Pinkwashing the Pandemic
This is a call to extend solidarity with (politically) disabled folks, and to engage with Black queer and trans organizers, past and present, with some fucking integrity.
“Proceeding from the starting point of a system-based left analysis, strategies built upon the possibility of incorporation and assimilation are exposed as simply expanding and making accessible the status quo for more privileged members of marginal groups, while the most vulnerable in our communities continue to be stigmatized and oppressed.”
Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?
Primarily, this piece was intended to be directed at queer and trans organizers with regard to Pride events and those who claim radical queer and trans lineages.
Scene: Pride 2023. People are going, there’s still a pandemic, and they don’t have any COVID precautions. How can it be that an entire generation of queers have forgotten the political struggles around treatment and care during the HIV/AIDS crisis? The gains that queer and trans people currently celebrate, and are so proud of, were made off the backs of disability centered coalitional organizing efforts. The National LGBT Taskforce celebrated 50 years of advocacy for who? What will the next 50 years look like? Are these advocacy groups ashamed of its disabled LGBTQ community members? Is that why they have not done anything to support ensuring that spaces are safe for us to gather and participate in? `A simple comparison would be to note the brewing frustration that exists in mainstream climate organizing, while neglecting the correlations of emergency preparedness to racial justice, and subsequent impacts on marginalized communities.
It has been disheartening to see conferences and large gatherings celebrate themes around “seeing you in person” or “mask off, come as you are!” There may be people who are doing decent work, but most of these organizations and groups are not radical or facilitating change that improves our material conditions. A significant amount of trust has been broken between nonprofit/movement spaces and marginalized Black trans disabled folks. There needs to be a reckoning within and outside of the non-profit industrial complex. Ultimately nonprofits function as another branch of the state, while many grassroots groups have NPIC aspirations and replicate the dynamics found within 501c3s. Going as far as to adopt the state’s language and reasoning around COVID safety and precautions to justify a lack of responsibility in taking collective safety measures… it’s not surprising but disappointing to see just how shallow the realm of possibilities are within movement spaces.
In 2023, we disabled folks do not owe you submission, silence, or deference. Stop acting like it.
Event organizers have said “well, it’d be too expensive to do anything about it now!” In response, I would note that for the past few years, far prior to the pandemic, movement spaces didn’t take disabled folks (nor the ableism they perpetuated) seriously. This will certainly not be the last time that queer and trans people cosplaying radical politics are in the position of facilitating superspreader events, either.
It is so fucking exhausting to continue to make interventions with individually sponsored gatherings when we could be channeling our energy into resistance efforts by working collectively to build access centered practices. The line has been drawn, whether you know it or not. Anyone enabling these behaviors are eugenicists, there’s no negotiating a way around that. If you want to negotiate whether something is eugenics or not, you probably argue about whether someone was really abused or not and we don’t do that over here. Either folks can choose to move differently, or they can continue to embrace things that are extremely far removed from any semblance of a radical imagination/liberation. What we won’t do, is enable pinkwashing* of this pandemic.
Pinkwashing: “pinkwashing has been redefined as the Israeli state’s use of its admittedly stellar lgbt rights record to deflect attention from, and in some instances to justify or legitimate, its occupation of Palestine. More generally, it is the erasure of hierarchies of power through the favoring of the “gay-friendly nation” imagery. (The Right to Maim, Chapter 3: Disabled Diaspora, Rehabilitating State: The Queer Politics of Reproduction in Palestine/Israel. pg, 96)
In the context of the pandemic: propaganda highlighting the state favorably around its queer acceptance/inclusion, a function of justifying, obscuring, or legitimating its complicity with the state’s campaign of “COVID is over,”and “back to normal.”
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For the 5th Annual Queer Liberation March in New york City, the Reclaim Pride Coalition is attempting to gather support to: “make this year's march the best possible NYC response to the unrelenting attacks on our LGBTQIA2S+ communities from the radical, transphobic, homophobic, misogynist, fascist, insurrectionist, white supremacist @gop” The theme for this year is “QUEER LIBERATION MARCH:
TRANS +QUEER, ALWAYS HERE
LEGISLATIVE AND JUDICIAL ATTACKS ON LGBTQIA2S+ YOUTH AND ADULTS ATTEMPT TO TURN BACK THE CLOCK ON SOCIETAL RECOGNITION AND LEGAL RIGHTS’ GAINS.
