When youth and facilitators convened to discuss the need to change current policing and public safety measures, they analyzed social issues from a systemic perspective, Eubanks-Dixon said. She compared problems in the community to leaves on a tree, and the institutional shortfalls that perpetuate those problems to the tree’s trunk.
“The leaves are just a manifestation of what’s happening at the trunk level,” she said. “[We guide] young people to really start to think about what is the root cause for some of the things that we see in our community, like homelessness, gun violence and police brutality. What are the things that are holding this up, that are allowing this to happen and what is the root cause of that?”
A summary of the My Voice Matters study shows that racism, capitalism, colonialism and “force and control” comprise the roots of the problem.
The history of police brutality against Black and indigenous people of color and against the LGBTQ community is intertwined. The 1969 Stonewall Uprising, where queer and trans women of color played instrumental roles in rebelling against police violence, galvanized the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
The 2017 study “Police Brutality and why it is an LGBTQ issue” reads in part, “Although it may seem like police brutality has nothing to do with LGBTQ people, especially if they are white, the truth is not so simple. As illustrated by its rainbow symbol, ‘LGBTQ’ is a conglomeration, not a monolith… Some gay people are cis, some trans people are straight, some bisexual people don’t have genders and people of all races can be LGBTQ. Given the community’s inherent diversity, different populations within it face different experiences of oppression. In terms of violence and discrimination, including involvement in law enforcement, trans women of color have it harder than most.”
The same study reported that unarmed Black Americans are 3.49 times more likely to be killed at the hands of the police than unarmed white Americans.
A 2014 Williams Institute survey of LGBT people and those living with HIV in the U.S. reveals that of the 73 percent of respondents who had face-to-face interactions with the police in the previous five years, 21 percent reported experiencing hostile attitudes from police officers, 14% said they were verbally assaulted, 3 percent reported sexual harassment and 2 percent said they were physically assaulted.
“Whether that’s the Black community, immigrant community, the LGBTQ community, that there’s been abuse and violence at the hands of law enforcement on communities that society has deemed as the ‘other’” Eubanks-Dixon said. “We need to grapple with that history… police officers need to understand it and be aware of how that still shows up today.”
The need for safe spaces proved to be a recurring theme among the LGBTQ youth who participated in the My Voice Matters study. “They talked about what it means to be a queer Black person and how police officers and other people in positions of power treat them,” Eubanks-Dixon said.
HACE’s Monteiro echoed the need for safe spaces and creative outlets for youth of any background.
“We saw that [youth] were very eager to express themselves, express their creativity through song, through spoken word, through visual art that they created,” Monteiro said. “I definitely see that that creative expression piece is underserved as of now. When we hold the space and offer the resources for that, it really can create more connection and joy, and ultimately bring us to a safer place where people feel at home.”
Michele Zipkin is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.