Excerpt: The Feminist Wire On The Erasing Of Black LGBT Hate Crime Victims

While I applaud Savage for responding to the increasing number of gay and lesbian suicides that often follow bullying and violence, the framing of this campaign gives me pause. The campaign was developed in response to a culmination of the heartrending stories of gay and lesbian youth suicides (some of whom were youth of color-many of which have historically been unable to get national or even local media attention) within the media that reached its apex with the tragic death of Tyler Clementi, a white gay male.

Indeed, when we think of victims of homophobia-induced violence, many US citizens can easily recall the names of white gay males Tyler Clementi and Matthew Shepard but not Sakia Gunn, a black working class lesbian or Brandon White, a black gay youth. Why is that? Because many of the news stories prioritized within gay media outlets are framed by folk who seem to have a limited platform that favors particular persons, namely, middle-class white gay males, over some others. Savage and other middle-upper class gay white men benefit from this form of commodification. It is a hard truth that I, too, have to confront.

It is important, then, that we challenge Savage and his politics. He fails to recognize that the popularity of the campaign and its legitimacy depend on the very subtle exclusion of non-white and non-bourgeois bodies. Moreover, the movement has garnered international endorsement by politicians and celebrities because being gay in America, in the West, somehow speaks to the democratization of what was once considered radical, namely, gay identity.  So, yeah, it gets better for queer folk in the US context, but which queer folk?

There is no national campaign for the indeterminable number of Black queer and transgender men and women that have been killed or gone missing across the country. This is not because many have not tried to create such, but because the media, and liberal gays who shape it, like Savage, don’t seem to care.

– From “From One White Gay Male to Another: Calling out the Implicit Racism in Dan Savage’s ‘Liberal’ Politics & the ‘It gets better’ Campaign,” by Kirk Grisham

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  • PatrickInBeijing

    Wonderful article.  I appreciate the criticism of Dan Savage, but we shouldn’t use him to let the rest of the media and society off the hook.  Too often we devalue the lives of POC, in all situations.  It is sad, and anger inducing.  Thanks so much for educating me about this.

  • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

    Dan Savage is not someone I look to to defend me. I know who he is and who he represents so I don’t expect anything. What I wish for is that a few high profile African Americans who happen to be gay or lesbian or transgender or bi would come out and then speak up about these sort of issues. But I think I’m going to be wishing for some time.

  • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

    Dan Savage is not someone I look to to defend me. I know who he is and who he represents so I don’t expect anything. What I wish for is that a few high profile African Americans who happen to be gay or lesbian or transgender or bi would come out and then speak up about these sort of issues. But I think I’m going to be wishing for some time.

  • RVCBard

    Do not read the comments. Repeat: do not read the comments.

  • http://twitter.com/devans00 devans00

    I agree with the general point that the bad experiences of gay and transgender people of color need more national attention.  I don’t agree with blaming Dan Savage for the fact it’s not happening. 

    He’s an individual, not an institution like a nonprofit or political party. He doesn’t have the same responsibilty to be all things to all people. 

    If folks don’t like what causes Mr. Savage choses to support or how he goes about it then they should roll up their sleeves and get to work. Not sit back and wait for someone else to make everything all better.  Or throw rocks at someone who has a little success. You’d be better off figuring out how to be an ally and share some of the spotlight. 

    • Anonymous

      There is a distinct difference between “blaming” someone and given sound criticism for someone’s actions. Please try to understand the difference. 

      And no one is saying Dan Savage needs to “be all things to all people.” Kirk Grisham certainly isn’t saying that.

      And, this is not about what causes Dan Savage chooses to support or not. It is about about the way white privilege and white supremacy infects a cause Savage himself started. 

      And this is not about Kirk Grisham being jealous of Dan Savage. Which is what you seem to be implying in your “rock trowing” comment.

      Basically your entire comment seems to be completely disconnected from the reality of what Grisham has actually written in his essay, presumably because you really simply don’t appreciate or agree with what he (Grisham) has to say, which is fine. However, you would have done everyone, including yourself a better service if you just simply stated that rather than engaging in all those projections and mental gymnastics masquerading as an actual, real point.

    • jvansteppes

      Dan Savage is not ‘just an individual’; he’s positioned himself as an expert on gay issues for years and in that role he is accountable for his statements. A lot of us actually have a huge soft spot for Savage because of  ‘santorum’ and because for many of us his columns were our only access to sexual education (especially pre-internet). We don’t want to chase him with pitchforks. No one blames Dan Savage for ‘bad experiences’ (try violence, murder and poverty) of trans people of color, we just point out that someone in his position is ignoring important segments of the community by not pointing acknowledging that homophobic violence disproportionately affects POC. He DOES frame GLBT issues in a way that privileges the experiences of white cisgendered men and we have every right to critique him for it. 
      Queer POC aren’t absent from the spotlight because they haven’t ‘figured out how to be allies’ or because they haven’t ‘rolled up their sleeves’: this claim comes off as insulting and naive. POC have been front and centre of community based GLBT organizing for decades; in cases like Stonewall, their contributions were actually erased from white gay narratives to make gay rights more palatable to the mainstream. If GLBT POC’s opinions aren’t sought out it’s not because they’re lacking in experience, wisdom or wit; it’s because the white mainstream gay movement continues to privilege men like Savage above them and apparently can’t handle a thoughtful analysis of the race issues within gay communities. 

      • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    I was so thrilled to read this yesterday on “The Feminist Wire” I immediately sent Kirk Grisham a friends request on facebook. That’s because any white gay man who is able to identify even some of Dan Savage’s shortcomings and the racist, class privileged and white privileged undercurrents of the “It Gets Better” campaign plus write about it all is definitely someone I want to know better.  I do hope this is not one of those situations where LGBT people of color have been revealing something for years now and only when a white gay man speaks out about the very same thing, does the message begin to get heard by that part of the LGBT communities I refer to as “white, gay male privilege incorporated. ” Somehow I don’t think that is going to happen. The Dan Savage fan club seems to be as blindly and defiantly supportive of him as “Paulbearers” (my name for Ron Paul enthusiasts).

    • S. Mandisa Moore

      Im not saying not to like Kirk Grisham, but it is totally true that trans and queer folx of color have been pointing this out for years.

      Thats the world we live in.