As most BIPOC people are aware, systematic discrimination continues to be a part of the very black, brown, and rainbow fabric of—wait for it—the LGBTQ community.
Racism and transphobia in the queer community?! Oh my! said no one.
There’s no question the Trump era has exposed under-and-overlying bigotry or at least the undeniable apathy towards it. Our generation is discovering forms of racism and inequalities our fore-folk didn’t have the time or energy to unpack because they were more attentive to things like simply staying alive. This one is on us.
Another Trump-Era exposé was the successfully-attempted silencing of not just “fake news” but ALL NEWS. Facebook released a statement during the 2020 police brutality protests that clearly demonstrated the social media giant bully’s intent to erase any mentions of police brutality, riots, or black lives matter protests. Instagram didn’t @ me or anything but not being able to report on the events that were causing trauma to Black people everywhere? It was akin to being spiritually CHOKED. WHO’S agenda was the decision to silence history-in-the-making serving? The need for uncensored online community and content has never been more evident.
Many of us find our tribes via online platforms. People who think like us. People who don’t. People who challenge us. People who inspire us to go on. People who help us feel like we belong in times of uncertainty. People whose lives we can’t even begin to fathom and so we learn about other communities in an attempt to become better human beings to ourselves and those around us. Whether on or offline, for some of us, these “safe spaces” are the only place we can be our authentic selves.
“Safe(r) Spaces” is a term I, myself, have thrown around and is a branding of a sort that signifies your organization has certain practices in place to make said event or platform “safe” for all users or guests. In short: none of the isms, phobias, nor sexual harassment will be tolerated. There’s obviously an extreme margin of error here. Like the time we booked a Center-City Philly lounge for a day party strictly for LGBTQ Women. The owner double booked a high-school graduation party for part of our event but promised that their party would be sectioned off. To our horror, it was not and I spent the evening on crowd control escorting the men from the other party who were hitting on our guests back to their assigned area.
Another twist of events occurred when a podcast guest tweeted our private zoom link to their followers during the interview. We were subsequently spammed by asshole gay-bashers and had to cut off access to the LIVE interview. Was this intended to be a safe space? Yes. Did it end up being one? You can answer that question. As a result, we started stressing to guests that they could not share the zoom link publicly.
Bottom line: You can have rules in place yet humans will be humans. So you have to have a game-plan for that, too.
Now let’s consider Safe Spaces in terms of online spaces. Chatrooms, Facebook Groups, Zoom Meetings, Community Discussion Forums—all the spaces we gather to share information pertinent to us and our respective cultures and identities. We use online spaces to share our thoughts and advocate for one another. It is a critical tool in bringing us closer together culturally and sharing the collective and individual challenges we face.
So what is our duty as LGBTQ community event organizers when we step into online spaces? Organizers and event curators utilize online platforms such as Facebook Events, Facebook Groups and other viable sources to spread the good news of events, critical programming, and resources.
The same spaces are also used for accountability measures—especially when it comes to getting the word out about the latest infringements on LGBTQ rights. When Chick-Fil-Hate was exposed for their anti-gay policies what did the gay community do? We organized boycotts, sent petitions, stood at the picket lines, stopped eating those delicious chicken sandwiches—all in the name of gay rights. Fast forward: What happens when Black rights are being infringed upon (I mean when aren’t they though)? Better yet, to stay in LGBTQ territory, Black Gay’s rights? Historically, not much. Hence the reason why we had to add Black and Brown stripes to the LGBTQ Flag AND had to justify our reasoning to the white, gay community as to why it was necessary.
Needless to say, in a world where the concept of justice is few and far between, Blacks and other whistleblowers need these community-based platforms to disseminate information regarding unfair treatment, discrimination, and community resources. And we expect to be heard by the very people whose events, forums and missions we support—is that too much to ask?
When a white woman called out a local Philly Lesbian bar for problematic behavior on the Philly-based Sip City Mixer Facebook Group Page it was. I know because I have receipts. But before we get to that, let’s discuss Virtual Silencing and the presumed roles of Facebook Admins.
Facebook Group Admins establish a virtual presence and adopt the dangerous habit of playing God with commentary. In these virtual spaces that we create, we assume the position of “Admin.” For those of you who are new to this, an “Admin” is either the creator or co-assigned authority of a Facebook page. What is an online admin’s job exactly? What expectations do we have of a person who has the ability to progress or cease and desist information at their fingertips? Think of it in terms of Facebook’s silencing of Black and Brown people’s voices and accounts of the police brutality protests in 2020. Facebook Admins, especially trusted sources, essentially have the power of the media. The power to play God with information being dispersed in their communities. The power to censor.
As an admin, if you don’t want certain information being shared in your group, it won’t be. It’s as simple as that. Let’s apply this concept to the aforementioned scenario where a whistleblower’s commentary was removed from a post.
Back to The Scenario.
A few months ago ( I needed time to process) a white Facebook group member called out a local Philly Lesbian bar for problematic behavior on a post shared by the Philly-based LGBTQ social group Sip City Mixer. The post shared an article that brought attention to the LGBTQ bar closures happening all over the U.S. due to covid (presumably). More importantly, the article highlighted a local Philly Lesbian bar that was closing due to financial issues. The post itself was intended to draw attention to the Philly bar and a slurry of commentary on how to assist the bar in its financial crisis followed. But then a commentator sifted through who kept it real.
