For June, Pride Month, we’re uplifting the ways our partners and grantees champion trans and queer liberation. Movements around the world are showing why gender and sexual freedom is necessary for struggles for the planet, people, and global social justice.
The Necessity of Trans Liberation
Adapting the words of Professor Milton Diamond, nature loves diversity. Capitalism hates it.
It is a difficult time to be trans, or to be a trans ally. We see hateful laws enacted in the US and elsewhere. We witness (or ourselves experience) the complications of simply navigating health, justice, and social structures not built for queer or trans existences. We face the simple day-to-day fear of not knowing whom to trust and whether today is going to be a day of safety or violence for oneself or a loved one. The obstacles and accumulated stress fractures are many and inescapable.
And yet, they are still so easy to overlook in a world that feels already oversaturated with disaster. But this is also true: There is no liberation without trans liberation.
The Monoculture of Capitalism
As we know from our partners’ work in the food sovereignty movement, capitalism continually imposes monoculture. Its operation squelches diversity to such a degree it makes land more fragile and even threatens the very existence of certain plants and animals (like the banana).
For every structure that props the system up, there are thousands of others it has strangled into silence: true collaboration between societal and natural cycles, communal care, migratory experiences transcending imagined political borders, and more.
Also among these: any body or identity that challenges the “monoculture” of the gender binary — in other words, trans existence and non-binary peoples. Indigenous views of gender are first to go when the colonizers roll in.
Against this colonialist monolith, trans existence is liberating in and of itself. In the same way we can decolonize agriculture by valuing, preserving, and sharing native seeds, we can decolonize our every mode of existence. Transness is freedom from the monoculture of cisheteropatriarchy, and thus it is a liberatory necessity to protect and nourish trans lives.
Trans Identity On the Frontlines
Transness sits at the intersection of multiple social issues. Transgender individuals are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to lose their jobs due to their gender identity, more likely to be homeless, and while homeless, significantly more likely to be unsheltered, to be assaulted, more likely to have their bodily autonomy called into question, and more likely to be denied necessary healthcare.
These numbers only go up as different facets of identity come into play, most notably race. When it comes to climate change, queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) are on the frontlines, often denied housing and resources, or unable to access these resources because they are denied jobs by transphobic employers and business practices. QTPOC are unable to move from high risk areas, access necessary medical care, are incarcerated at higher rates, and subjected to additional violence based upon their gender presentation and identity.
“In the movement, you discover yourself, you have the opportunity to understand yourself as you really are… If I weren’t Landless, maybe I wouldn’t be Jennifer.” — Jennifer Rocha, trans woman and member of the MST’s LGBT collective
The effects are even more profound in the Global South, where the ongoing legacies of colonialism sharpen these inequalities.
These are not flaws or oversights, but a system working normally in ways that put QTPOC on the bottom. This is institutional violence at its most insidious, backed up by individual violence towards trans lives and bodies in the everyday.
Raising the banner of trans liberation raises so many other questions. What does it mean to live outside of those rigid and two-dimensional lines and how can we create meaningful support for our most vulnerable communities to better protect all of us? What does it mean to be truly decolonized? What does it mean to be truly free?
The Intersections of Colonialism and Queer Oppression
Our partners and grantees are answering these questions through their intersecting struggles against both colonialism and queer oppression. From Palestine to Puerto Rico and beyond, given that colonization has gone hand-in-hand with homophobia and transphobia, these struggles are necessarily connected. One cannot express oneself freely while shackled by settler colonialism or debt peonage. One cannot fully break the chains of colonialism without freeing our expressions of gender and sexuality — even if not everyone in the struggle against colonialism recognizes this yet.
Since 2001, alQaws has received global recognition as an essential civil society organization for queer Palestinians in the occupied territories. Their “Rallying Cry for Queer Liberation” protests in Haifa and other areas of Palestine have drawn hundreds. Through their work, they’ve helped to shift official Palestinian discourse from outright denying queer Palestinians’ existence towards public acknowledgment.
But with visibility comes violence — and vice versa. AlQaws is not just facing settler-colonialism. They also contend with physical violence against queer youth and trans people by their fellow Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority (PA) police have banned their activities in the West Bank and university administrations are persecuting LGBTQ+ activists. Most devastatingly, alQaws was the victim of an arson that burned their headquarters in Jerusalem to the ground.
Yet, perhaps paradoxically, this violence and repression has also helped raise support for LGBTQ+ issues. AlQaws drafted a statement after the 2019 stabbing of a queer 16-year-old Palestinian that was signed by 30 other Palestinian organizations condemning homophobic and transphobic violence. When the PA banned their activities in August 2019, a public pressure campaign from Palestinians and human rights groups forced the PA to rescind the ban after just 10 days.
The borders of gender expression are controlled, the “territory” of bodily autonomy is seized, like any other apartheid wall or land grab our partners face from Palestine to Mexico.
