Amber Hollibaugh’s project Queer Survival Economies took the form of a conference “Invisible Lives, Targeted Bodies” on January 23rd and 24th. Queer Survival Economies (QSE) is a project that aims to organize poor and working class people around economic justice and immigration issues, particularly problems that impact LGBTQ+ people. The project works with various organizational partners and includes conferences, training curriculum, network building, and the development of a story bank of LGBTQ+ poor and low-income people’s experiences. Through research, training, and education, QSE wants to expand local and national economic and immigration policies to include LGBTQ+ people.
I approached the conference not only as a BCRW research assistant, but as a queer Indian woman, unaware of what to expect. My past experience with the queer community has been frustratingly whitewashed and (cis) male, full of successful coming out stories that failed to transcend intersectional boundaries of race, culture, age, gender, polysexuality, religion, class, (dis)ability, and colonialism. I was hesitant to enter the conference room, unsure of who would occupy it, but found myself happily surprised at the amount of diversity in the room. As a young Desi queer, representations of myself in the media have been literally nonexistent, but to my delight, I spotted Alok from Darkmatter, the trans Desi slam poetry duo.
The focus of this conference was on how certain bodies, such as queer bodies and Black and brown bodies, are seen as dangerous and disruptive to the social order. Panelists at “Invisible Lives, Targeted Bodies” discussed the impacts of the medical-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, and capitalism on the LGBTQ+ community. Higher rates of arrest and strip searches exist among LGBTQ+ people of color and queer disabled people, particularly those that are homeless. Because there are disproportionate amounts of homeless queer youth and adults, issues surrounding homelessness are queer issues.
The following are the two panels I attended at the conference.
Citizenship status is another axis of identity that carries privilege. Involvement in social and economic justice movements is complicated for people in the United States that are undocumented or non-U.S. citizens. LGBTQ+ immigrants are more heavily impacted by economic injustices because of their citizenship status. This panel discussed issues within New York City, transnational labor, low-pay and informal labor, and justice for those who are HIV positive.
As someone whose parents are immigrants of color and who has friends with undocumented family members, this issue was close to me. While I myself am fortunate enough to be a natural-born citizen in this country, my family members and those of my friends are not so fortunate. Queer immigrants of color, undocumented and documented, come to the United States in search of opportunities for success and refuge from unsafe conditions back home, only to be faced with threats of deportation, arrest, poverty, and discrimination. We often ignore the policing of immigrant queers, especially Black immigrant queer and trans people who are frequently harassed by the police. Broken windows policing has allowed for the police to carry out arrests in the name of petty crimes, disproportionately targeting people based on race, class, ability, and gender presentation. Gender nonconformity is seen as a disorder, resulting in queer people, especially queer and disabled people of color being ticketed for disorderly conduct. Carrying condoms can be used as a signal of sexual misconduct or prostitution, and for those involved in sex work, there is a greater risk of harassment, assault, and frisking. Homelessness is often policed in the form of tickets for disorderly conduct, littering, urinating in public, and more. This policing of queer, low-income, and/or disabled bodies leads to a growth in revenue for urban police departments.
Gender, Sexuality, HIV and Reproductive Justice
Queer and transgender people struggle to access healthcare that affirms their identities and meets their bodily needs. This issue is complicated by low-paying jobs, poverty, and homelessness. This panel explored the ways legal, social, and economic restrictions threaten LGBTQ people’s well-being. Panelists discussed the movement’s agenda for reproductive healthcare, healthcare in prison, sexuality, homelessness, difficulties for non-traditional families, and access to hormones and other trans health necessities.
Queer families are in need of protection—issues involving queer families do not end at marriage equality but rather, include other issues like nontraditional family structures and reproductive choices. Cara Page said that the diagnosis of infertility is often the only way queer folks have access to reproductive health services, because of the medical institution’s role in policing and preventing queer families. Marriage equality has also eliminated domestic partnerships. LGBTQ+ children do not have safe schools, and sexual education is poorly taught and extremely limited. Queer sex workers rarely have medical coverage and are constantly putting themselves at risk of pregnancy, abuse, etc. We lack employment protections and immigration protections. Panelist Cara Page hit home with the statement “the medical-industrial complex and scientific racism feed into population control and eugenic ideologies,” operating within an institution that aims to control and destroy queer bodies and lives. In this system, medicine is used to manipulate people into thinking in homophobic, transphobic, and ableist ways by equating healthy bodies to white, straight, wealthy, able, and Christian bodies.
Reina Gossett, BCRW Activist Fellow, stated that confronting these systems that put one in a place of vulnerability is what creates change, in regards to the LGBTQ+ population facing the medical-industrial and prison-industrial complexes. There has been a large amount of conversation and discourse surrounding climbing the hierarchy, rather than dismantling the system itself. Beyond visibility and recognition, the queer community needs liberation.
This blog post was written by a BCRW Research Assistant.