I’m heavily paraphrasing but the group member questioned the continued support of this particular Lesbian bar due to it’s history of “problematic” behavior. I had never actually patronized the bar but being a Queer women’s event curator in Philadelphia certainly contrived my curiosity. We began conversing about the allegations of “problematic behavior” and then the admin hopped on.
The Admin addressed the group member who called out the problematic behavior stating that the group member’s accusations on the post were “inappropriate” given the intended nature of the post. The group member was then invited to create a separate post in which their allegations could be brought to light. What I got from the Admin’s response was that there’s a time and place for everything? Drawing lines where problematic behaviors or practices should or shouldn’t be discussed is problematic within itself. The group member then questioned the Admin’s judgement call and our comments, not the post, were deleted after a few exchanges. I’ll let that marinate.
Now Let’s Unpack.
- A person in an online community informs the masses, on a post created by Admin, that a Lesbian bar in their community is known for problematic behavior. Our comments on the post are then deleted. Literal erasure, no?
- The Admin, who happens to be white (use where applicable), thought it was appropriate to silence a voice calling out problematic behavior in our community. In other words, a white community event organizer took it upon herself to censor vital information which could prevent a person of color or a transgender person from entering an unsafe space. YES, LGBTQ spaces can be unsafe.
- I’m a woman of color. A woman of color who NEEDS to know what businesses I should and shouldn’t patronize. I take my businesses black, queer and you can hold the isms. When our exchange was interrupted and subsequently deleted I felt erased. Unimportant. But I know better than that. So you’re going to hear us now.
Soon after this exchange, Sip City Mixer posted a Facebook Poll asking it’s members their opinions on how the social pop-up should go about screening for proof of vaccination. Now I want to be clear on the fact that this piece in particular isn’t a Vacc vs. Non-Vacc piece, however, it’s the premise. So stay focused.
To keep it One-Hunned, I am completely against requiring proof of vaccination for social events, especially, LGBTQ. See our position on vaccination requirements below.
“Lezcronymz will not be requiring proof of vaccination at any of our events. PERIOD. We have no interest in influencing the personal health decisions of the general public nor do we have an interest in discriminatory practices that will isolate specific populations including the Trans Community, BIPOC, or Low-Income Households. Our events are for everyone and will not be caught up in vaccine politics. We will, however, continue to enforce C*vid Safety Guidelines including but not limited to mandatory face masks and Statement of Health Forms. Our events will operate at 80% Capacity or less to ensure the continuation of social distancing.
ADDITIONALLY, we will not be holding our events at venues which require proof of vaccination nor will we be partnering with organizers for events which implement such policies.”
As you can see, we’re dead ass. In any case, this was the position I stated on the Poll. I hadn’t checked back to see if anything was deleted ( I was counting on it, though). About a day later, I received the following message from a former member of the Sip City Mixer Facebook Group:
“Hey there, my name is <RETRACTED> and you and I had a brief interaction on sip city. I know this is a big ask but I was wondering if you might be able to help me out. I had responded further on the vaccine thread with what I felt was a productive feedback- and Rebecca has deleted my comment and muted me entirely. I made my comment Bc I myself am trans and I’m trying to help. My further comments that were deleted were stating that I do not support showing proof of vaccination Bc it is racist. I was writing a follow up comment with vaccination data in Philadelphia when I received a message from Rebecca- admin- that I’m muted. Low and behold, she also deleted my most recent comment, calling out the fact that asking folks to prove vaccination status is racist. I now feel powerless and unable to defend myself. The message she sent me is aggressive and then ran off. I’m trying to see if there are other admins I can contact to try and let them know that this is happening. I can see that you made similar comments in the thread but Rebecca won’t delete or mute POC because she has done that in the past and gotten shit for it but now thinks it’s ok to do it to me- a trans person. I know this is a huge ask but is there any way you can reach out to her or anyone to let them know this is happening? She is not responding to me. I can show you the messages.”
This was followed up with the following screenshots from a conversation between Sip City Mixer Admin and the former member:
I don’t know about ya’ll but that was A TRIP for me to read. I personally reached out to the Sip City facebook group asking if there were other moderators to which the Admin responded she was the only one. Welp. I think we should unpack again.
- This is what happens when you have an unchecked, privileged white woman running an LGBTQ group that is supposed to be setting the standard of inclusivity yet uses her power to silence or full-out erase the voices and concerns of trans and BIPOC folk.
- The sheer audacity of the Admin to gaslight an individual providing critical information and conversation surrounding social policy: Trump-Era Censorship.
- We can’t trust that LGBTQ organizers have our back or even understand what that looks like. Yet they have a responsibility to learn better and do better than the rest of the world. They also have the responsibility of holding themselves accountable when they are checked. That didn’t happen here.
Because I’m a solution-oriented individual I think the removal of R.K from Facebook Admin duties for Sip City Mixer is not only appropriate but necessary to stop any further trauma to our online LGBTQ family. Additionally, let this be a lesson to us all to have a VISIBLE second in command in which to deal with community complaints so that we can continue our missions of providing safe(r) spaces for all.
Crowd control is a huge part of online community security. We need moderators to keep conversation respectful, thoughtful, and inclusive. We don’t, however, need them policing and erasing concerns which don’t matter to them personally. BIPOC folk are silenced enough in our own communities. Told whats best for us or how we should think by people who have never walked in our shoes. So when we step to non-poc leaders and organizers with valid concerns we require them to be heard and dealt with.
Respectfully, the Black, Queer, Woman who stirred the white woman’s pot. Cue Moneybagg Yo’s Time Today.