10 Things All White Folks Need to Consider about the #BaltimoreUprising

As I reflect upon the most recent Baltimore Uprising taking place in the wider movement for racial justice in the United States, I can’t help but be simultaneously frustrated and inspired by the White people in my life.

I’m inspired by White friends and mentors who are striving for accountable solidarity to Black people within the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and I am constantly taking notes about how I can do more to advance the cause of racial justice through my own work, words, and activism.

But I’m also frustrated and disappointed in how so many of us are choosing to direct as much energy as possible to blaming people of Color for their own oppression and to condemning them for expressions of grief and rage that make us uncomfortable and afraid.

So as I reflect on those simultaneous feelings, I wanted to reach out through the medium of my writing, one White person to another, in hopes of inspiring us to think and engage more critically as people of Color literally fight for their lives.

1. As White People, We Are Not Victims of Racial Oppression

There is not a statistical measure that exists by which White people are oppressed while people of Color are privileged.

As such, we get zero say in how people who are oppressed respond to their oppression.

There is vast dialogue and debate within Black communities and other communities of Color about the most effective ways to realize justice, and in none of those conversations should the voices or leadership we White people who benefit from systems of racial oppression be centered. 

2. A Movement of Nonviolence Has BeenOccurring – We Just Weren’t Paying Attention

So many of us call on oppressed people to act nonviolently when they are being brutalized by violent police, institutions, and systems, but people of Color have been in the streets nonviolently for years calling for an end to racist police violence.

Where were we?

Yes, many White folks have shown up and shown out in solidarity, but by and large, we White people have been silent.

It’s entirely possible for us to believe in the transformative power of nonviolent revolution without patronizingly telling Black people how they should express their anger and rage that comes from being murdered in the streets by police.

It pains me to see anger, hurt, frustration, and pain boil over into the throwing of stones and destruction of property, but we need to remember the source of this pain: systemic racism expressed through police violence.

We simply have no right to tell a community that lives with the brutalization of White supremacy daily how they should direct or express their rage.

3. The Destruction of Property Pales in Comparison to the Destruction of Lives

Why is it that we as White folks seem to be ten times more outraged by the destruction of property than by the fact that police kill Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people every 19 hours in 2015

Why are we ten times more outraged by the setting of fires than by the racist, capitalist systems that produce the poverty that devastates communities of Color?

We can say all we like that we are “feeling for the small business owners and individuals who lost their property,” but every one of those broken windows can be replaced and every burnt building can be rebuilt.

The lives of people taken by police and consumed by our systems’ endless appetites for Black, Brown, and Indigenous suffering can never be returned.

Source:  David Ellington Wright

4. Dr. King Wasn’t Here for Us – And He Still Isn’t

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is not a cudgel for White people to use against Black people who respond to their oppression in ways that we do not find palatable.

The Rev. Dr. King was a radical revolutionary who called for a complete overturning of the racist, capitalist system in which we live. We do not get to coopt and distort his legacy or that of any civil rights leaders to maintain the status quo.

We would do well to actually read the writings of Dr. King (rather than cherry pick the quotes that support our agenda) and consider his words for White moderates:

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Quote

5. Stop (Seriously, Stop) with #AllLivesMatter

When we say #AllLivesMatter, we are participating in the erasure of the lives who sadly do not matter within our systems of oppression while injecting our own need to be centered into a movement for racial justice.

#BlackLivesMatter is a revolutionary call for change in systems where Black lives, cultures, and communities are devalued.

Here are a few links that explain this better than I ever could:

What You Mean By #AllLivesMatter” by Arielle Newton of Black Millennials

Please Stop Telling Me That All Lives Matter” by Julia Craven at Huffington Post

What’s Wrong with ‘All Lives Matter?” by George Yancy and Judith Butler at The New York Times

Tweets from Arthur Chu @arthur_affect. "Do people who change #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter run thru a cancer fundraiser going "THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO" "WTF is the impulse behind changing #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. Do you crash strangers' funerals shouting I TOO HAVE FELT LOSS"

Read the rest of the list at Everyday Feminism.


