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Driving While Black, Female, and Queer

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Public spaces include highways, and getting from ‘Point A to B’ safely, can be challenging for black women. I am #SandraBland a sister-activist, or any one of the Black women silenced and wiped away. I feel like Black people are walking and driving targets for white supremacists. Many of which include police officers. Add driving while Black, female, and queer to the equation, while examining history and you will see, that the deaths of Black people at the hands of police brutality, has changed me.

Dignity Matters

The lack of dignity they were served has pushed me to do more as an activist and to raise pen with consistency in fighting oppression. It’s a matter of survival.  Black women are dying from white supremacy and laws that do not protect us.  The world is more concerned about securing animal rights than spaces for Black people to breathe.

Driving While DWB

When we talk about experiences people have with “Driving While Black or Brown, (DWB)”, we generally think of men. My experiences speak to the reality that there are incidents that go unreported where Black women are targeted, because of race, gender, of non-gender conforming dress, or perceived sexual orientation. I have helped in the under reporting in the past, by not filing.  

It Could Have Been Me

The courage of Sandra Bland and Korrine Gaines, even in the face of death—doesn’t allow me the comfort of silence.I have been stopped for being both black and female, and adding the queer twist to the list, is too much for some people.   I should note, two of the six times I was pulled over, I was dead wrong. One stop involved a left-hand turn (not my forte). On another occasion, I was rushing to pick my kids up from daycare after work and earned the speeding ticket. My being late was no excuse to put anyone in danger, including myself.

I began to think about the many interspersed unjustified stops and the link between the stress of driving in a police state with an always present, undercurrent of death.  For me, silence resulted in feelings of anxiety and helplessness from suffering police abuse, and electing to “let it go.” Self-questioning dogged me.

Why Didn’t I Do More?

As a Black woman, I pick my battles letting some incidences of human and civil injustice slide. Though, each time a video from #SandySpeaks graces my timeline I see a determined sister’s face. Confident and beautiful, I see Sandy, speaking truth to power, that somehow, justice would prevail. Sandra Bland was about life and living, the world in her hands, a new job, and an action plan for returning to Texas to fight injustice. The character assassination and ad nauseam regarding past mental health issues have nothing to do with being pulled violently from a car, or why she was found dead in a holding cell. The truth remains relevant.

What’s In A Look?

#IamSandraBland, my dress for fifteen years included (African clothing, locs, and a nose ring). Law enforcement had several labels to slap on me if they chose to do so. My appearance, was as far from European dress, as I could muster. Along with my pro-black or militant (depending on who was judging) physical appearance, my car and by proxy the driver (me), were labeled as, Q-U-E-E-R, ‘Super Black’, and with an expressed affinity for women.

My rear bumper was riddled with progressive messages, in support of anything, not white and male. They included stickers on, “Keeping Black Families Together”, LGBT stickers with colorful rainbows, and an array of colorful stickers suggesting, “Women Unite Globally!” I don’t think it too far fetched to assume, that these self-indulgent acts, which strongly affirm self-love and pride in who one is, moved the cops enough to show me favor.

I Felt Completely Vulnerable

One particular traffic stop stands out. On a poorly lit and severely unfamiliar suburban street, I was lost I made a u-turn into a cul-du- sac to find my bearings. Upon pulling out of the exit, cop lights were in my rear-view. At twelve forty-five in the morning, on a back road, the loudspeaker on the squad car blared the voice at the other end commanding me to pull over.

I hesitated for about ten seconds that felt more like an hour. What if they were not real cops? It was dark and eerily quiet. Would anyone hear my screams if they tried anything? I read, and knew if the going advice for women traveling alone at night and believed they were being followed, was to go to the nearest police station.

Different Rules Apply

I wasn’t being followed, but I wasn’t sure I was safe either. Besides, that may be a set-aside rule for white women. With the light from the taller officer’s flashlight shining in my face, images of Black women being abused in the south,  by law enforcement and left to find their way home bloodied and traumatized, flashed through my mind

I certainly feared the possibility of physical attack, including rape, and maybe even, death in those minutes. I felt totally alone in that situation, some police officers lie and may get extra points when a Black woman is involved.