ONGOING ATTACKS ATTEMPT TO DISTRACT FROM EXISTING LGBTQIA2S+ CONCERNS: VIOLENT ATTACKS AND MURDERS, PARTICULARLY OF BLACK & BROWN, TRANS+FEMME & GENDER EXPANSIVE PEOPLE.”
In the comments of this post, one person inquired about masking, someone respond that they should “wear a mask if they feel the need” to. It seems as if they do not understand that you cannot fight fascism while embracing eugenics. That is an incredibly liberal ideology. You cannot possibly support trans folks and then tell disabled folks “mask if you feel the need.” Masking should be required in order to collectively keep all disabled trans and queer community members and attendees safe without further placing the burden of survival on disabled people individually. Unfortunately, for those of us with longer memories, this group has been moving in harmful ways for years.
About a week after inquiring about masking, they made another post, this time, co-opting the language of “We Keep Us Safe.”
After someone commented, “Not safe from Covid tho if u don’t require masks”, here is a response from one of the organizers:
“We've never "required" masks and we've never heard of any large, open, non-policed march in the last 3 years that has "required" masks in order to participate. What we have always done is to ENCOURAGE people to be as safe as possible for themselves given the facts on the ground in any given year. In 2020 and 2021 we highly encouraged people to wear masks and distributed thousands of free surgical masks to marchers. In 2021, we, @actupny, and @treatmentactiongroup worked with the NYC DOH to have vaccination tents at pride events all over the city, including our march and at the Health Fair we jointly held on Thompson Street. In 2022, after two years of our smart, caring, informed participants having lived through the pandemic, knowing their own circumstances, vaccination statuses, and risk factors, we encouraged marchers to be as safe as possible. Every year, we have looked at the COVID numbers for NYC in the 3 weeks following Pride Sunday and in none of those years has there been a spike in new cases. None of our organizers, volunteer group members have reported any outbreaks in any of those years. We believe that this ACTUAL data and anecdotal communication has demonstrated that the people who march in QLM are smart enough to do what is necessary to protect themselves and we will continue to pay attention to the epidemiological data about what is happening in the country, the state, and city to inform our communications with our communities, as we have always done. We recognize that no decisions we make will satisfy everyone, particularly people who have convinced themselves that all of humanity should remain masked for the rest of eternity and that anyone who doesn't believe the exact same thing that they do is a genocidal monster. But, we doubt that those folks have ever or would ever march with us.
Not only was this a reactionary response, but it perfectly highlights the way disabled people, particularly queer and trans disabled people, have been treated throughout this pandemic, as many people are pushing for activities that are “back to normal.” The mentality of “back to normal” is nothing more than thinly veiled COVID denialism. Clearly being a neo-colonizer spreading death and disease is more appealing than resisting eugenics and fascism. To me, neo-colonizers are not much different than neo-nazis. They have the same goals, with different ideologies and approaches. Queer Liberation March has always been white as hell and invoking Act Up NYC as if they would agree is completely out of touch with our current reality.
“Having lived through the pandemic…” as if it’s past tense… As if so many people in NYC didn’t die. Caregivers, elderly and disabled people. Poor Black and Latinx “essential” workers who continued to be exploited and at risk while people stayed home during the early days of the first pandemic Spring. We are now in the FOURTH year of this pandemic and people really act like this shit is over. There are many people that I have ceased to communicate with due to their COVID denialist behaviors. Attending concerts, frequently flying on planes, eating out in restaurants, amusement parks, large conferences, etc. all unmasked. I am personally at peace that I will never see many of these people again because I do not fuck with eugenics. We are not aligned and I will never be coerced into pretending that we are.
Trusting the state to keep you safe is… a choice. The CDC and so called united states have continuously sabotaged any meaningful chance we could have had with intervening and stopping the spread of SARS-COV-2. Organizers of these events say that they’re going to keep looking at the data… what data?? States have withdrawn free and accessible PCR testing, having an accurate grasp on COVID numbers anywhere will never happen, and remains obscure. Whatever data you have access to, will be severely undercounted due to lagging in reporting, positivity on at home rapid tests, and people that are generally in denial and think they have a “cold” or “bad allergies.” In twenty years from now, the state is going to act like trans people never existed because the “data said so.” This is like siding with the Nazi’s version of history since the burning of the first transgender clinic in 1933.