When Privilege Goes Pop: How Mainstream Conversations On Privilege Can Hurt Justice Movements

We live in a time when conversations about privilege – the everyday benefits and advantages that people receive in society because of their identity – have become incredibly commonplace.

From a side note to “check your privilege” to the growth of the critical White Privilege Conference to references in major newspapers and magazines, it seems that recognizing privilege as a concept has broken through into the mainstream.

Privilege has gone pop.

I mean, how much more pop can you get than having Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly debate whether White privilege is real on one of the most-watched television programs in the US?

And if you’re not sure just how privileged you are, Buzzfeed has a quiz for that! Ain’t nothing like a hyper-simplistic measure that conflates all identities and privileges into one aggregate “score” to convince someone that they need to reconsider the benefits their identity gives them!

That said, it really is amazing that the privilege conversation has gone so mainstream considering that scholars and activists, particularly those without privilege – people with marginalized and oppressed identities – have been talking about privilege for a long time!

W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about the privileges White people receive in society as far back as 1935, and countless scholars of Color have explored the implications of White privilege (though notably and problematically the most famous scholar on the subject is a White, cisgender woman – Peggy McIntosh).

We shouldn’t downplay the power of this moment – that privilege discourse has entered mainstream discourse is a powerful change.

But is privilege going pop a good thing?

Problematizing Pop Cultural Privilege

Privilege being discussed in the mainstream has the power to start some important discussions about identity and systems of oppression.

However, the problem with pop culture is that it isn’t exactly supportive of nuance and complexity.

Take pop music (which, let’s be real, I love): With rare exception, it boils music down to the simplest concepts, sounds, and lyrics for mass consumption.

The same is now happening with conversations about privilege.

And pop culture privilege isn’t actually a good thing.

To the contrary, to talk about privilege without complexity, nuance, or connection to wider systems of oppression actively hurts movements for justice.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about privilege.

After all, I can see a bunch of dudes using this argument to say, “Stop talking about my privilege! You’re hurting the feminist movement!”

We should talk about privilege, but when we do so, we must do so with the kind of complexity that actually holds people of privilege accountable and draws more people of privilege into movements for justice.

So how does pop cultural privilege discourse hurt movements for justice?

1. It Gives People of Privilege an Out

More and more, we’re seeing people of different identity privileges owning that they have privilege, which is, in some small ways, a great thing.

Unfortunately, though, for too many people, it stops there. Many of us act as if simple acknowledgement of our privileges is anti-oppressive when it’s not.

Just as it’s not actually anti-racist to acknowledge racism exists, acknowledging your privilege does little to actually address the systems of oppression that engender privilege.

I’ve seen this most often with politically “liberal” White men who are willing to acknowledge their privilege publicly, but aren’t willing to do anything to actually decenter their Whiteness or maleness to cede power to, say, Women of Color.

For instance, a friend of mine is currently running for the presidency of her student body at a large university on a somewhat radical platform. She and her running mates and campaign committee refuse to spend the thousands of dollars that groups usually spend to get elected, and they are calling for a restructuring of the top-down leadership model that has traditionally favored White male power.

The White men she’s running against, though, have effectively coopted social justice language, labeling themselves allies and naming their privileges, all while further entrenching the same old White male leadership that has characterized student government at this university.

If acknowledging privilege at a surface level enables those with privilege to avoid the radical work of ceding power and working in solidarity, it gives us an out from actually doing justice work.

We can pretend that we’re down for the cause without ever really changing anything.

2. It Erases Intersectionality and Prevents Deeper Engagement in Work for Justice

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

From Truth Telling to Land Return: 4 Ways White People Can Work for Indigenous Justice

It’s important that when talking about Indigenous justice, we talk in specifics because of how colonization has impacted different Indigenous people in varied ways.


Waziyatawin, Ph.D.

This article will focus on the context of colonization in what we now refer to as the United States, and it is informed by the activism and expertise of one Dakota person, Waziyatawin, Ph.D.

