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June’s rallies for Black transgender lives can change attitudes and policies. Here’s how.

My research finds that calling for “intersectional solidarity” does awaken and mobilize allies.

/ Managing Editor - June 25, 2020

On June 14 , more than 15,000 people protested in support of Black transgender lives at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. Similar protests took place in Los Angeles and Chicago. Variously called Brooklyn Liberation or All Black Lives Matter, these protests are different from the often predominantly white LGBTQ Pride events that generally take place in June — and different as well from the weeks of record-breaking Black Lives Matter protests prompted by George Floyd’s killing.

There’s been a Transgender Day of Remembrance since 1999, honoring those murdered for being trans, who have long been overwhelmingly people of color. But Joshua Allen, who identifies as Black and gender-nonconforming, helped organize this June 14 protest to insist that Black trans lives matter in this moment too — and to shine international attention on the deaths of Tony McDade, Riah Milton and many other Black transgender people murdered every year.

Protests for either racial justice or for LGBTQ rights rarely prioritize Black transgender people. That has consequences. My research suggests that when people are aware of and concerned about the challenges faced by Black transgender people, and by others marginalized at the intersection of more than one form of discrimination, they are more likely to support policies that benefit these groups.

What is intersectional solidarity?

Brooklyn Liberation’s emphasis on Black transgender people was an example of what my research calls “intersectional solidarity.” What does that mean? The term is derived from Black feminist activism and has been used to explain organizing and to develop analytical approaches to political solidarity. Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw developed the theory of “intersectionality” in 1989, arguing that people may be marginalized because of the intersection of their race, gender, sexuality, disability or class, in a way that is more than the sum of each individual form of discrimination. For instance, the experience of being a Black working-class transgender person can’t be reduced to being Black, or working class, or transgender because these forms of marginalization reinforce one another in complex ways.

My research builds on this to understand intersectional solidarity, which I define as awareness and distress over the harm faced by marginalized subgroups of broader marginalized groups. In particular, my research examines the circumstances under which dominant groups — or people who are primarily marginalized in just one aspect of their identity — may also feel concern about the issues that affect Black women and LGBTQ people of color.

Who supports intersectionally marginalized groups?

To understand how intersectional solidarity works, in July 2019 I conducted a national survey of 2,445 Americans through Dynata, surveying more Black- and LGBTQ-identified people than there are in the general population, since their views are particularly important in this context. I asked people whether they agreed with statements such as “It concerns me that racism within the lesbian and gay community makes it difficult for white and Black lesbian and gay people to find common ground,” or disagreed with statements such as “We can achieve gender equality without equality for transgender men and women.” Their answers help clarify whether they think of race, gender, class and sexuality as interconnected and mutually reinforcing forms of oppression or as distinct and unrelated concepts. I also examined their answers to figure out which groups of people are most likely to feel intersectional solidarity with, for instance, Black transgender people.

People who had experienced discrimination themselves were more likely to feel intersectional solidarity. Black people exhibit significantly higher intersectional solidarity than white people. White women exhibit significantly higher intersectional solidarity than white men, as do whites who identify as gay, lesbian and bisexual compared to straight white people. When it comes to gender identity, transgender and gender-nonconforming people exhibit significantly higher intersectional solidarity than cisgender heterosexual people.

As is generally found in political psychology research, these attitudes are linked to policy support. People who felt high intersectional solidarity were more likely to say they supported policies that would help Black women by addressing the pay gap and the racial disparity in maternal health care, and to help Black LGBTQ people by addressing Black LGBTQ youth homelessness. The biggest difference was for the policy aimed at helping Black LGBTQ youth. Those with low intersectional solidarity were 53 percent less likely to say they supported the policy than those with high intersectional solidarity.

My findings demonstrate that intersectional solidarity has especially big consequences for the attitudes of white men, the group least likely to support these issues.

These findings have consequences for politics

These findings about intersectional solidarity help us understand the political implications of protests in support of All Black Lives Matter. Disadvantaged subgroups of broader marginalized groups generally receive limited attention. For instance, at least two Black women were murdered this month below the national news radar: Dominique Rem’Mie Fells and Oluwatoyin Salau. Breonna Taylor’s death didn’t become national news until after outrage spread about Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.

However, my work suggests that the work of activists and organizers like Raquel Willis and West Dakota of Brooklyn Liberation can have policy consequences. By increasing awareness and concern surrounding the murders of Black transgender people, they may increase support for policies that address the multiple forms of discrimination faced by Black transgender people and other intersectionally marginalized groups.

Chaya Crowder (@ChayaCrowder) is a doctoral candidate at Princeton University and an incoming assistant professor at Loyola Marymount University this fall.