I will mask in perpetuity if it means that me and my community members can build relationships and continue to resist the state’s efforts to exterminate us. Supporting and collaborating with disabled people is not burdensome. Fighting for basic rights to be treated with decency is a burden. This is not new to Black people but it is exhausting when y’all co-opt Black radical shit. Ancestors that have organized in the lineages that I come from are upset and are coming for blood. You have been warned.
Many of us know folks that have been successfully convinced by the state’s propaganda that we are “back to normal” like it’s 2019. People have leaned into the warped logic of not requiring masking as a means of maintaining bodily autonomy at the expense of other people. This is a white supremacist ideology. While these liberal groups are spreading death and disease like the neo-colonizers that they are, hard right wing aligned groups are targeting access and rights to actual bodily autonomy (abortions + gender affirming care/treatment). For some reason, mask wearing is just a bridge too far?
Those of us who wear masks and advocate for collective safety in public spaces have been marked, ostracized, isolated, and abandoned. None of us deserve to be excluded from our communities, simply because we don’t want to die. Maybe they wouldn’t outright say it, but their behaviors indicate otherwise. There has never been, and will never be any queer or trans liberation without disabled folks. So good luck with your liberal ass project, but we won’t make it easy for you.
When I see events list their COVID measures and precautions, without fail “masks are strongly encouraged.” Falling back on the same tepid lines around “you can’t force anyone but we can suggest it” and “stay home if you feel unwell” knowing damn well that you can be COVID+ and asymptomatic.
It’s giving: “thoughts and prayers.” The burden of safety continues to fall on disabled people, or folks that opt to wear a mask, even when it’s been well established that one-way masking is not sufficient. the People’s CDC continues to release weekly weather reports highlighting the clusterfuck that the so called united states has found itself in, given that many Americans have decided to trust the state (CDC) to keep us safe.
If any of these event attendees cared about vulnerable people (which is not only children, immunocompromised, or the elderly), they wouldn’t attend these events at all. Masking would be *required* at every community gathering, especially Pride events, and they would establish RAT and N95 distribution. This is all performative. Who is going to tell them that the pandemic won’t get better? Whatever plans they have for 2024 need to be scrapped. Especially once we see how many people contract COVID-19 after this march. Or maybe they’ll lie about it, claim that some “random respiratory bug” went around something that’s #NotCovid
It is absurd for anyone to make excuses against efforts of layered protection. They’re cosplaying a queer politic with neoliberal ideologies. It’s sad and disturbing to see people completely abandon queer and trans disabled folks that have been fundamental to the organizing legacies that they claim to come from. This is not an isolated example.
“At the intersection of oppression and resistance lies the radical potential of queerness to challenge and bring together all those deemed marginal and all those committed to liberatory politics.” -Cathy Cohen
In October 2022, HIV and Harm Reduction organizers both scheduled their conferences to be in San Juan, right after Hurricane Fiona left the residents of Puerto Rico without power for weeks. And yes, attendees did end up contracting COVID, some even joked about it:
What movement spaces fail to acknowledge is that queer liberation does not exist without disabled people. I truly do not think that Harriet Tubman, Claudia Jones, Marsha P. Johnson, Katrina Haslip, Fannie Lou Hamer, or June Jordan would have attended any of these events amidst such a catastrophic moment in the history of the world. It is shameful that the same folks today uplifting their names in death, cannot be bothered to display solidarity with the Black queer and trans disabled folks that are witnessing them desecrate these legacies, day after day, unmasked in public spaces.
“I am suggesting that the process of movement building be rooted not in our shared history or identity, but in our shared marginal relationship to dominant power which normalizes, legitimizes, and privileges.” Cathy Cohen (458)
As TL says, we should be coming together once we’ve identified the different ways oppression impacts all of us within our marginalized identities. But folks are continuing to play into the little power that the state allows them to wield over those of us who continue to resist. The ADA will not save us, and has never been liberatory. Disabled folks have been left in the dust, with no place to go except to look for the state to care for our well-being (see the CDC, SSDI, ADA) receiving few of our needs met. Disability justice not only continues to experience co-optation from liberals and “leftists” alike, but the lack of solidarity from other marginalized political identities, creates this vast chasm for lateral ableism to sow seeds amongst disabled folks, and other formerly aligned movement organizers. In this moment, we could be building community care based approaches. Instead, so many of us are fighting with friends, loved ones, colleagues, about the lack of shared responsibility in keeping all of us safe.