Thus, while there are surely ways that this article can inform activism outside of this context, it should be understood to be limited in this way.

In their seminal work linking Critical Race Theory to education entitledToward a Critical Race Theory of Education, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and Dr. William F. Tate, IV explain how the United States is founded fundamentally on property rights rather than human rights.

If human rights were central to the constitution (rather than property rights), it would have been far more difficult for European colonists to continually legally justify slavery, genocide, and the theft of virtually every acre of land in North America.

Thus, the mark of success in the US constitutional system is ownership of property. Whether we’re talking abstract “assets” like stock, the ownership of people, or ownership of land, the longest-running “smart investment” for those legally and financially able to access it, property, drives wealth and prosperity in the US and most Western, capitalist societies.

As a result, any conversation about Indigenous justice threatens the positionality of all settlers — non-Indigenous people — because, in the words of Dr. Wazayatawin, “[W]ithin Indigenous worldviews, land is life. Colonization, in its fundamental sense, involved disconnecting [Indigenous people] from our homelands (so our homelands could be occupied by settlers instead).”

And in my experience, any time we start talking about land return or reparations, White folks (those settlers like myself for whom this property-based system was built) collectively freak out.

If we’re going to talk about what justice actually can and must look like, we have to start talking about the decentering of settler identities and people and about the recentering of Indigenous people and struggle — no matter how uncomfortable that may make us.

So Who Are Settlers?

If we’re going to have a conversation about what justice can actually look like, though, we need to be precise with our language.

One of the countless things I appreciate about Dr. Waziyatawin in her scholarship and activism is that she reminds us of an important distinction within very language.

Indigenous people are notably different from other oppressed people in the United States in that they are simultaneously colonized andoppressed.

As Dr. Waziyatawin puts it, “Colonization is always a form of oppression, but oppression is not always colonization… a population must have a land-base before it can be colonized.”

And that distinction is vital.

It’s not to take anything away from the distinct oppressions of settlers of Color, and surely those stolen from their lands and sold into slavery come from colonized lands and have lost their land-base in that process. But this distinction makes one thing clear: The system of colonization in which we live was built for White people, and White people are privileged above all and benefit form that system.

To understand positionality, though, is to understand, in Dr. Waziyatawin’s words, that “there are certainly varying degrees of culpability and poor, landless, oppressed people of Color have not benefitted to the same extent that White, wealthy landowners have. And, those who have come as slaves, through sex-trafficking, etc. cannot be held responsible for their presence on Indigenous lands. But free populations, even oppressed ones, are settlers on someone else’s land.”

Thus, if we are ever going to realize true anti-colonial racial and class justice,we have to understand our positionality and collaborate accountably across difference toward Indigenous liberation.

What Can White Settlers Do to Help Realize Indigenous Justice?

Notably, as the author of this piece, I am a White settler. It is not, nor should it be, my position to tell Indigenous people or settlers of Color how to engage in work for justice.

Thus, while that conversation can and should take place in coalitions of people of Color, from here forward, I will be offering suggestions, as informed by Dr. Waziyatawin, for how White settlers can work for justice.

For those of us who consider ourselves progressive, it’s not enough to, as Andrea Smith puts it in Conquest, “bemoan the genocide of Native peoples” while “implicitly [sanctioning] it by refusing to question the legitimacy of the settler nation responsible for this genocide.”

We have to act — and in doing so, we have to risk something.

1. Listen To and Call Other White Settlers to Listen to Indigenous Truth Telling

In her book What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland, Dr. Waziyatawin devotes an entire chapter to the importance of Indigenous truth telling, noting “for those of us who believe in the transformative potential of education, our hope derives from the expectation that once people understand the truth, they will be compelled to act more justly.”

Sadly, though, both research and the lived experience of many marginalized and oppressed people tells us this is not quite the way things work.

In our interview, Dr. Waziyatawin even noted how her views on the role of truth telling have evolved. Particularly when people are vehemently opposed to learning a truth, truth telling can simply leave oppressed people open, vulnerable, and hurting while those of us with privilege can walk away, more resolved in our ignorance.