Profiled and Detained

My crime that morning was being in an unlit suburban area, in a vehicle that racist media painted as “hot” for drug dealers. My car was down and mother gifted me her older Pontiac 6000 when she purchased a new ride. Neither of us was aware, that the car was “branding” me when I drove in certain areas. That morning I was lost and when I turned around in the dark and unfamiliar area, the cops were sitting duck for me. They pulled me over, questioned me about where I lived, and what I was doing in the neighborhood of Farmington, a suburb of my hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

My Trunk Was Full Of Goods, Queer Ones

They had me walk the line (I was sober), searched my vehicle (inside and trunk), without a warrant. I wanted to challenge them but decided that may not be the wisest decision given the darkness, and not particularly Black or queer friendly neighborhood I was being held in. As they went through my trunk, I explained that I was staying at a friend’s home in the neighborhood who was out of town, while my girlfriend moved out of our place. Geesh, I was going through a breakup and now this! The queer newspapers and boxes of conference materials filling my trunk were left over from a Transgender Youth Conference where I had presented earlier in the day. The peace officers took care to go through each copy.

Finding nothing, but queer gear, they continued to detain me. I was handcuffed in the rear of their squad car for almost thirty minutes as they called in my license plate. My outfit in case it matters was an African bou bou, shoulder length locs, and a nose piercing. The only noise aside from the police radio feedback was from my bangles shaking as I prayed for a quick exit. Prayer works and thankfully, God kept me from harm. The rear door opened, and I didn’t receive a citation when my hands were uncuffed. My license, insurance, and registration were returned and the shorter officer decided to play nice cop, telling me to “Get in safely.”

My Voice Returned

Out of nowhere, with my dignity assaulted, my voice returned. I wanted badge numbers and the names of commanding officers. The “nice-cop” laughed as if I were joking. Still shaken, I committed the two badge numbers to memory, got in my car, and with them watching to make sure I wasn’t going to double back to retrieve or drop off bundles of dope in my “hot” Pontiac 6000, I found my way back to the main street.

I #SayTheirNames, because they matter and should never be forgotten. The Sandra Bland Act is a strong statement. It forces us to address the stigma of mental illness while holding law enforcement accountable to the people and communities they serve. White supremacy is a system that can only be dismantled by countless acts of resistance and people deciding to stand for right. Walking, driving, and breathing while Black, are all human rights, I stand for.

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Your Toolbox for International Travel

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How does being on a maintenance crew help you to travel?

To think that digging deeper into one stagnant place, sometimes literally to run electrical wiring or plant trees, would in turn help spread your wings. Yet, there are many things I learned as part of the maintenance crew at a camp facility. Paint will always make it’s way onto your clothing, coffee truly does boost morale, and leaf blowers are a source of power and unparalleled joy. Physical work is interestingly fulfilling, sometimes those who work the hardest earn the least, and time must be made for creation.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned in these two weeks: Don’t forget your tools.

So naturally, that’s what I did. Amidst the chill of a November morning, my coffee still waking up in waves of steam, I dragged my legs across the gravel road. Back towards the shed, where the day started and where our future progress rested. When I secured my grasp on the small, silver chunks of the ratchet set, I felt as though I was bringing the team to victory. My muscles turned slowly, I checked the volume of my podcast, and made my way back down the road.

As I prepare to fly to South America on November 28th, I have searched the high and low depths of the internet for answers to so many questions. I failed in finding the shed of hope or a shiny, metallic cluster of utensils for assistance. So, I have compiled the various tools from my research into the following list. Consider this to be our traveling toolbox, one that we can grab from our pockets for an easy fix or how-to.

With my steadfast belief in the power of travel to aid in our understandings of ourselves and others, I hope this toolbox helps you feel better equipped to buy that ticket! 

Dolla-Dolla Bills

-Spread it like Skippy!

Avoid traveling with a lump sum of cash. Spread your money throughout your belongings and your clothing to help you adapt in emergency situations.

-Travelers Checks or Prepaid Credit

Avoid a cash shortage by using variations of payment, such as a Travelers Check or Credit Card. Although somewhat archaic, Travelers Checks can only be cashed by you, can help with budgeting, and don’t rely on an ATM. However, they do rely on your ability to find local banks and may still have currency exchange charges.

Through VISA, TravelEx, and Mastercard, you can purchase prepaid credit cards offered at a nearby Rite-Aid, Wal-mart, or CVS. These cards can be used at accepting locations, as well as upon your return to your homeland. Fidelity is a great option that offers cards without foreign-transaction fees or minimum balance limits.

