horrible context in which to realize that I was queer.1 By senior year I was explicitly out to the directress (ie. principal), quite a few teachers, the school psychologist (VERY supportive and VERY helpful), my good friends, and a few classmates.

I imagine that quite a few other people knew as well; who knows if people guessed it. As for gender, it’s actually quite easy to be a stealth butch in an all-girls’ Catholic high school. We all wore the same uniforms, many people didn’t bother with makeup or go through any great lengths over appearance, and there was even a widespread trend of wearing boxers under one’s uniform kilt (a late root?) Outside of school I pretty much wore t-shirts and jeans unless forced not to for some occasion or another; since in our society masculinity is the default and is considered universally desirable (either desire of or desire to be), you can get away with that for a pretty long time as a person who’s assigned female at birth.

All of that is to say, my Catholic high school was in some ways astoundingly chill. I mean, I went on a school trip to see Rent on Broadway — as part of my senior year religion course named “Living and Dying.” I didn’t experience a single incident of homophobic harassment or teasing. My college essay had something about how coming out was a form of overcoming adversity in it and my guidance counselor and another teacher reviewed it for me; both were nothing but supportive. This wasn’t limited to acceptance around sexuality; hell, I can thank a high school religion teacher for my first introduction to Buddhism and meditation.

And yet, when it was all said and done, we were always “ladies,” one and all. We all had to own a white gown and wear it on command for special occasions. Religion classes and attendance at religious functions during school days were compulsory. Heterosexuality was absolutely the norm, though with no self-identified boys around I mostly got to ignore that.2 Except when I couldn’t, like when we had to create “wedding albums” for a religion assignment. (My ideal groom as depicted therein was John Lennon circa White Album.) There as a pro-life club but never a chance of a pro-choice club.3 A student two years above me got suspended — or was it expelled? — when she punched another girl in the Senior Lounge after she called her a dyke. (No punishment for the slur, so far as I heard.) I sure as hell wasn’t throwing a campus Pride parade any time soon. It was definitely Catholic with a capital C.

But flawed, repressive, and normative as my high school was, I got to experience a different side of Catholicism, the side that’s being highlighted in this article and the rest of the recent press coverage: the side where women are central, where women are in positions of power and leadership, and where an explicit part of the mission of the institution was to educate, enrich, and empower young women. You know, the actually kinda cool side of Catholicism.



1. OK, as soon as I wrote that I had to laugh. Yeah, being attracted to girls at an all-girls high school wasn’t the WORST thing in the world. Heh.


2. I did try to fit in my freshman year by tearing out the page from an issue of Superman in the “Superman’s Dead” arc where you see Superboy looking all fierce and muscular in his leather jacket and yelling “Don’t EVER call me SUPERBOY!” and putting it up on my locker door. But somehow putting up a picture of a comic book character didn’t go over so well. From then on I stuck to pictures of the Beatles.


3. I went to the March for Life in DC because I had a huge crush on a friend who was going; I got there, felt totally traumatized by all I saw, hid inside government buildings for most of the day with said friend, and never attended another pro-life event again.