But that does not mean that truth telling has no place in working for justice.

For those of us striving for an accountable solidarity as settlers,acknowledging, reflecting upon, and then acting from the truths of Indigenous people are vital first steps in working for justice.

As Dr. Waziyatawin puts it, “There is righteousness and strength to be found in truth telling, as well as guidance and direction.”

2. Support and Donate Money or Land to Indigenous Land Return Efforts

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (And 3 Ways to Practice It)

By  and

When Annie Lennox, legendary Scottish singer from the Eurythmics, recently declared that Beyoncé is not feminist with the statement “Listen, twerking is not feminism,” she firmly established herself as a representative for White feminism.

What is “White feminism?” We’ll let Cate fromBattyMamzelle define it for you:

“White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of color. It is ‘one size-fits all’ feminism, where middle class White women are the mold that others must fit. It is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual White feminist, everywhere, always.”

Now, Lennox likely doesn’t think of herself as a White feminist, but by referring to Beyoncé’s feminism and expression as “disturbing,” “exploitative,” and “troubling,” she expressed the politic many White feminists are known for advancing: “Feminism must look like we want it to look, or it’s not feminism.”

It’s usually not that overt, and most White feminists would deny that this is what’s being said or done, but you notice it in more subtle comments like “Why do you have to divide us by bringing up race?” or “Are Trans women really women? There should be a distinction.”

In the face of calls for a more intersectional feminism, there are even White feminists who claim the whole concept of intersectionality is just academic jargon that doesn’t connect with the real world.

Yet the irony seems lost on some feminists who make these claims while staunchly opposingthe language of “humanism” in place of “feminism.”

Source: Rosalarian

Simply put, it’s not those who are calling for a feminism that is responsive to the specific issues they face that are being divisive. It’s those of us who refuse to acknowledge the need for an intersectional ethic in feminism.

What Is Intersectionality?

It makes sense in many ways that those of us with identity privilege would have a harder time including in our feminism those who are oppressed. Privilege conceals itself from those who have it, and it’s a lot easier to focus on the ways that we are marginalized or oppressed.

But without an intersectional lens, our movements cannot be truly anti-oppressive because it is not, in fact, possible to tease apart the oppressions that people are experiencing. Racism for women of color cannot be separated from their gendered oppression. A Trans person with a disability cannot choose which part of their identity is most in need of liberation.

Yet there is regularly confusion about what intersectionality really is.

Renowned law scholar and critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the term in 1989 in her paper “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.”

She noted that “problems of exclusion” of Black women from both mainstream anti-racist politics and feminist theory “cannot be solved simply by including Black women in an already established analytical structure. Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”

While her immediate focus was on the intersections of race and gender, Crenshaw highlights in “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” that her “focus on the intersections of race and gender only highlight the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed.”

In short, intersectionality is a framework that must be applied to all social justice work, a frame that recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that enrich our lives and experiences and that compound and complicate oppressions and marginalizations.

We cannot separate multiple oppressions, for they are experienced and enacted intersectionally.

Thus, in the words of Flavia Dzodan, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”

Understanding Intersectionality in Context

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Whites Talking to Whites: moving beyond anti-racism and privilege

Powerful reflections on race, Whiteness, privilege, and anti-racism from my friend Ryan.

Form Follows Function

* this is a section of a larger work which will be published in 2015.


I think it was my junior year in college. I was already hot over something, I can’t remember what exactly now, but I know it was not a good time for me to be taught anything about privilege. I remember my voice being horse from all the yelling. I was on the phone with my girlfriend who was a junior at the University of Minnesota and she was explaining white privilege and systems of domination to me. I was clearly not trying to hear it. I went to Hamline University with a bunch of wealthy bougie people that constantly judged me for being working class; they were privileged, not me. How could I be privileged when I was being laughed at for having to use a bungee cord to hold my trunk down? How could…

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The Wages of Whiteness: How Ferguson Calls On White People to Regain Our Humanity

White people, we face a choice.

