Photos by Josh Huff.
Holden Cession sits and waits on the porch railing of 447 Arlington St. smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. The Queer People of Color Collective, acting under their Black Lives Matter (BLM) agenda, decided to disrupt a National Night Out event on Tuesday, August 4 at the Nettie Coad apartment complex on Martin Luther King Jr Drive.
Founded in March 1982, National Night Out is an annual community-police building campaign to promote camaraderie and make “neighborhoods a better place to live.” Activist April Parker is the first to arrive at the QPOCC headquarters and greets Cession with a hug. As the sun hovers well above the horizon, more Greensboro organizers appear, including DeMonté Alford and Irving Allen.
Parker briefs the team on the night’s schedule and stresses the importance of going to the event and participating with the community and police officers on the same level. “We scope the scene out, say helloand talk to the community,” Parker states as everyone looks over copies of a Triad City Beat article titled “Racial Disparity in Searches Prompts Investigation”. “Then, we get a feel for the police and engage them into the conversation.”
At the event, there are information tables and an inflatable bouncer off to the right, food tents, grills and a fire truck to the left, and the Dudley High drumline rehearsing steps in front of what seems like 100 people. Five police officers are huddled by a tree and stare from behind their sunglasses as the activist collective squad rolls up with cameras and tripods.
“Not all police are bad,” event volunteer Shayla Rhem answers Parker on what safety looks like. “It’s hard for me to say.” She writes on the QPOCC whiteboard: “Knowing that if I make a mistake, I’ll still be able to come home to my husband and kids.”
Following other conversations, a cycle begins on the #SafetyIs whiteboard: write, reflect, erase, repeat. Carmen Jones writes: “Being able to feel safe in the community when there are cops around!” City Council Member Yvonne Johnson and County Commissioners Carolyn Coleman and Ray Trapp are also in attendance.
“People are asking why we don’t have any sworn, black sheriff deputies,” Trapp answers QPOCC in regards to population representation in the police department. “I saw two black sheriffs out one time and I asked, ‘Where do you work?’ ‘You know we work in the jail. We’re not out on patrol,’ they laughed. That’s a real problem.”
Trapp continues: “We have a police force that’s scared of black men, so if we do anything to piss them off in any way, they’re automatically not starting with whatever level one is, but a higher level use of force.”
As many questions that QPOCC has, they have agendas they fulfill. Black Lives Matter is only one of the many facets this radical collective executes. The conversation held later that night after dusk proves that initiative, passion and a demand for education are never absent.
[April Parker] QPOCC was birthed by two queer people of color, one of them being my twin brother (Parker T. Hurley), as a need to centralize queer people of color, give folks what they need to get through their days and build a community. To share our stories, our narratives, our history. QPOCC is our tribe. It deviates from normal structures that don’t serve us.
We build structures, programsand spaces where we can be our full, authentic selves and also combat the things that kill us. In N.C., people can get fired for being queer, LGBTQ black people are chronically unemployed and underemployed, poverty is embedded in our communities, gender non-conforming people don’t have equal access and are policed at a significant rate and there’s a genocide against trans women of color. These are all urgent, pressing issues that we hope, while taking care of each other, to combat.
[Milanda Staples] I’ve learned so much as far as the intersectional movement and how to reconcile all the parts of myself being a black, queer woman since the first meeting we had [during summer of 2012]. It’s one of the first times that I’ve been in an organization or situation where the people in charge include black women. It was the first time anyone asked me what my preferred pronouns were.
I consider myself one of the health components of QPOCC because I’ve organized queer African dance classes. You can’t necessarily do all the work we do if your body is not healthy. With the KINK! event [in January of 2014], we got to be with other queer people of color and talk about our sexual health in a way that’s not clinical. It was informative but also sexy. We don’t get that very often. Having those talks and information readily available and not feeling punished for talking about our sexuality is a wonderful component of QPOCC.
We’d also go to the movies and see things about ourselves. We would go to Geeksboro and all watch movies together [Sistah Cinema; 2013]. Just the community of us getting together, watching moviesand seeing our faces on the screen was life changing.
