Thursday, March 30, 2023

“We are Still Alive, and We are Still Here, So It is Up to Us”

Good evening. Thank you all for bearing with us through the changes to the plan, I understand they were last-minute, and we appreciate everyone’s cooperation. I understand that a big part of what we wanted to do tonight was demand visibility from our community by marching through downtown Norfolk, and I am sad that the City of Norfolk did not allow us to march the route they had previously approved but in reverse so we could end the march here at the theatre to gather out of the rain.

We are gathered today on the occupied land of the Nansemond Indian Nation, one of the last remaining tribes of the Tsenacomoco, or Powhatan chiefdom. Previously, there were 30 Algonquin Indian tribes that made up the Powhatan chiefdom. Today, there are 11, only 6 of which have recognition from the federal government. The Nansemond have been, and continue to be, displaced from their ancestral land for the last 400 years.

My name is Amy St. George. I was born and raised here, but in the summer of 2016, my partner and I had been living in Las Vegas for a year and a half. By October of 2016, we had moved back home.

The first thing I thought when I saw the news was, “Oh my god, they came for us.” Suddenly, when I shared something in common with almost all of the victims on the news this time around, I felt targeted for who I was, and suddenly, there was an “us” that I felt I was a part of.

I want to get back to the “us” part later, but right now I want to talk about that feeling of being targeted. That feeling of being targeted simply for being who I am and existing in the world — after the Pulse shooting was the first time I felt this way. And the more I dove into reading how other people felt in an attempt to understand and process my feelings better, the more it was driven home to me that I am not the first to feel this way. We are not the first to feel this way. Black folks in this country have felt this way for a long time. Indigenous folks in this country have felt this way for a long time. Muslim folks in this country have felt this way for a long time. Even in our own community, trans folks in this country have felt this way for a long time. This is not new. Marginalized people being the targets of violence in an attempt to perpetuate their oppression is not new. But it has been going on for far too long, and those of us with the privilege of being cis or cis-passing, straight or straight-passing, white or white-passing need to recognize that they have the power to speak up and demand change.

I mentioned earlier that the Pulse tragedy suddenly made me feel like there was an “us” that I was a part of, that I needed to find and connect with and stand with. But when I moved home, I didn’t find that “us”. I found feminists and LGBTQ+ folks and allies, people who claimed to be activists or folks who stood for equality and justice, who were not inclusive of anyone who wasn’t white and/or cisgender. I was told in many activist spaces that my feelings were unimportant or invalid because my experience differed from their own. I was told that I was being divisive for calling attention to where they had failed to include folks different from them. I was made to feel like I was meant to wait in line for my turn at justice and equality.

That isn’t how justice works. “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” If you say you are a feminist, then you need to stand up and fight for all women, not just cis, white women. If you say you are a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, then you need to stand up and fight for all LGBTQ+ people, not just cis, white gay folks. If you say you believe in justice and equality, then you need to stand up and fight for justice and equality for all, not just for some. Until we can commit to that — fighting for justice and equality for all, not just for some — there will never be an “us”. And there needs to be an “us”. Because the thing about being marginalized, the thing about being on the margins, is that we can surround those who have the power and the privilege, and demand that they use it to enact change.

We planned this event because the change that was promised us has not yet come, and every day, we are grieving more and more of our own. So we created a space where all queer and trans folks would be welcome to gather, and grieve, and honor those we’ve lost. A space where you can find your people, and together with them, demand that your community see and hear your grief, and recognize that they need to put their money where their mouths are, and take action to make that change happen. Because I don’t want to lose more of us.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying that things like this wouldn’t happen if we would be more kind to one another. But I’m here to tell you that it’s not enough to be kind. Being kind did not stop slaves from being separated from their families and beaten to death. Being kind did not stop Native Americans from being driven off their land and decimated to dwindling numbers. Being kind did not stop Muslim Americans from being the targets of numerous hate crimes post 9/11. And being kind did not stop 49 innocent lives from being ended in a nightclub two years ago.

It is not enough to be kind. We need to all understand and be aware of our privileges and our unconscious biases, and we need to do the work. As queer and trans folks, we may not always be 100% aware of our privileges, but we do have them. You can be both privileged in some areas of life, and underprivileged in others. Both can be true at once and impact your life at the same time. So if you are queer and/or trans, but you also have light-colored skin, or are not disabled, or are neuro-typical, or financially stable, or are a documented citizen, or have a college degree, or have a body type that is deemed acceptable by society, you have privilege, and you should use it to question and change the existing systems in place. Because it isn’t about kindness, it is about power, and who has it, and what they’re doing with it.

I’d like to share a quote from JP Brammer, a Chicano gay man, from the piece he wrote today about the Pulse tragedy for LGBTQ+ publication them.:

“For many trans people, especially trans women of color, Pulse — the looming threat of violence it represents, of death — is everyday life. For undocumented people, especially brown undocumented people, any day could be their last with their loved ones. Black people continue to protest being killed by state-sanctioned violence, and non-Black people only critique them for how loudly they are dying.

As we commemorate Pulse as a community, it’s important that we not stop shouting about the myriad ills it encompassed. Even when it feels like no one is hearing us.”

So tonight, let’s remember those we’ve lost, and in their honor, commit to making this world better for all of us and those who will come after us. Because we have the privilege of still being here. We are still alive, and we are still here, so it is up to us. Thank you.”

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