City Beat

New generation of LGBT activists sees ‘confluence’ with Black Lives Matter

A model of the Black Lives Matter shirt designed by local LGBT activists. The pink triangle is a symbol of gay pride and gay rights.
A model of the Black Lives Matter shirt designed by local LGBT activists. The pink triangle is a symbol of gay pride and gay rights.

The morning after 49 people were massacred inside an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub last month, some in the Sacramento LGBT community began organizing a vigil here.

“A vigil was not going to be enough,” said Tre Borden, an artistic consultant. “We needed to organize something more substantial.”

Instead, Borden and others organized a rally attended by politicians and hundreds of others on 20th Street. It was a powerful display.

“After Orlando,” said Carlos Marquez, “we had a decision to make: Will we put a premium on grieving, or do we care more about making a political statement?”

Borden and Marquez are part of a new generation of LGBT activists in Sacramento. Marquez, who works in government affairs for the California Charter Schools Association, is board president of the LGBT Community Center in midtown. Borden is on the board.

A few weeks after Orlando, their activism manifested itself in a new form.

Joined by friends, they took part in last week’s march to the Capitol to protest police brutality. They crafted T-shirts with the phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” but on these shirts, the letter “a” was replaced with a pink triangle, a symbol of gay pride.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been at odds with the LGBT community in some cities, generating media attention when friction arises. Some leaders of the Sacramento Black Lives Matter chapter are also uncomfortable when new activists organize protests for their cause, as was the case last week with the Capitol march that three young women unaffiliated with the official group launched on social media.

At Toronto’s Pride Parade earlier this month, organizers invited Black Lives Matter as guests of honor. The BLM float then came to a stop in the middle of the parade and a member accused parade organizers of harboring “a culture of anti-blackness.” And, according to LGBT media reports, a Black Lives Matter group in San Diego dissolved in part over concerns that some of its leaders had expressed homophobic views.

But two of the co-founders of the national Black Lives Matter movement identify as queer, and the movement has sought to include LGBT activists in its ranks. Borden, Marquez and their friends who marched in last week’s large Sacramento rally want unity between the causes.

“It’s a confluence of all these social movements, and I see the need for solidarity,” said Marlon Cuellar, a program manager at the California Endowment.

There is a perception that life is great for the LGBT community, especially in California, because same-sex couples can marry. That was clearly an important milestone in LGBT rights, but Borden argues it is also largely symbolic.

There are many basic rights LGBT activists must fight for, he and his friends said. And many of those fights are over issues that overwhelmingly affect gay and transgender people who are black and Latino – equal access to health care, access to employment, housing rights.

“Whatever we’re fighting for, people of color in the LGBT community have it worse,” Marquez said.

Is this a sign that this new generation of LGBT activists is going to be more active? The LGBT Center focuses on access to services and safe places, but Marquez sees a time when the organization could increase its advocacy and hold community forums.

Sacramento has a strong history of LGBT activism. The Stonewall Democrats are one of the largest and most respected political clubs in the region. And Steve Hansen, the city’s first openly gay council member, was re-elected last spring to a second term.

Hansen said he is proud of the leadership Borden, Marquez and others are displaying.

“It would be to our peril not to stand side-by-side with the Latino community or the African American community as they’ve stood up for us,” Hansen said. “(The local LGBT activists) have done a tremendous service. By doing this, by forging stronger bonds with Black Lives Matter, they’re not just fighting for themselves – they’re fighting for others.”