Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
What is safety? Whose safety is valued? At whose expense? What would real safety look like? Often, when we talk about safety in the contemporary United States, the conversation perpetuates fear about people who are perceived as threats. As a result, many turn to increased surveillance, increased policing, increased deportations, and increased incarceration as ways of fostering safety. Our conference holds that these systems make some of us very much less safe, and we believe that they harm all of us. As queer and trans folks whose bodies have historically been labeled as too dangerous to exist, we think it is essential to question any definition of safety that treats anyone as less than human.
Mainstream conversations around queer and trans people’s safety often center hate crimes legislation as a solution for homophobic and transphobic violence. Ending violence against LGBTQ people is important, but hate crimes legislation is not the way to get there. On the contrary, this legislation holds up systemic violence that we need to disrupt and fails to actually combat the structural cissexism and heterosexism-not to mention transmisogyny- that leads to these individual actions. What’s more, it silences conversation about the harm that the current (in)justice system inflicts on queer and trans communities. And it silences the discussion about who in our communities is most affected by systemic and interpersonal violences – by policing, misgendering, and attacks that disproportionately target trans women and queer and trans people of color – which stops us from taking urgent and necessary action to center those voices and experiences in our efforts to make our communities safe. We want to find ways of addressing homophobia and transphobia that do not recreate other forms of oppression and violence.
A conversation about safety for queer and trans folks must begin with our lived experiences, acknowledging that we all experience violence differently. Mainstream conversations about safety do not talk about the violence inflicted by these (in)justice systems – the people being affected by prison cages, stop and frisk, police brutality, solitary confinement, mandatory minimum sentences, separation from family members, life sentences, misgendering in holding centers, airport pat-downs, invasions of privacy, school-to-prison pipelines, and deportation. Nor do they talk about the other forms of daily violence making queer and trans communities unsafe — sexual violence, unemployment, lack of health care, unequal access to public spaces, food insecurity, toxic contamination, cultural appropriation, and the everyday regulation of our identities and bodies. So we must ask: what does it look like to build communities that really are safe for all of us?
Our conference aims to center the experiences of people who are directly harmed by the current systems that are said to create safety. We hope to do this by celebrating the stories of people of color, undocumented immigrants, indigenous peoples, religious minorities, working class people, unemployed people, people being trafficked, sex workers, incarcerated people, people with disabilities, trans folks, gender benders, queer folks, women, youth, elderly, and all others who share or work in solidarity with their struggles. We operate from the belief that safety requires community empowerment, not policing, incarceration, deportation or surveillance. Queer and trans people need and deserve to be able to decide for ourselves what constitutes safety and what constitutes justice. We seek to understand how to build alternative systems of justice, ones that address the underlying issues that we face and are not predicated on anyone’s oppression.
This year’s conference brings together activists, scholars, and performers to address the lived experiences of queer and trans people who are working towards creating different forms of safety in their communities. We believe that these conversations must lead us to take action in our own communities, which has led us to give a particular emphasis on people organizing locally in this year’s conference. We come to these conversations with humility, hoping that they may serve as starting points for collaborations around safety and community empowerment for more queer and trans people.
The 2014 Queer and Trans Conference, “Resisting Violence, Building Queer Safety” will take place from February 20-23. Further information about the conference and a schedule of events can be found at http://qtc.swarthmore.edu/.