I support Beyonce Black St. James, the performer that was invited by All Home to speak and perform at the recent All Home Homelessness System Conference. Several Neighborhood House staff attended this conference and found the information at the conference extremely valuable, and her performance empowering.
LGBTQ People of Color are underrepresented in the research, service delivery staff, and leadership of organizations and institutions addressing homelessness, yet overrepresented in the number of people actually experiencing homelessness. I commend conference organizers for featuring a LGBTQ Person of Color as part of the official program. The conference organizers recognized that it is not possible to address the root causes of homelessness without talking about racism, homophobia and transphobia.
However, because her performance was sexually suggestive, some people felt uncomfortable. Staff attending the conference come from different backgrounds with different beliefs and values that should be respected. It is the responsibility of conference planners, not the performer, to explain the context and relevance of the performance and ensure attendees are able to make a choice to participate. According to the Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network press release, “prior to her drag performance, Ms. St. James volunteered her time with a cultural presentation as a featured speaker; additionally, she took the precaution of getting her performance approved by conference organizers and providing numerous announcements about her performance to conference attendees.”
After national news outlets picked up the story from the Seattle Times, a video of the performance went viral. Critics have used this performance as an opportunity to harass, threaten and invade the privacy of Beyonce Black St. James and attack the institutions trying to end homelessness. This is the type of hate that causes homelessness. Homophobia and transphobia drive a wedge between parents and children, cause LGBTQ people to feel unsafe at home, at school and at church. Homophobia and transphobia drives young people to deny their identity and consider suicide. The hate being expressed against Beyonce Black St. James online is making her feel unsafe and for good reason. According to the FBI, reports of anti-trans violence increased 34 percent between 2017 and 2018. And while overall crime is declining, hate crime against all groups is at historically high levels and increasing.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, transgender people face additional challenges like lack of protection from discrimination, harassment, stigma, and poverty. Lack of protection from discrimination translates to higher unemployment for transgender people. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) found that 15 percent of respondents were living in severe poverty (making less than $10,000/year). For transgender people of color, those rates were even higher, with 34 percent of Black and 28 percent of Latina/o respondents reporting a household income of less than $10,000 a year.
I condemn the harassment and threats Beyonce Black St. James has endured as a result of the sensational media coverage of her performance and her LGBTQ identity. Neighborhood House joins with The Protecting Black Transfemmes Task Force, Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network, UTOPIA, Lavender Rights Project, Ingersoll Gender Center, QLaw, and many others to #standwithbeyonceblackstjames.
Neighborhood House’s organizational values include Social Justice and Valuing Staff. This month’s Equity IRL puts those values to the test. If you would like to have a conversation about the issues addressed in month’s article, please reach out to me or your supervisor.
How can you help? Help Beyonce Black St. James turn this negative experience into a positive by subscribing to her Facebook and Instagram and use the #istandwithbeyonceblackstjames hash tag on your social media.
In order to be able to live at all in America I must be unafraid to live anywhere in it, and I must be able to live in the fashion and with whom I choose. – Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple
By Janice Deguchi, Executive Director