We can choose to continue to invest in White supremacy and in doing so, surrender our humanity.

Or we can choose to divest from Whiteness.

You see, Whiteness is not our skin color. Whiteness is not “stuff White people like.” Whiteness is not our families or our culture. Whiteness is a system that was created by people who look like us for the sole purpose of consolidating power in the hands of a few.

Whiteness is the system that has, for hundreds of years, instilled in us the ideology of White supremacy to keep our people from investing in common struggle with people of Color.

Whiteness and White supremacy are at the same time not real, total social constructions, and completely real, as they inspire us to take up for a system that dehumanizes everyone.

Whiteness is the system that ensures when a White man guns down an unarmed Black teen in the street, there won’t even be a trial, and we will defend it behind keyboards and white sheets.

Whiteness and White supremacy dehumanize everyone.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 12.18.28 AM

A Sign Held by a Protester in Ferguson, MO

Of course, Whiteness and White supremacy do not dehumanize me in the ways that they dehumanize people of Color. That is a dehumanization we can never understand.

But as I look at the vile racism and White supremacy splashed across my social media feeds tonight, I hurt out of empathy for the parents of every Black child in this country. But my hurt is also more than that. I hurt because I also see what racism does to us, what it does to me and those White people I love.

Racism robs us of our ability to feel, to empathize, to hurt in the face of injustice.

Without those things, are we still human?

Whiteness dehumanizes us as it demands that we give up that part of ourselves that should have said, “This is wrong” when the “no indictment” verdict came back.

I posted a tweet last night that made a lot of White people mad:

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.04.30 AM

But it’s true. This is not hyperbole. Maybe you don’t consider yourself a White supremacist. Maybe you even believe you’re “colorblind” (excuse the too-common, ableist term).

But in the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.

So when you defend this system and its decision that so blatantly devalues Black life and protects the interests of Whiteness, you defend White supremacy. And in doing so, you sacrifice part of your humanity.

We face a choice: continue to invest in that which dehumanizes everyone or stand on the side of justice, and in doing so, risk regaining our humanity.

What are you willing to give? What are you willing to give up?

When I was in Ferguson and St. Louis last month, the refrain about White people’s role in this movement was clear.

One Black elder put it this way, “It’s great that you’re in the streets and all. There are a lot of White people here at this march. But at the end of the day, what are you saying to engage the person wearing the ‘I am Darren Wilson’ t-shirt? What are you doing to engage White people who would never come out here? That’s what we need you to do.”

This sentiment was expressed by nearly every person of Color I talked to: White people, get your people.

In by far the most powerful of these conversations that I had while in Ferguson, my friend Arielle from the brilliant Black Millennial Musings stressed that White people have to be willing to sacrifice by divesting from Whiteness and by calling in our own people if we are going to ever truly act in solidarity.

In short, we have to ask ourselves this: What am I willing to give? What am I willing to give up?

Are we willing to give of our energy, our time, our heartfelt passion to engage other White people in ending White supremacy?

Are we willing to give up our silence that so protects us and shields us and showers on us the privileges of Whiteness? Are we willing to stop paying the wages of Whiteness and regain our humanity?

What are we willing to give? What are we willing to give up?

It’s Time to Choose

The movement in Ferguson stands as but one iteration of a movement, one that is not going away. This movement is led by young Black, Brown, Asian, Arab, and Indigenous youth from Palestine to Tibet to Paris, New York, and Ferguson. This movement is led by the youth that our economy and its “recovery” were never built for.

This movement is led by young cisgender and Transgender men and women and gender non-conforming people. This movement is led by Queer youth, and it’s led by youth with every ability and disability in this human experience.

And this movement demands that we as White people choose.

We are no longer offered the choice of silence. In fact, we never were. Silence is consent in a system of White supremacy. We simply fooled ourselves into thinking our silence protected us from complicity.

We can choose to continue investing in the systems of Whiteness and White supremacy.