-Call your Bank

Make sure to update your bank account with your travel plans. It is a real burden to be abroad with a frozen credit card, especially when the suspected fraud is simply you trying to buy a souvenir in Paris .

-Cover the Real Bills

Automate your payments and postpone incoming mail prior to your departure. Review your insurance plans and commit to a travel insurance payment if necessary.

-RFID Wallet

Made by Pacsafe and sold by REI Co-Op, this wallet prevents electronic-scanning theft, prevents cut-and-run theft, and can hold multiple passports and cash.

Security and Health

-Make Copies of your Passport and Health Forms

Carry replications of your passport with you and leave a few copies with an emergency contact. This should also be done for prescription and immunization forms, a great side-effect of a routine check-up at your primary care before leaving.

-Register with the Designated Embassy

This will simplify the process of contacting the government for any needs of safety or assistance. When doing so, you can check for entry/exit fees or necessary vaccinations.

-Create an Itinerary

Make an outline of your expected plans, especially your purpose of entry and departure information, and the conversation with immigration officials will flow more smoothly. This will encourage you to organize your own plans, print any maps, and leave behind an itinerary with an emergency contact.

-First-Aid and Health Supplies

With an immune system that weakens with a sneeze, I have learned to always carry a Med-Kit. This page from the CDC helps to narrow down what will be worth having on-reserve.

-Osprey Backpack

I will be carrying such medicine in this pack, the Ariel AGTM 75L, throughout my upcoming trip and beyond. With a simple rain cover, it does an exceptional job fitting all of my needs, blocks any roaming hands, and it sits comfortably on my hips!

Ayo Technology

-Cellular Plan

Contact your provider, find the most logical international plan at a reasonable cost, and make sure to activate the global settings on your phone. It is possible to forgo your home plan and take advantage of the cellular data of the country you’re visiting by transferring your SIM-card, which should hold your saved contacts and numbers, into a phone purchased abroad. 

-Portable Power Bank

POM Power2Go helps me to stay charged, yet there are many options that will allow you to charge your devices on-the-go. These mobile batteries vary in terms of how many charge cycles they provide, the average charge time, and the number of devices that can be charged simultaneously.

-Plug Adapter

It’s electric! Really though, make sure you check the common plug type and voltage of the country or countries you are visiting. This Kikkerland adapter seems to be popular, while this Skross adapter will assist with both plug and voltage adaptation.

Other Knowledge Nuggets

-Can I have your Card?

Use this business pick-up-line and place the card in your wallet to avoid losing track of your hostel or favorite restaurant.

-Prevent Hanger

Save yourself (and others) and bring snacks everywhere.

-Transportation Apps

By downloading international maps, you can follow along with public transportation to confirm that you are taking the best route. Don’t forget about the screenshot! This allows you to save your route as an image, which you can zoom into and expand without using any data.

-Avoid Public Nudity

Or don’t, if that is your thing. But do pack some clothing in your carry-on and explore options for how to check your bag.

-Hydrate or Die-drate

Not all places boast the advantages of filtered tap water or fountains, so you will need to set aside a balance for purchasing water bottles. If you’re expecting low water accessibility, consider this gear for filtering and disinfecting your H2O.

As an LGBTQ+ Traveler

Do your research! It is well-known that the LGBTQ+ community faces specific political, economic, and social challenges around the world.

For anyone planning to travel alone and/or as an open member or ally to the LGBTQ+ community, here are the resources that I have found to be most helpful: GlobalGayz, GayTravel, and PurpleRoofs.


While this list may aid in travel preparation, it is certainly not all-inclusive. Please share this article and tell us at TravelPride what additional tools help you to travel more proudly! Thanks for reading, and be on the look-out for my first post from Peru!

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The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson Gives LGBTs’ a History They’ve Needed

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*To honor the gender fluidity of Marsha P Johnson, I will be referring to them as they.

 

We study our history, so we know from where we came. To learn about the American Revolution, we study the Founding Fathers, Susan B. Anthony for Woman’s Right, Martin Luther King Junior for the Civil Rights Movement. We are taught those histories. However yet the media and even history books have glossed over the gay rights movement, the one that is still being fought today. Who are our leaders? Where are their stories?

