By Frank C.

Non-binary gender identities have elicited a gut reaction in communities across the U.S.

Some allies who thought they fully supported the LGBTQ+ movement have found themselves on the fence when it comes to the simple but fundamental idea of gender-neutral restrooms. And when we start to talk about intersectional identities—the way in which gender identity intersects with race, sexuality, class, and immigration status—things get complicated.

Trans and queer youth of color in the Midwest continue to find themselves in a position where they are being told to choose one of their multiple identities over the other. This is most obvious when they try to access support and resources in their local schools and communities. They are asked to choose race over gender or gender over sexuality, and that is impossible. The point at which their identities intersect is who they are. They are all of their identities and should not be asked to detach from themselves or lift one identity higher than the other.

We launched GSA Network Midwest to continue to strengthen the collaborative work that we have been doing in partnership with groups such as Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, Missouri GSA Network, and GSAFE.  And because we believe that trans and queer youth of color in the Midwest are invaluable. They deserve the caliber of resources and support that justly reflects how integral their experiences, expertise and voices are to the national LGBTQ+ youth movement. A world that centers the liberation of trans and queer youth of color is a better world for us all.

With that in mind, we want to bridge the gap between gender and sexuality, and racial and gender justice, to provide young people with access to a broader framework and tool kit that will allow them to fully express their identities and experiences as trans and queer youth of color.

The reality is that political landscape for LGBTQ+ youth in the Midwest is similar to what their peers in the South are experiencing. Trans and queer youth of color in the region are cut-off from resources and information—especially in rural and low-income communities—that prevents them from critically engaging the full spectrum of gender and sexuality as well as how race, economic and immigration status impacts their experience in local schools and communities.  We can’t ignore the backlash from local and state governments that are working to deny them federal anti-discrimination protections, especially at a time when it seems the federal government may possibly do so as well.

It is crucial that Midwest community-based organizations align themselves with each other to give trans and queer youth adequate support to build a movement for and by them, while ensuring they stay safe from violence and discrimination in schools, so they are not “pushed out” of school and into the criminal justice system.

And we must continually ask ourselves: What are trans and queer youth of color saying about how we’re defending their rights and identities? Are we listening?