AlQaws is focused on not only expanding the public space for queer Palestinians but intervening as a queer activist organization inside the broader Palestinian liberation movement. When last May’s popular uprising in Sheikh Jarrah sparked protests across East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel/‘48, alQaws participated — and held public forums providing a queer and feminist Palestinian perspective on the uprising.
Perhaps alQaws’ greatest contribution to the Palestinian liberation struggle is its successful challenging and exposing of Israel’s “pinkwashing.” For decades, Israel has presented itself as a queer-friendly society as a way to cover up its human rights crimes. AlQaws uses its position as a queer Palestinian organization to expose the truth: there is nothing “queer-friendly” about apartheid and settler-colonialism.
From the popular uprising of the early 2000s to the pandemic, alQaws has built up a core of queer organizers to fight queerphobia and colonialism while addressing immediate needs of LGBTQ+ Palestinians. Grassroots International provides much needed support for alQaws’ alKhat, a mental health support hotline for queer youth and adults.
Meanwhile, our partner La Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, an organization dedicated to a free and feminist Puerto Rico, has affirmed itself as a trans inclusive movement. Last year, it joined trans and queer activists in supporting PS 485, a bill that would provide protections for LGBTQ+ peoples in Puerto Rico. It is consciously building a membership that includes trans and non-binary people, and raising them up as leaders.
All of this is rooted in La Cole’s analysis of feminism, trans liberation, and decolonization:
“[W]e find it important to point out that trans people have historically been persecuted and violated for not fitting socially imposed norms under a patriarchal, anti-Black and capitalist system. A system that to this day continues to persecute them, sometimes with the help of the right, in others with the reproduction of binary logic by the left or trans-exclusive feminist groups… The truth is that this binary logic was introduced by the colonial project…” — Colectiva Feminista en Construcción
Expanding the Resistance Rainbow
While some grantees and partners outright center queer and trans people in their organizing, others have expanded their organizing and analysis to raise up queer and trans people. Call it expanding the rainbow of resistance.
For example, our partner the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which focuses on defending the Lenca and other Indigenous Peoples from encroaching corporate and state power, has recognized its work must include LGBTQ+ leaders. Since 2014, COPINH has included a Coordinator of Sexual Diversity & Rights Equality position on its leadership team — creating space inside the Indigenous movement specifically for LGBTQ+ issues.
Likewise, the Landless Workers Movement (MST) operates its own LGBT collective. By creating a dedicated space inside its broader movement, queer MST members have gained confidence not only in organizing but also in their own identities.
“In the movement, you discover yourself, you have the opportunity to understand yourself as you really are,” explained Jennifer Rocha, a trans woman. “If I weren’t Landless, maybe I wouldn’t be Jennifer.”
Similarly, the World March of Women and the Berta Cáceres International Feminist Organizing School both recognize how the struggle of women is inextricably linked to the struggle for trans liberation:
“Patriarchy is based on this binary system that divides humanity into male and female beings… The ideas that lead to policies and laws that control women’s bodies and livelihoods are the same ideas that control sexuality and gender, and condone violence done to people who do not conform to “natural” or “normal” standards.” — International Feminist Organizing School Guidebook¹
Bodily Autonomy, Reproductive Rights, and Trans Liberation
With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the attack on reproductive rights and bodily autonomy is on the forefront of US national discussions. While despair is understandable, we can learn from movements who have won these rights (historically and in some cases very recently) in hostile environments — both around the world, and even in the United States. As ever, looking to and building movements is the only way forward.
In our commitment to intersectional grassroots feminism, Grassroots International is deliberate about expanding the discussion of reproductive rights to include trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming peoples as central targets of these attacks — and central subjects in fighting back. We must expand our understanding and political approach — not only by using gender-inclusive language (e.g. this is an attack on all people who can become pregnant, not only women), but by understanding the linkages between cis-women’s rights and trans liberation.
The nuclear family provides free reproductive labor for capitalism. Any identity or right that challenges that institution — be it the right to have an abortion, to affirm your gender, or to express your sexuality — is policed. The borders of gender expression are controlled, the “territory” of bodily autonomy is seized, like any other apartheid wall or land grab our partners face from Palestine to Mexico.
While the US right wing has seized the phrase “pro-life,” our Indigenous, peasant and grassroots feminist partners have long talked about the true project of life — Buen Vivir. It means enhancing life in balance with Mother Nature and the cosmos, in order to achieve harmony. And it celebrates the individual expressions of each as a part of the collective satisfaction of the whole — free from the suffocating confinement of colonialism, capitalism, and the gender binary.
We stand alongside our queer and trans partners and other allies as they fight to win better, truer lives for self-expression. For bodily autonomy and for queer liberation! In celebration of life! In celebration of human dignity! And for the love of all living beings.