On Friday, June 22, 2018, Dr. H. “Herukhuti” Sharif Williams, founder and chief erotics officer of the Center for Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality, delivered the following speech at the 2018 New York City Pride Rally at the Stonewall National Park and Monument:
I recognize the Lenape and Wappino people as the rightful protectors of this land and ask for their mercy when an accounting for my presence on it is conducted in the future decolonization of this country. I acknowledge the lives of the 20,000 free and enslaved Africans who were buried in the middle 1630s to 1795 on the 6.6 acres of land that we call the African Burial Ground, some 1.5 miles away from here in lower Manhattan, and the 20 percent of New Yorkers who were Africans enslaved by Europeans during the early colonial era. Thank you to NYC Pride–Heritage of Pride Inc. for inviting me to speak on this year’s Pride theme, “defiantly different.”
As I look at the landscape of LGBTQ movement politics, its history and the contemporary moment, I think about the role privilege plays in different kinds of LGBTQ peoples’ ability to survive, let alone, defy heterosexism, monosexism, and cisgenderism. Because we live in a settler-colonial, imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, cisheteropatriarchy, there are groups of people who have been able to survive the policing of our sexualities and bodies, survive the HIV/AIDS pandemic, survive the legal challenges, victories, and losses and bounce back because of how they are positioned in the world.
For so many people racialized as white, the enduring and overwhelming power of racism has had a somewhat neutralizing effect on the force of heterosexism, monosexism, and cisgenderism. Racism does not completely protect you from the social and structural violence of heterosexism, monosexism, and cisgenderism; but racism does make it possible for you to avoid the full brunt of their brutality and to rebound and recuperate from their effects. This is especially true for wealthy or middle class people racialized as white. For you, defiant difference is getting access to all the privileges, advantages, and entitlements of whiteness that your heterosexual, cisgender counterparts have. It is never challenging the need for a permanent underclass of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in the society and in LGBT movement politics while wrapped in the protection of a rainbow flag colored condom that says, “I can’t be an oppressor because I’m lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.” It’s why we have Log Cabin Republicans on the one side and liberal LGBT institutions on the other with organizational structures that maintain the racial hierarchy of white supremacy.
But for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, the full force of heterosexism, monosexism, and cisgenderism is always on you, an ever-present set of forces: pulling at your legs to bring you to your knees, choking your neck to squeeze the air out of your body, and covering your mouth to crush your voice. On a daily basis, we confront the devaluing of our relationships, bodies, and lives due to white supremacy, white privilege, and white normativity as much as heterosexism, monosexism, and cisgenderism. Everyday, we face the reality that someone could attack us because we are queer, a police officer could kill us because we are Black, a settler-colonizer could rape us because we are Indigenous, or an ICE agent could incarcerate us because we are brown.
We make up a higher percentage of homeless LGBT youth, people living with HIV, and the underemployed and unemployed then our proportion of the population. Black, Indigenous, and people of color also have less access to and decision-making authority over the billion dollars of LGBT-related funds in the rainbow non-profit industrial complex and for-profit world of corporate pinkwashing. I’ve learned this first hand. I worked for two years as a graduate research assistant at the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University in the early 2000s watching people racialized as white financially and professionally benefitting the most from the study of HIV. Over the last two years, I worked as a research consultant on a University of Chicago School of Medicine project designed to address health disparities for LGBT people of color even while I, a Black bisexual man with 2 undergraduate degrees and 3 graduate degrees including a PhD, couldn’t even afford health insurance.
Shut out from the power centers of mainstream LGBT movement politics because of white supremacy, biphobia, and monosexism, the majority of Black bisexual men have nothing to do with Pride events, LGBT centers, gay spaces, and LGBT organizations. Since 2017, David J. Cork and I have been producing a documentary film, No Homo | No Hetero, about sexual fluidity, manhood, and Blackness. We’ve interviewed men from across the country to document their stories. Several people are handing out postcard sized flyers today about the film. You can learn about this project and how you can support it through our crowdfunding campaign. We’re $8000 away from our goal $45,000 goal. The flyer also has information about the New York Area Bisexual Network, which provides information about all the local groups, events, and activities for people living within the bi+ spectrum, bisexual, pansexual, fluid, and non-monosexual queer identities. Contact us to learn about what being defiantly different looks like from our vantage point.
I close with the idea that it is not because of our differences that we should celebrate pride. The degree to which we create equity and justice in the context of those differences should be the basis for our pride. Thank you.
You can watch Dr. Herukhuti delivering the speech here: