Katie Burgess: My New Hero for “Calling Out a Corporate Sponsor at a Pro-LGBT Event”

Katie Burgess, if you didn’t know, is the Executive Director of TYSN (the Trans Youth Support Network*). She also wrote a really fierce post today for The Bilerico Project titled “Solidarity: Calling Out a Corporate Sponsor at a Pro-LGBT Event,” which included her speech at the 18th Annual National Coming Out Day Luncheon last week. I am so incredibly impressed with her, her words, and her speech.

Giving that speech to that group of people must have taken an enormous amount of courage. To give an idea of why I think that particular audience would be challenging, I will use Katie’s own words:

Here was an audience of economically privileged people, the majority of whom work at corporations that through extensions of our capitalist economy are bound to systems that violently oppress my community. And here was a GLBT and allied audience that was also my community, my peers, and many whom I call friends. How do I ask for justice? How do I ask for solidarity?

In her speech, Katie Burgess made the connection between the LGBT community on which the luncheon was focused and the larger global community of which we are all part. She mentioned the danger of working to “achieve equality with [the] racist, transphobic ruling class” and spoke of the harm that Cargill has done, including a law suit filed by the International Labor Rights Fund against Cargill regarding forced labor of trafficked children from Mali. Go read her speech: it is short, and it is powerful:

Your equality is linked strongly with my liberation as a queer trans woman. And I need your solidarity in demanding justice for my community. . . .

. . . Our community spans more than these strung together letters of LGBTQ. Our liberation is bound with all whom struggle against these machine works of oppression.

In the words of the TYSN Advisory Board,

Fighting for workplace inclusion is incredibly important . . . it is not enough. The trans youth in TYSN’s community need more than workplace inclusion, they are working – and we are working alongside them – to fight their over-representation in jails and prisons and maltreatment by the police, poverty and homelessness, and an economic system which continues to prioritize the health and wealth of those of us who assimilate most easily into dominant, mainstream communities.

And that, I think, is really at the heart of Katie’s speech: we all need to work together to change the root causes of oppression and discrimination in societyy. Taking advantage of what privilege we may have and allying ourselves with huge corporations in order to be accepted by them — reforming instead of transforming — will not truly change society. We will never achieve liberation by leaving others behind.

*In Katie Burgess’s words: “The mission of the Trans Youth Support Network is to promote racial, social, and economic justice for trans youth. We are an organization rooted in holding solidarity with young trans women of color as we all struggle against overtly violent, powerful, and complex systems of oppression.”

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