Ever since the election of Donald Trump, there’s been a discernible increase in hate crimes and hateful rhetoric, mostly directed at minorities singled out in Trump’s toxic lead-up to commander-in-chief. While Trump has gone to great lengths to address this rise in rancor, telling people to simply “Stop it” sans the same “winning” passion with which he stirred up these feelings to begin with doesn’t quite cut it. Make no mistake, those feelings of racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. were always there, but with the election of Donald Trump they have now been giving an official place in the government.
So it’s no wonder that people are afraid, that people are protesting, that people are fucking pissed. The people who are most afraid—the most vulnerable populations—no doubt feel helpless, in part because being constantly referred to as “vulnerable” leaves one feeling helpless and like a victim. I’ve been seeing so much of that helplessness and hopelessness for the future expressed in my social media feeds, right along messages of hope and activism. It’s important to remember that queer people have had a long history of fighting. And just because the last eight years have seen tremendous progress for the LGBTQ community doesn’t mean that those hard-earned rights and privileges cannot be taken away from us. But they won’t be taken away without a fight.
Revolution, I believe, requires a multi-pronged approach. In order to combat Trump, the vile reptile-people with which he’s surrounding himself, and the rest of the GOP, Democrats and other left-leaning parties are going to have to come together on the bureaucratic level. At the social level, we’re all going to have to do our best to protest, boycott, call our representatives, and disrupt any attempt to roll back the civil rights achievements of the past 50 years—from Roe v. Wade to Obergefell v. Hodges.
Arugably, the best and most effective way to do that would be for a healthy percentage of young, diverse, woke AF people to move out of the cities and into red states, back to our hometowns, run for office, join community boards, and generally make our presence known. And also, get to know those people outside of our comfort zones, people we probably moved to the city to get away from in the first place, to start healing some of the divide that’s become all-too apparent post-election.
But even with all these plans and calls to action, how do we combat the fear? How do we make sure some trans kid growing up in the midwest doesn’t lose hope? How do we protect our most vulnerable populations from assault? The answer may be in an unlikely source: the Black Panther Party.
Villified by the FBI and targeted mercilessly by noted closet-case and all-around asshole J. Edgar Hoover, the Black Panther Party has often been regarded as a black nationalist or terrorist organization. Recent works, such as PBS’s award-winning documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, have made attempts to rectify the history of this progressive but imperfect movement.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, as it was originally called, was founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seales, amidst the turmoil of the ‘60s, including the Watts Riots and assassination of Malcolm X the previous year. Early in its history, the Panthers focused on putting an end to police brutality as well as on social outreach and community building through their “survival programs”—over 60 initiatives meant to address the healthcare and education gaps affecting black people, from emergency ambulance services and clothing giveaways to free sickle cell anemia testing and their highly successful Free Breakfast for School Children Program.
That they dressed in all black, openly carried guns, and freaked out the feds really empowered black people, who had gotten tired of being intimidated by the police, by the KKK, and by the government. The Black Panthers represented black people standing up for themselves, organizing for themselves, and defending themselves and their right to exist. Now, with people all over the country fearing for their safety, the most vulnerable populations have an opportunity to stop seeing ourselves as vulnerable, to stop seeing ourselves as victims; we have the opportunity to stand up for ourselves, to organize for ourselves, and yes, to defend ourselves. But it’s more than an opportunity, it’s an obligation, because we’ve come too far to give up now, and there’s far too much to do to get sidetracked.
It should also be noted that the Black Panthers supported gender equality—women not only held leadership roles in the Panthers, but fought to subvert gender within the party by carrying guns while the men served breakfast to hungry school children—and LGBT rights. Advocating for the rights of the oppressed wasn’t solely based on race as the Black Panthers were never against white people—just white supremacy, and that affects people across myriad identities and experiences.
Radical queer activism is nothing new, after all, ACT UP was yelling in people’s faces and staging die-ins decades before the idea of a President Trump became anything close to a nightmarish reality. This type of activism often fills a void left by the mainstream LGBTQ movement, like STAR, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. Started shortly after Stonewall in 1970 by trans pioneers Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, STAR advocated on behalf of the homeless queer, trans, and gender non-conforming community—because no one else was.
ACT UP was found out of anger and frustration with the inaction around the HIV/AIDS crisis, and the perceived political impotence of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. With a singular focus and a literal life-or-death mission, ACT UP was able to shape the national conversation on the epidemic. Bash Back! started with a bang in 2008, after some neo-Nazis pricks threatened to demonstrate at a Milwaukee Pride celebration. They were met by 25 members of Bash Back! Milwaukee wearing pink bandanas and balaclavas with a sign that read “These Faggots Kill Fascists.” Meant to critique and confront the mainstream LGBT agenda, Bash Back! built on what ACT UP had started, but like its predecessor, Bash Back! dissolved after internal struggles tore it apart.
Gays Against Guns is the latest in direct action queer movement, formed in the wake of and as a response to the Pulse massacre. And while I respect and appreciate their stance against gun violence and call for Congress to get off its lazy ass to enact even the most basic and common-sense gun control regulations, the likelihood of that happening now seems even more remote with the GOP controlling both houses. So now what? What void needs to be filled?
This is not an incitement to violence. This is an incitement to learn to defend yourself and others. To protect Muslim people from being harassed, to protect immigrants from being threatened, to protect the right of women to choose, to protect your fellow queers from those who would wish them harm. This is an incitement to organize. Organize to provide support—moral, legal, whatever—to those who desperately need it. We need our own survival programs. This is also an incitement for trans women and queer people of color to take charge in leadership roles, as vulnerable populations no longer wanting to feel so damn vulnerable. This is an incitement not to feel afraid because you’re not alone. This is an incitement to cause fear. Do you know why the government and Hoover and Nixon were so afraid of the Black Panthers? Yeah, black folks with guns is reason enough, but the fact that there were so many of them. And that they were organized. The power of the multitude—that triggers fear in the majority. And as long as they’re afraid of us, they’re less likely to fuck with us. This is not an incitement to violence. This is an incitement to stop being so nice and passive all the time, and to be wary. When they go low, yes, we go high—but some of us can go underground. There are many approaches to revolution. This is just one of the many.