Amnesty International Conference: Come Out, Rise Up and Join the Movement
Lunch Plenary on Coming Out in the South as Queer and Undocumented
Dedicated to Ms. Vera Martin
To get to Ms. Vera we faced our greatest fear. We drove through Arizona. Scarier even than the Mississippi police who separated us for questioning when we told them we were driving across the country interviewing visionary Black LGBTQ feminist elders, was that drive through Arizona in the middle of the night. The closest my partner Julia and I, raised in North Carolina and Georgia, have ever come to the segregation stories we've heard all our lives about travellers scared to stop for gas, to pee, to talk to a stranger, especially after sundown. When we finally did stop, because hail and fog and the presence of elk made it impossible to keep driving through Tonto national park, we put signs on every side of our purple and turquoise RV explaining that we didn't want to stop and we weren't trying to tresspass, but we just couldn't keep going.
We knew where we were: Arizona in the era of the state bill that is a hate bill, where it is illegal to be a person of color, standing still, on land, asking for help. That night was the closest we have come to the stories that make our parents and grandparents shake at the words "police," "highway," "bathroom," "night." The reason my mother tracks our queer black deviant adventurous behinds on Google latitude every step of the way. Probably the reason that Ms. Vera, living in Apache Junction Arizona in a retirement RV park full of white lesbians doesn't get many visitors and in fact laughed out loud at the concept of us, two queer black young people willing to drive through Arizona just to see her, to sit and talk with her in person.
For us, the scary thing about Arizona was that we knew that conservative copy-cat laws would pop up in our region, taking us back to the good old days that give our relatives nightmares, that still turn my father into a completely different person if he gets pulled over by a white Georgia cop. Our folks that know that no amount of hard-boiled eggs and fried chicken packed lunches can save us from that knowledge in the pit of your stomach that for us there is no such thing as home that cannot be taken away, that for us, for generations it has been about trying to move through undetected our queer selves our colored selves in a land where it is illegal to be us and to be loved and to be here all the way, where anyone might notice us and be transformed.
That cop that stopped our purple and turquoise love-mobile in Mississippi was flabbergasted. Queer, feminist, black and intergenerational? What do you mean your "elders"? He squinted. And then he called for back-up.
To love who we love, to claim who and were we come from is dangerous and possibly contagious. We are counting on the contagion of queer Black intergenerational love which is why we would go through Mississippi and Arizona and hail and hell to get to Ms. Vera. Who knew better than anyone why we cannot allow the laws that would pre-emptively and comprehensively invalidate our families. Including anti-immigration laws and includes narrow marriage amendments and includes anti-choice legislation and suggestions to legally say there is no such thing as rape. Ms. Vera knows best of all why we cannot believe for one second the lies those laws would tell about us and must in every moment recognize those attacks as the desperation they are against our brilliance, our unstoppable power against how radiant we are that we inspire even those who try so hard to hate us. We are love and we know it and we are contagious.
And so it makes complete sense that when Ms. Vera told us about her trip to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change conference, the first thing she spoke of was her love for the young undocumented activists speaking out. "Because I know what that is," she said. Ms. Vera was born in Louisiana in 1924. "I know what that is," she said. Where there is no law that will protect you, only laws to hurt you. Where there are people who so can't deal with you that they want to be able to get away with raping you or killing you and throwing you in a ditch. Where there are people who can see that you are human and don't want to know it, so they try to make you illegal. "I know what that is," Ms. Vera said. "And I love those young people because they're not gonna take it."