Or we can choose to divest from Whiteness and its poisonous ideology.

But we have to choose.

4 Ways We Can Choose to Divest from Whiteness and White Supremacy

1. We choose to divest from White supremacy when we lend our support, financial or otherwise, to those leading this movement. Do it right now. Send a paypal donation in whatever amount you can afford to MillennialAU@gmail.com, or donate to Lost Voices through their website.

2. We choose to divest from Whiteness when we show up. As a dear friend Lex recently pointed out, if we show up to the tune of 10,000 for an internet cat video festival, we surely can show up in the streets for justice. Lex put it this way this morning on social media:

“If you don’t usually go to rallies or protests, and your body is able to, I invite you to call up some courage today and join a beautiful crowd of people calling for justice. Being in the streets together is powerful, it’s healing, and it’s what we have to do in response to racism, injustice and violence.”

3. We choose to divest from White Supremacy when we act, when we engage in systems change that holds police accountable for racist violence. For those of us with access (as a result of wealth or connections), there is a need to press mayors, city council members, alderman, police chiefs, public prosecutors, and other local power holders for change.  When they ignore you (and they likely will), keep contacting them. Set up meetings, and email them regularly.

When you reach out, here are a few specific, measurable things you can call for:

  • Demand Police Body Cameras – We live in an age that allows incredible surveillance of police behavior for accountability purposes, but only a small minority of police forces prioritize the technology for this accountability. Body cameras, a simple and inexpensive addition to the police uniform, have been found to reduce incidents of excessive police force by as much as 50% where used. Costing as little as $199 per officer (plus hosting and transmission costs), this not only can reduce the violence committed and protect citizens from violence, but it can protect police who are doing their jobs legitimately.  Plus, limiting police brutality also ensures that cities don’t need to pay out millions in settlements in civil suits, so if you’re talking to someone who values tax savings over considerations of human life (yes, they exist), you can show how cameras actually save tax payers money.
  • Demand Accountable Civilian Review – Having cameras and accountability procedures is ineffective unless there is a legitimate and empowered civilian review authority with actual teeth to hold police accountable. After all, when footage from body cameras or dash cameras is held and stored by police, it’s far too easy for footage to conveniently disappear (“Oh, that camera was malfunctioning that day”) when there’s an incident of police violence. Thus, if your city doesn’t have a civilian review authority with actual teeth, demand one. The local police union will fight to ensure it is ineffective, but civilian review from members of the community most affected is a powerful tool for change.
  • Demand Independent Police Liability Insurance – Currently city governments are on the hook financially when their police officers brutalize citizens, yet police unions are powerful enough that local politicians rarely hold police accountable.  However, insurance companies that care about their bottom line would have no problem holding police accountable when they abuse their authority.  Thus, a simple thing to demand in your municipality is for police to be required to pay for their own liability insurance as a condition of employment in the police department. If they brutalize citizens and end up losing a suit, the insurance companies will make it quite expensive to hold insurance or will drop the officer completely, thus ensuring that the person can no longer be employed as a police officer in your city. Simply put, hit them in the pocket book to hold police accountable. Learn about the movement in Minneapolis to require police to purchase their own insurance.

4. Lastly, we choose to divest from Whiteness when we break the cycle of socialization that passes White supremacy down throughout our generations. When you gather for a meal, call your family in to discuss the ways we are complicit in racism. And engage them in talking about what we can do about it.

This means that we can’t just act like we’re the “best White person” and callously call out those White folks in our families who say racist stuff (no matter how good that may feel). We have to choose the “less disposable way of holding each other accountable” by calling one another in to realize change.

Whatever it looks like, we have to choose to divest.

For if we don’t, we risk further distancing ourselves from our own humanity in order to gain the simple privileges of this system that benefits us in so many other ways.

Marriage is Not the Movement: An Unconventional Wedding Announcement

Ashley Horan is a Unitarian Universalist minister and the Executive Director of MUUSJA: The Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance. She lives in Minneapolis with her partner Karen, their 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth, a very bad cat called Bodhi, and a soon-to-be-born tiny human being.