Surviving the pandemic is not reserved for the elite, nor should we act like it.
Amidst all of this, disabled people have had to continue seeking care in maskless medical offices, navigating maskless grocery stores and pharmacies. Those of us who are politically disabled, have observed former comrades and self proclaimed leftists in movement spaces opt to leave us behind, and furthermore, pathologize us altogether. As a Black queer disabled person deeply familiar with disposability from movement spaces, I cannot say that this surprises me. I have witnessed disabled people over the past three years express much grief, madness, and fear about the current conditions of our landscape. The reactionary responses to those of us holding the line against eugenics are incredibly concerning and indicative of larger abusive behaviors that have gone mostly unchallenged, especially in movement spaces. These responses have revealed opinions that are even further to the right of Biden, which is very telling. The vitriol that disabled people are subject to online, comes in response to being pleaded with to change simple behaviors, like wearing masks in public spaces. How else are we supposed to push back? There is no disability justice movement (at least, not yet), and organizing efforts that are grounded by this framework are poorly funded. Lateral ableism illuminated throughout this pandemic has been astonishing and wielded by other (desirable) disabled people who have refused to engage in cross disability solidarity.
Yes, queer folks face barriers in every aspect of our lives… during a pandemic, these barriers have become mountainous obstacles that derive pleasure in our deaths.. If you’re focused on “enjoying” things during this pandemic that actively make it more difficult for people like me to navigate the world, seriously, fuck you. There are literally not enough days in a week for me to take care of myself in the ways that I need, without being stressed about constantly trying to negotiate how much COVID risk exposure I am prepared to navigate. It honestly sucks seeing people who claim to care about me, treat this pandemic as background noise, like an annoying fly that they haven’t been able to get rid of for the past few years. It is difficult to see Black trans organizers ignoring COVID mitigations, throwing rent parties in order to support other Black trans folks in our communities. The levels of regression that we have witnessed over the past few years is terrifying. It is so important to organize getting people’s material needs met, but at what cost?
It sucks seeing former “comrades” post about community gatherings, and upon asking about COVID precautions, a switch flips immediately. Victimization, gaslighting, even death threats. I have seen it all. Event organizers will pretend to be fake hurt that you didn’t privately message them with your concerns, then will gaslight you, saying that you’re an extremist, authoritarian, or have a holier than thou attitude when in reality, you simply asked about what they were doing to keep the beloved community safe. What does this mean for the trajectory of our movements when even the marginalized leftists are leaning into abuse tactics and weaponizing identity politics, in the name of neoliberal eugenics?
We are all facing the threat of eugenics, from pandemic disinformation to 2023 being a year where we see the largest number of anti-trans bills in the so-called united states. If these organizers were serious, they most certainly would not be partying at the end of the world, much less on the backs of millions of people dead since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Over the past three years, disabled people have slowly watched the world crumble around us. In droves, we have observed people that we love become disabled from long COVID, and die. Friends no longer willing to take the necessary precautions ahead of in-person gatherings, lying about taking the necessary precautions ahead of in-person gatherings, and worst yet: attending in-person gatherings with disabled people while sick! Many of us have put off seeking necessary medical care.
Against the backdrop of climate change and the pandemicene, with the rise in targeting of Black radical expression and abolition, we are in big fucking trouble. Meanwhile the queer and trans movement “organizers” continue to rub elbows and attend galas, relying on the state to guide them around community safety. Seems odd, doesn't it? This is what fascism does.
We can’t just pick and choose which aspects of oppression we want to fight for. It is important to support all colonized oppressed people in their struggles for freedom against genocide in all forms.
I seek to build relationships with Black trans, queer, and disabled folks who take the threat of fascism and eugenics seriously - With those who do not compromise community safety with COVID denialism and abuse apologia. Let’s get together and figure out how to support our loved ones and comrades that are in cages, without compromising our own health. Let’s gather and discuss community based living and long term care support, not only for ourselves, but for our elders, disabled, and young people. If you are serious about resisting eugenics, let’s connect and transform this world through our relationships and commitments to collective liberation. It is out responsibility in the imperial core to resist the normalization of settler-colonialism including gentrification, fascism and eugenics including COVID denialism. Resisting the exploitation of the land and one another.
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