Remembering Leslie Feinberg

I remember first encountering an article by Leslie Feinberg in Workers World where zie wrote about the legacy of queer and/or trans activists of color who participated in left, black power, queer, trans liberation, and AIDS activist movements. It was in this article that I learned about Kiyoshi Kuromiya, a Japanese American AIDS activist who was born in an internment camp and became radicalized during the Civil Rights revolution, and Ortez Alderson, a black queer radical with roots in an anti-war activism, the gay liberation front and also an ACT UP Chicago and NYC member. I deeply appreciated how Leslie documented and preserved this history of resistance, which is so often obscured by dominant narratives that treat black and queer freedom struggle as separate at best and antagonistic at worst. For Leslie Feinberg, struggles against racial capitalism, heteropatriarchy, trans misogyny, police violence, and racism were united and inextricable from one another. In hir 2007 speech at a meeting of hosted Palestinian queer organization ASWAT in Ramallah, Leslie pointed to these connections: “the imperialists—the U.S. to Israelis—use the experiences of women, of gays, of transgenders as pretexts for imperialist war.” Leslie dedicated the proceeds from sales of the Hebrew edition of Stone Butch Blues to ASWAT.

Leslie’s nonfiction work Transgender Warriors, traces trans identities throughout history. Leslie’s writing for Workers World on queer and/or trans of color organizing, trans history, and interviews with Sylvia Rivera worked against historical erasure and disavowal. Hir writing for Workers World highlighted queer and/or trans of color left activism from the 1960s and 70s, figures such as Kiyoshi Kuromiya and Ortez Alderson, and moments of convergence such as the Black Panther’s Revolutionary Convention in 1970s which Sylvia Rivera, Afeni Shakur, and Huey P. Newton attended. Leslie understood that opening up genealogies of queer and trans of color resilience and resistance can counter historical erasure and invisibility. Leslie often marched with and was also arrested with Sylvia Rivera during direct actions. In Transgender Warriors, Leslie describes being at a Palestine solidarity rally in the early 1970s and seeing signs protesting the massacre at Attica prison as well as the Vietnam war: “One banner particularly haunted me: it read ‘Stop the War Against Black America,’ which made me realize it wasn’t just distant wars that needed opposing.” Leslie saw the connection between domestic racialized warfare in America and U.S. warfare abroad.

Towards the end of hir life, Leslie worked in solidarity with CeCe McDonald, writing and visiting her in prion and getting arrested in protest of the white supremacist, anti-queer, and anti-trans violence she faced as well as of the violence of the state’s incarceration of McDonald. Arguing that zie’s Jewish, trans, working class, and lesbian identities as well as white privilege demanded that zie speak out against oppression and violences, Leslie stated “CeCe McDonald survived a fascist hate crime; now she’s sentenced as she struggles to survive an ongoing state hate crime…As a white, working-class, Jewish, transgender lesbian revolutionary I will not be silent as this injustice continues!” Feinberg dedicated the 20th anniversary edition of Stone Butch Blues to CeCe McDonald and made a call for supporters to send in photos of solidarity, to create an archive and multimedia show of support to free CeCe, all our siblings, and ourselves.

Che Gossett is the Community Archivist and Student Coordinator at BCRW. They have also written about Leslie and hir lifetime’s work here.

Black Feminist Futures and the Practice of Fugitivity

On October 7, 2014, Professor Tina Campt gave the annual Helen Pond McIntyre ’48 Lecture. Professor Campt was introduced by BCRW Director Janet Jakobsen and publicly welcomed as the new BCRW Co-Director. Emma Schuster, a Barnard senior and BCRW Research Assistant, reflects on the lecture below.

“What does it mean for a Black feminist to think about, consider, or concede to the concept of futurity?” This was the question that framed Professor Campt’s talk, “Black Feminist Futures and the Practice of Fugitivity.” She urged the audience to consider the future not just in terms of hope, but in terms of tense, focusing on the grammar of the “future real conditional” tense, that is, “that that which will have had to happen.” What is central to this Black feminist grammar that she proposes is the idea of “living the future now,” or imagining what must be and embodying that idea in the present. Also central to the concept of futurity for Professor Campt is looking and listening for futurity not just in large, vocal political or revolutionary movements, but in less obvious places as well.

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Home Is Where the Heart Cannot Be: The Oppression of Haitians in the Dominican Republic

How does it feel to be a stranger in your own home? To be told that you don’t belong in the place you grew up? Activist and law student Altagracia Jean Joseph addressed these questions in her lecture “How Does It Feel to Be Stateless,” hosted by BCRW on October 1. Altagracia, of Haitian descent, was born in Batey Esperanza, a “company town” in the Dominican Republic constructed to keep Haitian workers close to the sugar plantations where they worked. She, along with other Dominicans of Haitian descent, must deal with the consequences of TC168/13, passed in September 2013. The law permanently annulled the citizenship of children born to “undocumented parents” going back to as far as 1929. Clearly aimed at Haitians in the Dominican Republic, who have historically been looked down upon by Dominicans as inferior, the law invalidates the identity of people of Haitian descent who were raised in the Dominican Republic and consider themselves Dominicans.

Photo by Miriam Neptune

Photo by Miriam Neptune

Altagracia described how even before the passing of TC168/13, sympathy towards the Haitians in the Dominican Republic was nonexistent. She recalled the difficulty she faced in obtaining a copy of her birth certificate; her request was constantly denied. She was told she could not get a copy of the birth certificate because her “last name was weird,” a “ridiculous excuse.” After the first time she was denied her birth certificate, Altagracia cried for three days. Then she made a decision: “I knew I had to do something.” She contacted people, went to the press, and organized other Dominicans of Haitian descent who had been denied—they began to hold public demonstrations, in order to protest their treatment as second-class citizens (or for many, not as citizens at all). In these demonstrations, she said, the use of dance and drums show how “we are Dominicans and we have rights.” Unfortunately, it may take a while for these protests to make an impact. The government has gone so far as to overlook its own constitution in favor of persecuting those of Haitian descent. Altagracia mentioned a provision in the constitution that views those born before 2010 as citizens. Yet, with the passing of TC168/13, it is evident that the government is more interested in pursuing their agenda than in upholding past legislation.

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