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Mourners for Black Queer and Trans Lives Attacked by Castro Bar - The Feminist Wire

Mourners for Black Queer and Trans Lives Attacked by Castro Bar

by QTPOC Liberation

We are here because the gay community has been silent. We need you in the streets with us. We honor the lives of murdered black trans women and queers.

These were the words that Toad Hall, a bar in San Francisco’s Castro District, chose to silence this Saturday. These were the words that provoked a white bar patron to hurl a trashcan at a group of queer and trans people of color.

This group of queer and trans people of color, supported by white allies, had taken to the bars and the streets to challenge mainstream gay communities and organizations to take action against anti-Black racism. The Castro, specifically, is known for being hostile to queer and trans people of color, perpetuating anti-black racism through its cultural norms and practices. Similarly, mainstream gay organizations continue to align themselves with white, middle-class experiences at the expense of their most marginalized community members. And despite having radical roots in the struggles of queer and trans people of color, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, mainstream gay organizations continue to de-center race and racism from their work. Except when it is convenient and profitable, that is.

We entered Toad Hall and the SF Badlands Bar to invite the mostly white clientele of these bars to join us in affirming that Black Lives Matter. Instead, we were met with unabashed hostility. We chose Toad Hall because of its history of displacing Black gay community from the Castro. Wearing red for blood—red for STOP—we held photos of murdered Black trans women and queers next to flameless candles and led a ritual of mourning. Forming a circle in the middle of the dance floor, we looked outward to face the bar patrons whom we wanted to challenge, speak to, and move. In the faces of the crowd, we saw a sea of mixed responses— ambivalence, rage, compassion, confusion, and discomfort.

“Toad Hall, which side are you on? Whose lives matter? Black lives matter!”

We began to chant the message we came to share. The DJ gave us the middle finger and cranked up the music to an ear-splitting level. The energy shifted. It became tense. Our bodies and voices were taking up necessary space. Our presence was threatening the bar management’s complicity with histories of racism in the Castro. Our words were unsettling the leisure of Toad Hall patrons who have through inaction been complicit with a society that condones state-sponsored violence against Black lives.

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As we called out the mainstream gay community’s complicity with white supremacy and transphobia, we experienced violence and aggression. Things escalated over the course of the ten minutes we were on the dance floor. What began as micro-aggressions, such as turning up the music, turned into physical violence and verbal attacks. Bar patrons yelled derogatory names. Someone threw a glass. Doors slammed. Finally, a white bar patron hurled a large trashcan into the center of our circle, hitting two of us in the back and on the head.

We wanted to mourn. We wanted to draw connections between the radical history of the Castro and current struggles for Black liberation. We wanted to reveal how silence and complicity align with state-sanctioned violence against Black queer and trans people. And it was clear Toad Hall was not on the freedom side. Our presence revealed the deep rifts between the movement for queer and trans people of color liberation—which is intimately entwined with the broader struggle for Black liberation—and white mainstream gay communities.

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The hostility we faced has not deterred us. We will continue to make space for our mourning and resistance. And we will continue to challenge white-dominated LGBT institutions to recognize their role in this movement along the way.

Whether or not you are able to join actions in the streets, join us in this effort by signing our open letter to LGBT organizations nationwide. Our letter stands next to other nation-wide efforts to put pressure on mainstream LGBT organizations to take concrete action against anti-black racism. And while some mainstream LGBT organizations have publically offered their condolences and support for Michael Brown and his family, these gestures are not enough. We need LGBT organizations to be committed to challenging anti-black racism and violence in every aspect of their work; we need LGBT organizations to be invested in a movement in which all Black lives matter.

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QTPOC Liberation is a Bay Area based non-affiliated group of queer and trans people of color and mixed race folks acting in solidarity with Black-led groups such as Black Brunch, the Blackout Collective, and Black Lives Matter.
With the support of white allies, we #ShutDownCastro to mourn the many Black lives cut short by police and vigilante attacks, celebrate the resistance and vision of queer Black organizers, and take direct action against anti-Black violence.

4 Comments

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  3. Louis N Cullen III

    February 1, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    As a Black Gay Man who lives in San Francisco, I support every effort to inform, and educate the masses, the issue I have with the article and the actions of this group are that they stepped over a line by going into the bar. “We chose Toad Hall because of its history of displacing Black gay community from the Castro.” First the name Toad Hall has history, the bar in its current incarnation does not (they needed to cross the street and do this at badlands if that was the intention) History shows us that hostility is almost always met with hostility (hell peaceful protest as well) Did these individuals truly believe that they would be welcomed into this bar with open arms? Demanding that someone believe and feel the way you do about an issue does nothing to further that cause. Change and changing minds takes time (whether we like it or not) Sometimes we have to stand alone until others make the choice to stand with us. I would encourage even challenge those who want to be a part of the solution to do more research regarding the history of protesting. It’s okay to be angry, I am. What’s not okay is to let that anger cloud sound judgement. As a GAY Black Man I have tendency to turn the other way when I see this group gathering. I hate to say it, but I know they don’t represent me, actions like this scream of entitlement and vanity. I’m praying that real voices of this issues speak up soon.

  4. marcos

    February 4, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Acting out one’s own emotional needs via such direct actions at a bar when people are drinking and seeking sex is pretty much guaranteed to fail.

    But the point of such protests is not to change minds. It is to ratify feelings of victimhood and inferiority and oppression leading to the oppressed to be further oppressed by being “silenced” until they can again portray themselves as martyrs against white supremacy and patriarchy.

    The issues of patriarchy and white supremacy are very real. But what does it mean that outside of politics, most all women and people of color in my life know nothing of this identity theory? We gay men are fortunate to have a nexus with black gay men in our lives that most het whites don’t have. There is life outside of the traditional gay ghettoes. Drinking and sex seeking at one of those pathetic establishments is by no measure privilege.

    Successful emancipation movements in the US have been punctuated by direct action as the capital letter at the beginning of an imperative sentence, but have achieved gains by the shoe leather work of winning hearts and minds. The lesbian and gay movements that have achieved super majority support and the civil rights movements of the mid 20th century offered up an affirmative agenda and cast a wide net to make it happen.

    Guilt tripping does not accomplish this. Public therapy does not accomplish this. Projecting one’s view of groups onto people who do not share that view does not accomplish this.