Barbara Smith, Reina Gossett, Charlene Carruthers

Black Feminists Take Down Police, ICE, Israeli Occupation In Creating Change 2016 Opening Plenary

Hours before the opening plenary session of 28th annual Creating Change Conference on LGBTQ equality, rumors of a protest wafted through the halls of the Chicago Hilton; the protest would rumored to occur during the 8 p.m. open plenary session as a way of calling out the National LGBTQ Task Force’s hosting of a pro-Israel group, a group accused of “pinkwashing” Isreal’s anti-Palestinian atrocities.

The rumor proved baseless. Early into the plenary session, only one activist screamed “Free Palestine!” An actual protest will occur this evening during the group’s controversial reception at 7 p.m. (and oh, we will be there).

Had the protest occurred it would’ve been counter-productive: for one, disrupting three Black Feminists would’ve been mega-bad optics. Secondly, the women onstage spoke more passionately against Israeli human rights abuses than any pro-Palestinian protestors could have shouting from below the stage.

Early into the session, Charlene Carruthers — a Black queer feminist community organizer — mentioned the occupation of Palestine as a Black Feminist issue. “What is happening amid the Isreali occupation,” Carruthers said, “there have been… scores of reports of the sterilization of women from east Africa — that is a Black Feminist issue.”

Agreeing with Carruthers’ take on overlapping oppressions, Reina Gossett — a transgender New York activist — said:

“So many of us are extremely disheartened about the invitation to local law enforcement… and ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [to Creating Change] this year because Black Feminism is not about making police and prisons gay-friendly.

It’s not about making ICE gay-friendly. And it’s certainly not about making the military or the occupation of indigenous people in the U.S. or Palestine gay-friendly. That’s not something that could ever happen in a queer liberationist movement. And it makes us ask ourselves, ‘Is this a queer liberationist movement, and if it’s not, what can we do about it?’

Gossett, who co-wrote and co-directed Happy Birthday, Marsha, a film about trans Stonewall veteran Marsha P. Johnson, mentioned how the first Christopher Street Liberation Day march in 1970 — a year after the Stonewall Uprising — started at the steps of New York City’s Women’s House of Detention, a way of establishing a connection between anti-Black racism, police violence and the policing of queer and trans people. According to Grossett, activists gathered at the prison’s front steps, chanting “Free Our People, Free Ourselves.”

“They knew that there couldn’t be Pride for some of us unless there was liberation for all of us,” Gossett said, adding, “In this moment, there’s such a push — I would phrase it as a white, gay assimilationist push — to think about single issues rather than about liberation for all of us.”

On a roll, Gossett continued with this truism:

“The people who are doing the most harm will never be caged in a prison. The people who are doing the most harm are actually running the prisons, they’re running the government, they’re running ICE… and they’re unfortunately being invited to Creating Change… Police and prisons are not built to deal with the brutal harms that happen to our community. They’re about control and killing our community. [They’re] some of the biggest obstacles to solving harm that is so real in our communities.”

Her words ring especially true in Chicago where, as you read this, there’s a call to fire Detective Dante Servin who fatally shot 22-year-old Rekia Boyd outside of his home. Similarly, activists want Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel ousted for hiding videos showing the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald shot 16 times by police in 2014.

Barbara Smith— the third plenary session co-panelist and one of the earliest founders of Black Feminism — said she draws “inspiration and hope from Black Lives Matter because it’s incisive and it’s brilliant and it is inclusive and it encompasses so many of the things we wish to see in the best organizing.”

“As an attendee of Creating Changes since its inception,” Smith said “The fact that we’re having this conversation now within an LGBTQ context, that’s huge.”

Smith mentioned how in 1970, “I was personally told that black homosexuality would be the death of the race.” In response, she turned to one of her friends and said, “So I guess they don’t know about all these children we’re raising.”