The Most Marginalized of the Marginalized

June is Pride Month and rainbow flags are everywhere. That’s a good thing, right? While LGBTQ Americans still face far too much discrimination, they are more visible than ever before. Few of us give it a second thought when we learn that a neighbor, friend, or family member is gay. We attend same sex weddings, we see transgender and nonbinary people represented in the media, and we continue learning about the nuances of gender and sexuality. 

But wait. Isn’t this blog about race?

The term “Intersectionality” was coined by renowned scholar Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. Crenshaw asserts that “intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.” 

Black LGBTQ individuals, and in particular Black transgender women, find themselves positioned far, far down at the bottom of our society’s power structure. They are served a uniquely poisonous—and sometimes deadly—concoction of sexism, transphobia, and racism, frequently sprinkled with a dash of homophobia. Black trans women are commonly poor and face healthcare and housing discrimination. They routinely encounter discrimination at school, the workplace, and in the criminal justice system. For many trans women of color, life becomes an endless fight just to survive. 

And often they don’t. 

Survive, that is.

Let’s begin with youth. The Trevor Project’s National LGBTQ Survey (2022) found that:

  • LGBTQ youth of color reported higher rates of attempting suicide than their white peers in the past year. Among the nearly 34,000 LGBTQ youth surveyed, 12% of white youth attempted suicide compared to 21% of Native/Indigenous youth, 20% of Middle Eastern/Northern African youth, 19% of Black youth, 17% of multiracial youth, 16% of Latinx youth, and 12% of Asian/Pacific Islander youth. 
  • In particular, Black transgender and nonbinary youth report disproportionate rates of suicide risk — with 59% seriously considering suicide and more than 1 in 4 (26%) attempting suicide in the past year. 
  • These disparities highlight the devastating impacts of historical and ongoing oppression and trauma inflicted on Black, Indigenous, and people of color. 

The above is quoted directly from The Trevor Project’s 2022 National LGBTQ Survey

According to the Center For American Progress (CAP), “LGBTQ people of color regularly face compounded levels of discrimination—particularly in access to quality health care, education, and housing—leading to elevated rates of homelessness, avoidance of needed services, and poor health outcomes”. The statistics are plentiful, but I found those related to healthcare discrepancies to be particularly surprising. I guess it had never occurred to me that healthcare providers wouldn’t treat everyone with equitable care (Can you say “privilege?”). In a survey conducted by CAP in 2020:

  • 24 percent of LGBTQ people of color reported some form of negative or discriminatory treatment from a doctor or health care provider in the year prior; 17 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
  • 18 percent of LGBTQ people of color had to teach their doctor about their sexual orientation to get appropriate care; 8 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
  • 10 percent of LGBTQ people of color had a doctor refuse to see them because of their sexual orientation, and 19 percent had a doctor who was visibly uncomfortable due to their sexual orientation; 4 percent and 11 percent of white LGBTQ respondents, respectively, reported the same.

The above is quoted directly from the Center For American Progress

HIV affects Black transgender women significantly more their non-Black counterparts. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 6.7% of Black respondents reported that they were HIV positive. That is almost five times the rate of transgender respondents of all races and ethnicities (1.4%) and more than twenty times the rate of the general U.S. population (0.3%). This discrepancy can be explained in part by racism and transphobia among potential employers. A disproportionate number of Black trans women, desperate for income, resort to sex work for economic survival. Unfortunately, although they may escape from poverty and homelessness, their risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases increases.

The situation has gotten even more grave as various states have enacted new laws targeting–and sometimes criminalizing– pediatric care for transgender children. While trans kids may have previously received gender-affirming healthcare (aka “healthcare”) close to their homes, many families must now travel out-of-state for their child’s care. Some will choose to relocate, but not everyone can afford to do so. BIPOC families, plagued by systemic racism, are more likely to be economically disadvantaged than white families. Consequently, their transgender children are more likely to be deprived of the healthcare they need in order to thrive.

It doesn’t stop there.

Of the 57 transgender women who were targeted and murdered in 2021, 84% of them were women of color. Most were under the age of 30. And with 28 states leaving transgender Americans unprotected by hate crime laws, defendants are often charged with crimes that carry more lenient punishments. Some states even allow defendants to use “trans panic defense” in the courtroom (as in, “Your Honor, I was so horrified when I realized this person was transgender that I freaked out and killed them”).

Pride Month 2020 was an intense one for BIPOC Americans who are also part of the LGBTQ community. In a July, 2020 interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Imara Jones called that summer’s coming together of Black Lives Matter and Pride “a crucible” moment. Jones, the founder of TransLash media, describes trans people of color as “the most marginalized of the marginalized in every single way that’s imaginable,”. She points out that although it was Black and Brown transgender and nonbinary people who led the Stonewall Riots in 1969, resulting in the first Pride march the next year, the biggest LGBTQ organizations are led by white people. Jones added, “And of course the irony, as well, of this moment is that the very people who helped to start the fight for LGBTQ rights have not benefited from the movement that they started”.

If you are reading this, you are likely either a person of color or a white person who wants to learn and grow as an ally. In either case, those who are “the most marginalized of the marginalized” are in special need of allies like you and me. The -isms they live with make for a very intense “intersection”. Conversations, policies, and activism that center BIPOC, women, or the LGBTQ community often overlook Black transgender women, even though they check all of those boxes. As Kimberle Crenshaw warned us, their voices and needs are easily erased.

Want to help? See the link below for Black-led organizations to which you can donate.

17 Black-Led LGBTQ+ Organizations & Groups to Support Right Now | Marie Claire