October 20, 2014

Two years ago today, my beloved and I made promises to one another in front of many of the people we love best in the world. In the language of our faith, we made a covenant—a deep, binding promise between the two of us, held and reinforced by our community, and sustained by that holy and sacred power of creativity that gives us life, known by many as God. With our family and friends as witnesses, we named all that we aspire to together, with word and symbol and ritual… and then, we celebrated at the best party we’ve ever been to.

Our commitment ceremony was a very important threshold for us and our relationship. It made public all that we had known to be true between us, and it linked us with the millennia of ancestors who have ritually recognized the creation of families of many kinds throughout the ages.

Our commitment ceremony was NOT, however, a wedding. We very intentionally avoided words like “marriage” and “wedding” and “spouse.” Some of our community thought we were being ridiculous—a rose by any other name, right? But for us, this was an essential distinction: people can commit to one another in a lot of different ways, and build lots of different kinds of families and relationships, but marriage is a very specific term.

Traditionally, it refers to the binding of a union between two people—usually a man and a woman—which is recognized by a civil or governmental authority as the marker of kinship ties and legitimacy. While most religious and spiritual traditions have ceremonies to recognize committed relationships, and civil and religious marriage are often conflated, there are very clear benefits associated with state-recognized marriage that are generally not conferred upon committed people who have not chosen to have their union affirmed by a civil authority. These include spousal visitation rights, death benefits, powers of decision making and inheritance, property rights, parental recognition, joint health coverage, and many more.

In short, civil/legal marriage is the gateway to many benefits that are generally NOT available to non-married people, both single and partnered.

Why didn’t we want to get married, you might ask?

First, we understood our commitment to each other as primarily covenantal, rather than legal: we were making promises to each other, to our community, and to the Holy… not to the State.

Second, we are a part of a long line of queer folks (and in Karen’s case, communities of Color) who have insisted that WE—not the State, not the church, not societal convention—decide what our families look like, what kind of promises we make to one another, and how we want to be in relationship with each other. WE get to say to each other, “You are my family,” and thereby make it true, whether or not it is affirmed by the capricious whims of the reigning regime.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we deeply believe that all humans deserve basic care and protection from the state, whether or not they choose to shape their lives and their relationships in a particular way. We believe all of us deserve health care… the right to be recognized as parents to the children we raise, regardless of our biological relationships… access to our partners when they are ill… the opportunity to help our partners qualify for citizenship… the ability to care for one another beyond death by passing along property and money to those we leave behind.

And, we believe that any fight that aims to expand access to these rights to some, but not ALL people, is not enough.

We know that for many LGBTQ people, the recent wave of same-sex marriage legalization has been hugely important and deeply emotionally significant. It has made many among us feel visible and affirmed for the first time. It has granted access to important rights to many couples and their families. It will, quite literally, save some lives, and make life easier for many, many more.

The movement to make these victories possible brought many, many people who had never been activists before into the public fray; it brought disparate groups together in common struggle.

But the marriage equality fight has also been, in some ways, a huge distraction. It has taken billions of dollars (from all sides of the issue) and diverted them from other, less funded Queer causes. It has been led largely by White, educated, middle and upper-class Gays and Lesbians, and has often not included the leadership, perspectives, and needs of other Queers, gender non-conforming people, and communities of Color.

It has even used divisive identity politics to suggest that certain communities are the “enemy” of Gay marriage, thereby insulting, ignoring, and delegitimizing the lived experiences of Queer members of those communities. It has more often than not lacked an intersectional lens, and has failed to examine elements of racism, transphobia, classism, ableism, misogyny, and capitalism have tainted the marriage equality movement’s ability to represent a broad swath of people with diverse identities.

In short, while we are genuinely happy for those among our community who have so long awaited access to legal marriage, and all that it entails, we don’t believe that “we’ve won” the fight for Gay rights yet. And we don’t see civilly-recognized marriage as something we yearn for in our own relationship, for both religious and political reasons.

