There were two key strategies passed down to me from some of the women in my family. The first was that I shouldn’t let “everyone know what or who I liked” and the second was “women should be seen and not heard.” This family advice was meant to help me navigate a predominately white, male & heterosexual workforce as well as limit backlash for my queerness.
The women in my family were worried for my safety and my securement of a career.
It is due to advice like this, however, that an uncomfortable silence exists with being a part of the LGBTQ community. Whether I am at work, with friends or family there are stories about my life that is never shared. And I am sure I am not the only one, being a queer woman of color means that I am apart of a group of women whose accomplishments, pain and happiness go unheard for fear of retribution or ostracizing from the people who we both work with and love. This fear, for women of color, is significantly magnified.
The increase of silence for women of color, who also identify as queer, is due to the length through which Black & Brown families have verbalized their disdain for each letter of the LGBTQ acronym. Growing up I’d hear of friends beaten, forced into psychotherapy, abandoned, left homeless and hungry due to their sexuality.
The existence of homophobia and these consequences for sharing our identity have kept people not just “in the closet” but left our experiences and movements out of our classrooms. Rarely as a child would I enter the classroom and be met with stories of queer women who had fought in the civil rights movement, written novels or shifted history. They and I were both invisible. The absence of our stories continuously allows “queerness” to be otherized and bullied.
That can stop, if teachers are ready to build an inclusive culture, in their classroom.
Which is why this Women’s History Month I’ll be celebrating queer women along with the community of cisgender women who have not only attacked the pillars of patriarchy but lifted the veil of ignorance and allowed our power, brilliance and magic to shine through.
Often times the fear associated with making parents, teachers, and administrators uncomfortable has resulted in building safe spaces and affinity groups that allow us to have conversations but not publicly. For students these spaces come in the form of clubs like the Gay Straight Alliance, along with friend groups and relationships with teachers. Yet, affinity groups and isolated discussions, although needed are also a clear indication that specific groups aren’t welcome in society or even within our school community.
This celebration and storytelling in isolation, has resulted in a continued pathway for us to be publicly disrespected, deemed unworthy of companionship and framed as women with a “hate for men” which for many of us is non-existent. In actuality, queer women, have and continue to fight for social justice for each part of our identity which includes the devastating effects of racism on our judicial and education systems.
Over the past ten years it has been beautiful to watch as queer women disrupt the status quo and not only make space but force a shift in the vocabulary used as our descriptors, push for punishment when crimes are committed against us and be unapologetic when recording our story.
It is due to the openness and honest reflections of so many authors, poets and activist that I feel comfortable pushing conversations on race, gender and sexuality into the forefront. However, I know many educators are searching for resources to assist with developing a more inclusive classroom and Women’s History Month would be a great time to start the process.
When it comes to celebrating Queer Women of Color there aren’t tons of lessons to choose from as you Google the topic. Teaching Tolerance has done a great job of providing resources to help foster more inclusive environments in schools. These include: Toolkit for LGBT Best Practices and Creating an LGBT Inclusive School Climate. However, in terms of daily instruction Teaching Tolerance’s lesson on Lorraine Hansberry: LGBT Politics & Civil Rights would be an excellent start because it specifically highlights her talent and activism.
In order to engage students in a discussion on race, activism and queer women of color I’ve found it extremely helpful to pull modern examples together in which students are already familiar with which include Black Lives Matter, Orange is the New Black & The Chi.
Patrisse Cullors & Alicia Garza, two Co-Founders of Black Lives Matter are queer women. According to the Black Lives Matter website the organization seeks to, “foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).”
So many of my students watched Orange is the New Black and often times had questions or comments on Laverne Cox’s character. This was a great opportunity to discuss the term transgender, pronouns and the movement for transgender rights.
Lastly, groundbreaking writer Lena Waithe, who was the first Black woman to receive an Emmy for comedy writing is also the writer and producer of The Chi. Her Emmy was won for an episode of Master of None called “Thanksgiving” in which she came out to her mother (Angela Bassett). Students can watch the clip of her coming out, listen to her acceptance speech and discuss it. Each clip provides an opportunity to discuss Blackness + LGBT community, fear of family ostracizing and limited opportunities in work.
There are so many other queer women whom I could of mentioned and am thankful for but this is a start.
Whatever you choose to do this Women’s History Month, I hope that as educators, you will provide a space for queer women of color to be identified and celebrated.