Sowing the Seeds of Queer and Trans Liberation This Pride Month

NRDC senior social media manager Tejal Mankad dreams of a future with climate and gender justice.

People dance during the Brooklyn Liberation: An Action for Trans Youth march in Fort Greene Park in New York City on June 13, 2021.

Credit: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

The words of Audre Lorde, a self-described "Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," have buoyed me time and time again. “Without community, there is no liberation,” Lorde said.

In the summer of 2013, while living in California’s Bay Area and working as an organizer for immigrant rights, I attended my first Trans March. The event, set at the base of Mission Dolores Park (traditional Ramaytush land), embodied a militant joy I will never forget. I still remember the way the sun shone against beautiful signs that read “No Pride for Some of Us Without Liberation for All of Us” and “Stonewall Was a Riot.” I had never experienced seeing so many queer and trans people of color come together in one place to honor history, celebrate themselves, and demand a new future, one that moved us beyond a colonial gender binary and white supremacy. In that space, I saw myself, and a part of me could heal.

As a queer, nonbinary South Asian American and climate justice advocate who has been misgendered and experienced violence and discrimination, I have learned so much from such radical queer organizing and grassroots movements for liberation. From the Compton’s Cafeteria riots to the legendary Stonewall uprising, resistance to oppression and state violence has always been central to how queer and trans people have navigated the world. Losing friends and community members, who have given up their lives because they cannot access basic services like health care and safe housing, and the fear of not being able to live authentically galvanize me to fight for our self-determination and a world where we can live unapologetically without violence. Today, from my home in Brooklyn, New York (traditional Munsee Lenape land), surrounded by my queer and trans chosen family—without whom I know for certain I would not be here—I continue to hold space for gatherings that allow us to take up room, build power, and liberate ourselves. Like cacti surviving and blooming in deserts under harsh conditions, we adapt and imagine other ways to live abundantly.

Tejal Mankad
Credit: Courtesy of Tejal Mankad

Care networks and mutual aid have sustained us in times of hardship, when so often our own biological families disavow us. An important part of my journey has been seeking out meetings and spaces with other queer South Asians and people who share similar identities to process our experiences, trauma, and resilience through conversation, activism, and art. For so many queer and trans people, our collective history has been one of building from the ground up and finding solutions when others refuse to center us.

Movement elders like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson have informed so much of how I organize. From Rivera, I learned to center the struggles of those who experience the most harm in our community, and Johnson taught me to be fierce and bold. Today’s Reclaim Pride coalition and groups like Sylvia Rivera Law Project and APIENC make way for such intersectional, transformative models of change. These organizations are laying a foundation that recognizes how climate injustice and environmental racism are part of the same unjust system that breeds anti-trans legislation and police violence. This year has already seen a record-breaking amount of anti-trans violence: In addition to the 17 anti-trans bills that have been signed into law, at least 29 known trans and gender-nonconforming people have been killed, the vast majority of them Black and Latinx trans women. COVID-19 and rising economic inequities have only exacerbated this epidemic of violence.

The fights for our humanity cannot be separated from one another. And the truth is, standing up for our own diversity, reflected in ecology all around us, makes us stronger and more resilient. That is why, while the mainstream environmental movement remains predominantly white, cisgender, and heteronormative, its future is not—and I think of how much queer and trans communities have to offer as we embrace the ways our lives hold multiplicities. When we say there is no climate justice without queer liberation, it means that our struggles are intertwined and none of us are free until all of us are free.

Marginalized people of color, including queer people of color in the United States and the Global South, shoulder the heaviest impacts of climate change, often finding themselves on the frontlines of ecological disaster. Poverty, discrimination, houselessness, incarceration, and chronic illness or disability—due to lack of access to health care—are often behind this injustice. One study found that 40 percent of U.S. youth who identify as houseless also identify as LGBTQ+. These same individuals are often also overlooked after disasters or left out of relief packages. Pre-existing disparities among our communities are compounded when we are confronted with threat multipliers like climate change and pollution.

When we fight for thriving ecosystems, abundant biodiversity, and an end to fossil fuel exploitation and pollution, we also fight against discrimination based on gender and sexuality and other structural oppressions. From clearcutting old-growth forests to growing monoculture for industry or building pipelines on stolen land, this system—with roots in capitalism—deems anything in its way disposable.

As we face down these inequities and take care of our own, we embody what it looks like to think of new frameworks for society that do not destroy the earth or ourselves. So many in the community have already been building the worlds we want to live in—worlds where nobody is disposable and all people can drink clean water, breathe clean air, and feed their communities. Even just over the past few years, community members have shared resources with one another for how to access health care and personal protective equipment, and to survive disaster. These strong interconnected networks of resistance and resilience are helping to ensure a livable future for queer and trans people.

This Pride Month—and every month—I ground myself in the teachings of my queer and trans ancestors and resolutely reclaim pride as a call to action, action against the co-optation of our movement and against state violence in all of its forms. As we fight for our liberation, let us uproot what holds us back and remember we already have what we need.

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