So, last week, when we were informed that Karen’s employer was eliminating “domestic partners” as a category of family relationship that qualifies people for insurance coverage under their plan, we were upset.

As of January 1, 2015, our relationship—whose legitimacy we had to prove already with a stack of documents and legal affidavits when we first applied for coverage—will no longer be considered valid unless we also present a marriage certificate. Without one, I will be dropped from Karen’s insurance, she will not be legally recognized as our soon-to-be-born child’s parent, and the baby won’t be insured, either.

In order to get married, we will also pay all the fees associated with applying for a license, paying a civil officiant, filing the signed marriage certificate, and hiring a lawyer to guide us through the complicated processes of merging our finances, documenting legal parenthood of our child, creating married versions of our wills and advance directives, and more.

This will not be a hardship for us. We have generous family and friends to help us cover costs, and in the end, we will be more legally secure and protected than we are now. This is, in many ways, what I have taken to referring to this week as a “‪#‎FirstWorldGayProblem‬.”

But make no bones about it, we feel as if we are being forced to get married. The passage of same-sex marriage legislation in our state has actually disqualified us from benefits for which we were previously deemed eligible, and is making it necessary for us to choose between our principled, deeply thought-out desire to define our relationship religiously and not civilly, and our need for healthcare and legal protection and recognition as family.

We know we are lucky, personally, to be able to access a pathway to all the rights that get conferred upon you when you’re married. But we’re also keenly aware that this option still isn’t available to many, many people for a variety of reasons, and that the two-people-who-are-romantically-involved-and-committed style of partnership is not one that works for or is accessible to everyone who needs healthcare, parental rights, immigration access, and so many other things.

So, friends and comrades, consider this our unofficial wedding announcement. Sometime over the next six weeks, before the new life I’m carrying emerges from my body, we will go down to city hall and get legally married. Don’t be offended if you’re not invited; we’re not really doing much of a celebration for this particular milestone.

But, since everyone knows when you get married, you get to create a wedding registry and expect the gifts to pour in, we do want some things from you! You can give us one or more of them, or—even better—you can work with someone else to collaborate on any of the following items:

1. If you donated money to a marriage equality fight over the last few years, commit to giving equal dollars to another organization working for trans* rights, or fighting queer youth homelessness, or elevating the voices of black and brown queer folks, etc.

Some suggestions include Tysn MNSoutherners on New Ground, Brown Boi Project, Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), Center on Halsted, Howard Brown Health Center, and many more. Even if you didn’t give money to marriage equality the first time around, consider donating to these organizations now.

2. If you volunteered your time in canvassing, phone banking, having one-to-one conversations, attending rallies, or getting out the vote for marriage equality, commit to donating an equal or greater number of hours to another queer cause, or intersectional social justice campaign.

Show up to protest mass incarceration and police brutality; work with your local affordable housing coalition; volunteer to support the agenda of small organizations led by the communities most directly affected by injustice.

3.  If you supported marriage equality because it gives a wider swath of people access to various rights, commit to working for campaigns that expand those rights to ALL people.

Support work for universal and/or single-payer health care, comprehensive immigration reform, tax reform, prison abolition, and racial and economic justice.

4. Read more about why a lot of queer folks and people of color resist legal marriage as the pathway toward rights and benefits many of us consider to be basic human rights.

Start with this article by Dean Spade and Craig Willse: Marriage Will Never Set Us Free.


We’ll get married and probably be glad for the things it brings us. We’ll put on our best clothes and look seriously cute and come to your wedding, if you choose to get married, and we’ll dance our butts off and rejoice in the fact that you have access to an institution that protects you and your family.

And, then, when it’s all over and the DJ packs up her turntables and the appetizers are all gone, we’ll all grab each other’s hands, we’ll look at one another in the eyes, and we’ll ask, “Do you take this life, this struggle for collective liberation, for better or for worse, as long as we all shall live?”

And then we’ll all laugh, and each say, “Yes. I do.”