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  • Meeting Queerness and Blackness in Ferguson
  • Reuben Riggs (bio)

Just to be completely frank, I think gay people are very enlightened. Ha! I mean, you have to be. To be openly gay in the black community because we, our, like our people push against it and they don’t know why. Because we were built on dividing each other. Whatever you can see that will divide it you’ll use … but when you look at who’s the who, like who’s fighting, that community is insanely on the front line.

—Kayla, Ferguson Activist1

This quick note Kayla shared as she ate her lunch was the type of critique and insight I came to expect from her. She often spoke the truth of movement-produced knowledge like this, eloquently and in an almost cadenced way. Rarely did these truths come out in the theoretical vernacular popular among researchers who talk about the same systemic ideas she and the movement now grappled with. Instead, she used the movement and experience to explain how she understood complex power structures and their use of homophobia to maintain racial inequality. Although Kayla expressed a view I had not heard yet in my months of organizing, protesting, and researching, she did exhibit a knowledge-production and praxis that I often observed. Like others, she drew insight from the experiences and relations within movement spaces, and like others, formed a theory of the movement to determine practice in the present and future. As I moved through different spaces throughout Ferguson, from the first night out on the streets, through grassroots organizations and coffee shop meetings, a visible and practicable intersectional queer identity appeared frequently. Around this LGBTQ identity, protestors and others in the movement did the real work of [End Page 184] transforming subjectivities with intentionality. Armed with dynamic self-understandings, queer identity and politics helped people within the movement articulate and create space for knowledge production and praxis. It changed people’s understandings of themselves, how they operated within the movement, and ultimately produced new discourses and understandings.

After one particularly long organizing meeting in mid-November, there was an unexpected moment where LGBTQ visibility challenged subjectivities within the movement. After finishing, a few of us dropped by the Ferguson Police Department to check out a dwindling protest. I soon got pulled into a nearby conversation. In the small group stood a black woman with a smattering of progressive pins on her coat, a young black man who rambled, a white woman with a cigarette between her fingers, a middle-aged black man four inches taller than everyone else, and me, a biracial student organizer. The conversation started as people ripped apart capitalism without naming it. We drifted through the power of people working across differences, and turned towards black masculinity. Soon, someone complained about the media emasculating black men by overrepresenting hyperfeminized queer black males. My stomach clenched, and I held my breath as I prepared to battle some homophobia. I waited to see what would happen, and then the woman with pins came out. Then the white woman, the man who rambled, and me. People turned out to shut it down. In itself, this accidental gathering of so many queer people was a sign of how, in Kayla’s words, “insanely on the front line” LGBTQ people were, but the conversation that followed revealed the impact of this visibility.

After people filtered out, three of us began on a conversation that revealed one participant’s evolving subjectivity. The woman with the pins, a new middle-aged black man who self-identified as homophobic, and I remained. We stood in the cold amongst the cars for over an hour as we exchanged questions and answers about our identities. For the most part, the man emphasized his confusion about LGBTQ identity. Before he began protesting, he had never knowingly befriended anyone queer. About a month into the movement, however, he learned that one of his closest protesting partners is gay. It shocked him because in his assessment, this man was both a “cool guy” and “normal.” He shared with us that his homophobia was “messed up,” and that gay people fighting in the movement...


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pp. 184-192
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