I have followed WNBA phenom Brittney Griner’s career since she was in high school. As a black, queer, femme girl, I was deeply drawn to the way she moved across the court with equal parts deft self-assurance and deadly skill. Her sartorial swagger was, and still is, beautiful to witness, and while I—and all of my queer girl comrades—eyed her half lustfully from the interwebs, I was really excited when she and her long-term girlfriend, Glory Johnson, announced their engagement.
Because they are one of the painfully few black queer couples in the public eye, their relationship is uniquely important because it affirms the beauty and possibility of black queer love.
However, when their nuptials were announced Sunday, instead of being overjoyed at the news, I was left asking what it meant that these women chose to wed less than three weeks after being arrested on assault and disorderly conduct charges at their home following a domestic dispute.
On one hand, I want to congratulate Brittney and Glory on their marriage and affirm that finding someone you love, trust and respect is a beautiful thing that deserves to be celebrated. On the other, I'm concerned.
While I am reluctant to call Brittney and Glory’s relationship abusive—which denotes dynamics of power and control—it’s important to interrogate why acts of abuse and intimate-partner violence are highly publicized and scrutinized when committed within black heterosexual relationships, but are often swept under the rug, silenced and erased by both national media and within our communities when these acts are committed within black queer relationships.
This invisibility perpetuates a misleading and false narrative that surrounds queer relationships, one that assumes queer people cannot be abused or abuse each other because of the false belief that the power dynamics between two people of the same gender or biological sex are somehow more “equitable.” This is a lie and disallows black queer people in abusive relationships to see their relationships as such.
If abuse, at its core, is about power and control, then same-gender relationships, relationships between trans women and cis men, trans men and cis women, or two trans people are not exempt from this reality.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ (pdf) “2013 Report on Intimate Partner Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities,” LGBTQ and HIV-affected people of color made up the majority (50.2 percent) of intimate-partner violence survivors, with LGBTQ black or African-American survivors being most likely to experience physical violence and harassment as a result of IPV.
By not addressing the prevalence of IPV in black queer relationships, we are undermining our health and safety, and it is killing us. This is unacceptable.
In February 2015, Ty Underwood, 24—a black trans woman—met up with her ex-boyfriend after breaking off their relationship for his perceived infidelity. In a fit of rage, he shot her to death, authorities say.
For all that we wax poetic about the heinous and horrific murders of black trans women, the ugly truth that many of these women are killed by current or former intimate partners is often lost from the conversation. Often, these are partners so engrossed in their own shame that they lash out viciously at those they claim to love.
No behavior warrants physical, emotional, verbal or psychological violence. And there is no right or wrong way to experience IPV, but if we are committed to being healthier and achieving wholeness, we must break the silence about intimate-partner violence as it exists in our communities and resolve to end it once and for all.
This also means that LGBTQ people must be visible in anti-IPV campaigns and organizations that provide support for survivors of intimate-partner violence. These groups must also be culturally competent, affirming and well-versed in serving LGBTQ people.
This means an end to gender-segregated housing facilities that don’t accept trans people’s gender presentation as proof positive of their gender, instead shuffling them to opposite-sex facilities that only revictimize survivors. These places lessen the likelihood that survivors will seek safety.
We must also reconcile that our government’s role as an intermediary in intimate-partner violence between black queer people has often impeded the process of holding our partners accountable. We deserve love, affirmation and respect from our partners, from our communities and from the state. This is freedom in practice.
Shame, stigma and silence fertilize abuse and abusers. It is high time we pull those weeds up at the root and neutralize them for good.
If you or someone you know is a queer or trans person of color experiencing intimate-partner violence, please visit the following resources:
If you or someone you know is abusing a partner, please utilize the following resources:
Samantha Master is a black-queer-feminist activist, educator and member of the Black Youth Project 100. Follow her on Twitter.