Thanks to director David Frances we have one, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson a documentary released last month on Netflix. It tells the story of Marsha P. Johnson, their life as a transgender person, their activism in the LGBT community, and their mysterious death.

Even as a member of the LGBT community, until this documentary I was unaware of whom Marsha P. Johnson was, this Rosa Parks of the LGBT community. Therefore I was very much a blank slate about what this movie was going to be about. But nothing could prepare me for how emotional, impactful, and eye-opening this movie was going to be. This is a movie that blends both the past and the present, showing those in the community how far we’ve come, and how much work we still need to do.

The documentary uses a mix of never-before-seen footage, rediscovered interviews, and modern times, creating both a mystery that needs to be solved and a wake-up call.  This is especially seen in the opening of the film when we are shown a clip of people marching on the streets of New York , some waving rainbow flags, others holding signs, and others carrying a picture of a black, femme presenting woman, smiling. A Clark Kent type anchor man is heard in the voiceover, using the word “transvestite”, now an insensitive term, informing the viewer that it’s 1992 and Marsha P. Johnson is dead at 42 years old. Police say it’s a suicide.

But Johnson’s friends and members of the LGBT community believe that she was murdered.

This is not your typical documentary. Instead of a linear timeline or an autobiographical story of Johnson, we are given almost an LGBT detective story. An episode worthy of the show Cold Case, for sure. Our protagonist is Victoria Cruz, a transgender activist from the New York City Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Group and now amateur sleuth, about to retire, and her last case will be the 1992 murder of the beloved transgender icon.

While this is a movie about Johnson, we are given the personal backstory about not only Cruz and their personal history of assault, but other gay icons. For example, the movie goes into a side story about the LGBT activist Sylvia Rivera who co-founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) with Johnson which was a housing and support program for young trans women of color.

We are also introduced to so many other transgender community members that it almost became overwhelming. One of the drawbacks of this movie was that there wasn’t enough time for everything. The film is only an hour and 45 minutes long and it is so jam-packed with topics and issues and people that the viewer can be completely overwhelmed with both information and emotion. Personally, I feel that Sylvia Rivera could, and should, have their own documentary. Also, I would have been fine with the film being longer which is a rare critique, but with some much to cover, it needed time to slow down.

However, what it may lack in pacing is made up with impact. This film is a bucket of ice-cold water, waking up everyone in the LGBT community. Many people believe that the LGBT community has finally gained equality because they’ve won the right to get married. That’s it right? The war is over? But that is not the case for our trans members in our community who are still suffering today and often getting the brunt of anti-LGBT attacks.

Throughout the documentary we see trans women homeless, in prison, assaulted, and horribly murdered, with no one else to lean on but other LGBT community members who are also vulnerable. These trans women, many of them people of color, are ignored by society, even their fellow LGBT members. This is said best at the most powerful and poignant part of the movie. At the 2016 sentencing of a man who confessed to beating 21-year-old trans woman Islan Nettles to death in Harlem three years early. One activist standing outside of the courthouse goes on a rant about the “privileged gays” who once protested with the transgender people for equal rights and then promptly left them to fend for themselves once they won the right to gay marriage.

“It’s LGB T. It’s LGBT,” the activist cries. It’s painful because it’s true. Transgender and “drag queens” created the LGBT movement, they were the representation of the community. But who was there to represent them when they were being murdered and attacked? Who was there for Marsha P. Johnson?

Going back to the detective drama genre aspect, we go into theories to why Johnson was killed. There’s even with a theory that the mafia did it (Stonewall Inn being own by the Mafia at the time). Again, this movie has a lot of information, with not a lot of time, and at the end, we don’t get an answer. But what we do get are the stories told by POC Transgender woman and the smiling face of Marsha P. Johnson, and that is priceless.

The verdict

As someone who came into this movie not knowing a lot about LGBT history, I was blown away. I learned so much from this movie. It opened my eyes to a lot of subculture and caste systems of the LGBT community of which I wasn’t aware. I loved the old footage they had of Marsha P. Johnson in drag singing (poorly), Cruz in her younger, model days, and other older, historical clips. I felt really emotional watching Cruz getting hung up on over and over again. It affected me in a lot of ways, even if it was overwhelming and confusing at some points. I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about LGBT history.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Queens.

