by: Zachary Stafford
Note: This piece was originally featured on The Huffington Post and was republished with permission. You can find the original here.
Monday was rough. I had not heard the full extent of the Trayvon Martin case until I got to work and had time to really sit down and process all the articles, blogs, and reactions coming from around the world. Once I got to the Huffington Post article that has the 911 calls embedded in it, I was done, emotionally. I had heard about these things happening before, people killing black boys for being in the streets, for being in public, for being… black. However, something about this case struck a chord with me harder than ever. This case is not only an extremely tragic case because George Zimmerman, the attacker, is still roaming the streets free; we really see these things happening frequently. But I think it is a harder story for me to digest because the past few years have been hard on the youth of America in general, youth who’ve been attacked, ridiculed, or bullied by the public for being black or gay or homeless or suspicious, which we all know means “not normal.”
Trayvon Martin’s story is a tragedy, but we need to look at this instance and see it as a battle on a few levels. On one level it is a battle for justice for the Martin family, who rightly deserve it, and on another level it’s also a battle for all folks who face violence when being in public — even gay folks. Although I can never say that “I Am Trayvon Martin!” (even though I do understand that protesting tactic), what I can say is that I have been in the “wrong” place and policed by folks who live in that place far too many times just for looking “suspicious” (translation: not white, not heterosexual, or not what is thought to be an upstanding member of that place). And I believe many of the gay folks in the world could say they have to been thought of as suspicious — suspicious for being gay.
Trayvon was a boy who was only 17 and black, and due to his blackness and a suspicious bag of Skittles and tea, he was killed for being in a place to which folks in that place believed he should be denied access. If you were to talk to the thousands of homeless gay youth in America on any day, you would hear innumerable stories of being in situations like this and having to negotiate their own ways to safety for looking “suspicious” because of their homelessness.
If it were possible for you to talk to the many youths who have committed suicide over the past few years and ask them about times they felt unsafe in public because they looked “suspicious,” they would probably cry and tell you stories of being “too gay” while walking to school and being attacked, or of their voice being too high while ordering their lunch and the other kids laughing at them, making them “suspicious” to the world. What I am trying to articulate is that we are all at some times considered “suspicious,” especially gay folks and people of color.
In a previous blog post I wrote, “It’s time for us to stop saying that the gay rights movement is the new civil rights movement, because my civil rights movement hasn’t stopped: as a person of color, for me it’s still going. I would like to point to the Travyon Martin case as an example of my civil rights movement not stopping, in terms of my race. Many people responded to this statement by saying that the civil rights movement is the gay rights movement, that we all should be working together toward equality. So with that I challenge you to show that this proclamation is true; that we are all in this together for equality; that you, as a gay man, lesbian woman, or transgender person, can see the movement for racial equality and sexual equality as a fight we are all apart of; and that you can start showing that by helping seek justice for Trayvon Martin, who was killed just a few weeks ago for being outside, for being in public and looking “suspicious.”
Please sign this criminal justice petition seeking to prosecute George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
Zach Stafford is a Tennessee writer currently living in Chicago. His work has appeared at places such as: USAToday, Thought Catalog, The New Gay, and Bookforum. Outside of writing and watching Ally McBeal on Netflix, Zach is in the process of applying to PhD programs in the field of Cultural Geography & Urbanization. Also, Zach is the Production Assistant and a Contributor to the 50Faggots.com web series, which explores the lives of effeminate gay men in America. Follow him on Twitter @zachstafford.