It’s time for the streets

Michael Munson and Loree Cook-Daniels

When a meeting to grieve the passage of Wisconsin’s 2006 anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment failed to endorse public demonstrations, a disappointed activist cried, “So what WILL it take for us to take to the streets?”

It was a good question, and we finally have an answer: It will take us dying in the streets.

That’s where Chanel Larkin, 26, died on May 7. She was shot and killed by a man who had picked her up for sex but changed his mind after learning she was transgender. That’s also where a 29-year-old woman died on May 8 outside a Milwaukee gay bar, the victim of a hit-and-run. And that’s where Rosalind Ross, 30, died on Sept. 15, shot and killed in her car by her life partner.

At press time, 11 U.S. teens have taken their lives in the streets, in a river, in the backyard and in their homes in the last few weeks. Each of them wanted to escape the taunting, bullying and other violence they endured at the hands of schoolmates, teachers and administrators because they were perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.

So it’s time we all take to the streets. It is time to raise awareness of anti-LGBT prejudice, discrimination and violence, and to demand that it stop. It’s time to understand the cycle of violence. And it’s time to build a community that counters violence with education, support and love.

We need to heal from wounds others have inflicted on us and from wounds we’ve given ourselves. This needs to start with our racial divide. All four of the violent deaths in the Milwaukee LGBT community since May have been African-Americans. This is not an anomaly. The most deadly anti-LGBT violence is often reserved for those who are transgender and/or people of color. Of the 22 anti-LGBT murders the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs identified in 2008, half were known transgender women (many of the remainder had been born male but were dressed femininely or androgynously when they were killed), and four out of five were LGBT people of color.

It’s time for action.

From the criminal justice system we need an LGBT police liaison with visibility, authority, and clout; and investigators and prosecutors willing to pursue hate crime enhancement charges.

From politicians we need the gumption to pass safe-schools laws and anti-discrimination laws. We still don’t have ENDA, and Wisconsin still does not protect its transgender citizens from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

From school personnel we need a commitment to running hate-free zones.

From taxpayers we need a solid investment in preventing and remedying violence and its consequences. From service providers we need concrete plans to learn about LGBT-specific issues and needs, and to consistently be our advocates and allies.

From neighbors and fellow citizens we need an all-out commitment – similar to what we’ve aimed at seatbelt use and smoking cessation – to eliminating all prejudice, discrimination, violence and bullying.

And from ourselves, we need a pledge to unite across our differences and create and sustain whatever is needed to stop and to heal the violence from which far too many of us suffer and die.