“The Death and Lift of Marsha P. Johnson” can be watched on Netflix

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Growing Up with Gender Neutrality

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Even before we are born, gender seeps through the womb like a glaze on a cake: very slowly, but all-encompassing, soaking what was a blank slate with gender norms and heterosexual expectations. From then on we slowly become more and more conscious of societal expectations, and unwritten rules and consequences. Whether they be intentional or not, the impact can be substantial.

Equality at Egalia

When people are young, they are malleable. The surroundings they are subjected to and the individuals that interact with them are instrumental in forming their first viewpoints of the world. Egalia, a preschool in Sweden, is a prime example of a safe learning environment that provides space to explore interests and activities that might be frowned upon or not offered in other preschools. “We don’t say, ‘Come on boys, let’s go and play football,’ because there might be girls who want to play football,” says Frida Wikström, the schools’ coordinator.  

Keeping the Ball Rolling

How does one continue the example of a safe environment shown at Egalia at home? It can actually be more difficult due to our own personal ingrained ideas about gender and what they look like. The first place to start in creating a freeing environment is the toy chest. Here are my top 10 picks for gender neutral toys:

  1. Stuffed animals – Who doesn’t love something soft and cuddly to carry around?
  2. Doctor Kit – I remember growing up with a Sesame Street doctor kit, and loving it.
  3. Building Toys – Legos, Lincoln Logs, blocks, etc.
  4. Appliances – Kitchen sets have always been a favorite of mine; cooking is a great skill to have, especially when you’re hungry!
  5. Play Food – A kitchen isn’t much good without some food to cook with!
  6. Tools – Fixing your vacuum cleaner, or changing a tire are skills everyone could benefit from learning.
  7. Bike or Trike – Once you learn, you never forget!
  8. Bath Toys – I was never a fan of bathing growing up, but having bath toys always made it much more bearable.
  9. Outdoor Games – Balls, frisbees, and hula hoops are all classics.
  10. Musical Toys – Who knows – maybe a toy xylophone will be the catalyst of creating a great percussionist!

Gender Neutral Clothes for Kids

Whether one is at Egalia, or at home, play clothes are a necessity. Here are my top 3 gender neutral kids clothing stores:

  1. Quirkie Kids – I adore how the majority of the clothes are images of cool things! Who doesn’t want a shark on a shirt?! Some shirts don’t resonate with me as much (“Still a boy” / “Still a girl”) but I can see how they could be validating for someone who is often told they are not behaving masc or femme enough for the gender they identify with.
  2. Baby Blastoff! – I am a VERY big fan of this company. Tabs are divided into shirts, pants, and bodysuits. Again, they are screenprinted with super cool images (trees, birds, dinosaurs). What captured my heart was seeing a child in a wheelchair sporting one of these awesome t shirts on the homepage – showing that ALL KIDS deserve awesome clothes. Representation of all types of kiddos is important, validating, and beautiful.
  3. Target – Target is setting an example by offering a ‘neutral’ setting under filters when looking at clothes. Supporting independent and local businesses is important and ideal. However, when we are in need of something affordable and closeby, it is wonderful to have validating and inclusive options.

Gender isn’t Garbage

I was raised very gender neutrally. Solid colored shirts and pants, not a lot of Barbies, and a whole lot of blocks and crayons. Even when I took ballet lessons from 4th – 6th grade, there were very few pink and frilly garments. There were times growing up where I wanted to present more femme. I wanted to wear clothes with some sparkle and sequins. I wanted to play around with makeup. There was a forbidden aspect that made it even more intriguing. This also applied to toys. The “boy” toy aisle in Walmart always looked more fun. There was action, adventure, variety, and more.

Egalia is more than just a preschool – it is an example of what all humans desire and deserve: “a space to feel security, joy and a desire to learn and develop many rich expressions, where everyone feels involved and where learning is for life!” Gender is not bad. Being assigned female at birth (AFAB) and loving dresses and dolls is not bad. Being assigned male at birth (AMAB) and loving trucks and pants is not bad. Eliminating gender isn’t the answer to creating a safe and fun environment to grow and play. Egalia acknowledges and embraces that. Critics have labelled the project as “gender-madness,” accusing the school of trying to brainwash the kids into a genderless homogeneity. Egalia’s not trying to do that. Gender is an important part of people’s identities, and the kids are free to embrace those differences.

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