WE MUST DO BETTER: Whiteness and the Queer Community

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The Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce is a business chamber dedicated to the LGBT community and advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights in the work place along with other queer advocacy platforms. At the beginning of September, the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce decided to allow CoreCivic into its chamber and accepted funds from the company as a part of its membership. CoreCivic is a private company based in Nashville, TN that manages prisons as well as immigration detention centers. Private prisons, discussed in multiple studies concerning mass incarceration, are the vehicles for modern day Jim Crow laws that oppress our siblings of color and capitalizes on their lives and sometimes deaths as seen on current death rows and at the border.  CoreCivic specifically is one of the largest private prison companies and makes millions of dollars off incarceration and detention.  In 2015, the two largest private prison corporations, CoreCivic and the GEO group, raked in $3.5 billion.[i]

CoreCivic specifically is one of the largest private prison companies and makes millions of dollars off incarceration and detention.  In 2015, the two largest private prison corporations, CoreCivic and the GEO group, raked in $3.5 billion.[i]

Along with profit, private prisons are also forces of racial oppression as seen in the majority of private prison occupancies are people of color. According to the 2010 census, black people are incarcerated five times more than white people along with Hispanics who are twice as likely to be incarcerated as whites.[ii] In 2010, in Tennessee alone, 1,962 black people out of 100,000 were imprisoned. This racial oppression extends into new ventures for companies like CoreCivic through privately owned immigration detention centers.  CoreCivic, among other companies, has contracts to run many of the ICE detention facilities which the company then subcontracts to other companies for various services.[iii]  As seen in recent media, detention centers are usually understaffed, unkept and do not offer migrant peoples necessary amenities. 

Taking these facts into consideration, the action of a queer organization accepting the money and partnership of another organization that actively oppresses our black and brown siblings may be shocking to many.  Queer people have been oppressed and marginalized for centuries. Naturally, shouldn’t this organization side with other marginalized and oppressed people even when the experiences may be different?

The problem with this logic is that it narrows and underestimates the power of racism, white supremacy and capitalism and their ability to enter into communities that are themselves marginalized. The Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, truth be told, is run by a majority of queer, white men and women all involved in business of various sorts in Nashville. As the public learned of the news of CoreCivic’s entrance into the chamber, leadership within the chamber released a statement that only cemented the compartmentalization that whiteness creates when it comes to justice and liberation.  Paraphrasing, the response from the chamber denounced the practices of CoreCivic but concluded that the reasoning for admitting CoreCivic was to make sure the company was not discriminating against queer folk when it came to employment. The hope for the partnership is to challenge the practices of CoreCivic and change how the company conducts its business. 

The problem with this logic is that it narrows and underestimates the power of racism, white supremacy and capitalism and their ability to enter into communities that are themselves marginalized.

The need to challenge CoreCivic is well noted; however, accepting money from such business brings to light the whiteness within the leadership of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce — it is a microcosm of how whiteness disrupts queerness in order to centralize power and perpetuate toxic capitalism.  Some white, cis performing men and women within the queer community have long been able to put their heads down, meld into society, pick when it’s ok to be queer and when it’s not (by force or by choice) and go on with their lives letting their white shine and allowing their wallets to grow.  In fact, gay liberation at its founding was coopted by white, queer people.  The gay liberation movement of the 1960s, 70s and 80s was started by queer, poor and homeless people of color many of whom were trans and sex workers.

The TV show Pose has recently brought to the general public the stories of these queer people of color. One such instance in the show depicts a trans woman of color being kicked out of an all-white, middle class gay bar…multiple times. Figures like Marsha P. Johnson fought for gay liberation and later many people of color like her were driven off stages at rallies and thrown from bars by mostly white, middle class people.  Now, we see our trans siblings of color being murdered with little to no press or justice.

Figures like Marsha P. Johnson fought for gay liberation and later many people of color like her were driven off stages at rallies and thrown from bars by mostly white, middle class people. 

Racism and white supremacy along with other oppressions within the queer community is rarely spoken of and, if pointed out, is met with shock, surprise or denial (specifically by white people).  The romanticization and whitewashing of the queer community has led to a lack of inner accountability, social justice facades and commercialized and capitalized rainbow flags and pride parades.  This lack of accountability leads to eroticized and racial stereotypes, fat shaming, body dysmorphia and hyper-masculine tropes.  We have to do better. Queer, white people need to do better.

Christian teaching in the past and present has often condemned our queer siblings for their uniqueness in God’s creation.  It is no secret that the church has and still perpetuates many oppressions against queer people.  However, the life of Christ may offer us a more life-giving challenge. Christ called out people in the market places. Christ demanded the names of unclean spirits, and Christ himself was even held accountable by the Syrophoenician woman when she told him that even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs of the children.  Just as Christ, we are called to name, scream, call out the evils that plague our world and our communities and be held accountable.  We must name the evils wherever they are even within the communities that we love and even in the places that we find acceptance and family.  We must call it out because if we do not, the queer community will relinquish its queerness and assimilate into nothing short of a capitalistic, whiteness infested and “ismed” community.

Christ called out people in the market places. Christ demanded the names of unclean spirits, and Christ himself was even held accountable by the Syrophoenician woman when she told him that even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs of the children.

The decisions by the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce is one of many choices that perpetuate the oppressions of our black and brown siblings.  These decisions can no longer be covered up with jargon about “working from the inside” or conceived through ignorance of the intersectionality of our beings and our liberations.  Queer people will never be liberated, prideful or free if our siblings are not free.  Celebrations of pride and queerness should walk alongside the celebration of blackness and brownness while fighting for liberation for all.  No white heads should be down in order to gain an extra buck nor should we assimilate to get ahead.  If we are truly a queer community, we must never compartmentalize justice or be narrow-minded about oppressions.  We must always investigate, call out, and name the whiteness that invades this world because none of us are immune to the evil that it carries. 


[i]Kara Gotsch and Vinay Basti, “Capitalizing on Mass Incarceration: U.S. Growth in Private Prisons,” The Sentencing Project, accessed September 18, 2019, https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Capitalizing-on-Mass-Incarceration.pdf .

[ii] Leah Sakala, “Breaking Down Mass Incarceration in the 2010 Census: State-by-State Incarceration Rates by Race/Ethnicity,” Prison Policy Initiative, accessed September 18, 2019, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/rates.html .

[iii] Yuki Noguchi, “Under Siege and Largely Secret: Businesses that Serve Immigration Detention,”NPR, accessed September 18, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/06/30/736940431/under-siege-and-largely-secret-businesses-that-serve-immigration-detention.

Editorial Note
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), at the 215th General Assembly in 2003, approved a resolution concerning the abolition of for-profit private prisons. Click here to access resolution.

As part of an ongoing campaign to address racial injustice, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is sharing a wealth of antiracism resources which can be found at Facing Racism.

The Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce has a board that contains people of color with a majority of the board and leadership being white. The chamber will be having an open meeting for people who oppose the CoreCivic partnership. CoreCivic is invited to this meeting.


Lee Catoe, Managing Editor of Unbound, is a native of the small, rural town of Jefferson, South Carolina and resides in Nashville, TN. His thesis work incorporated the intersection of racism and white supremacy with the queer community as well as Queer Theology with a focus on incarnational theology and embodiment. 

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