[Kaye Hayes] It’s the little things. At my first QPOCC meeting, I saw people who looked like me, talked like me and could relate to things I went through. I’ll say the biggest thing is the networking I’ve had and been able to accomplish through QPOCC like freelance jobs. One thing that I really remember is all of us meeting at April’s house one weekend and spilling our guts about things that were in our hearts or on our minds. There was such a connection there, and that never happened to me in my 39 years.
[Guido Villalba Portel] How exactly did the focus shift after the BLM movement began?
[AP] Social media’s making things more readily accessible, but people have been dying for a long time now and policed since we were brought here. Self-care is a form of radical activism. We know that being rooted in our history and knowing our elders is a form of revolutionary work. What happened was rooting ourselves in the Stonewall Riot. That was queer, gender non-conforming, trans, low-income workers who raged against police violence. We have a history and legacy of resistance. That is in us. That’s what we’re describing right now. The shift didn’t happen by BLM. White people were having conversations about us without us. We’re just on folks’ websites, but not really built into their leadership. It took going to Equality NC and asking them, “Where are the black folks?” What happened is that we entered more black liberation spaces. We became self-actualized.
By the food tent, Parker questions Greensboro Police Department Officer W.D. Coble. “I’ll go get a spokesperson and let them answer your question,” Coble says.
“Why can’t you be your own spokesperson?” Parker asks. “If you have a gun, that’s [being a] spokesperson enough. You’re a police officer.”
“My gun doesn’t speak. My gun is a tool of my job,” Coble states.
“Your communication skills are also a tool of your job,” April replies.
“Y’all have a nice evening,” says Coble as he walks away through parked cars to play with kids on the fire truck. Minutes later, Officer Coble and his spokesperson also refuse to answer questions to AMPLIFIER by driving away in a patrol car.
“Officers certainly have the discretion to defer interview requests if they feel they are not prepared.,” GPD Captain David L. Robinette says when asked on August 7, “This may include crime scenes, serious incidents and controversial issues.”
At the center of the event, Parker waits her turn and takes the microphone in front of the 100 attendees: “‘How are you taking care of the community? How can you engage?’ We’re going to continue this dialogue because when Black Lives Matter shows up they usually try to put us in front of a supervisor or a spokesperson. This is about real dialogue. I want to let y’all know what happened: the police came out here as part of a community initiative and failed to engage with the community.”
[GVP] What goes into organizing demonstrations and protests that outsiders would never think of?
[DeMonté Alford] Security. Threats from people who are spectators, dealing with police, legal defense funds, having lawyers on call file, understanding the ordinances of the space you’re in, escape routes, possible places for people to convene back together if something were to happen. Whenever we have rallies, I have a couple bottles of milk on me just in case they decided to tear gas. Also, making sure that you keep the folks doing the actions as far away from the police as you can.
[GVP] Could you explain the struggles of gender nonconforming individuals and our trans brothers and sisters?
[HC] It’s 2015, and we’re still talking about trying to use a bathroom. I’m just trying to take a dump, you know? [Room breaks into laughter.] We’re striving for people to recognize us as being worthy enough as human beings to use the bathroom or have access to medical care and needs. These are things that we do need, but the end goal is liberation.
It’s weird to think about: what does liberation look like? Do you know any trans people or have any trans friends? Are any trans people working at your job? It’s about how we leverage our own privileges by having spaces where trans people feel comfortable. Asking: “What are your preferred pronouns?” seems simple but makes a complete world of difference. It’s about having really hard conversations that people don’t want to have. We had the suicide of my dear friend Blake Brockington that happened after Charlotte decided not to pass an ordinance about having LGBTQ-inclusive spaces. There needs to be an entire cultural shift, and people need to see that their liberations are deeply connected to the liberations of trans people of color who are being murdered at drastic numbers.
[AP] Greensboro unanimously passed the ordinance of LGBTQ inclusive bathroom usage [in January of 2015] because it was contained only to city spaces. Charlotte tried to pass it for public spaces. If Greensboro challenged to do the same, then you might’ve seen the same reactions. Greensboro as a whole is about incremental change. Not liberation. We need radical deviation.
As the sun sets on the event, Parker goes up to different attendees and asks them how they feel about what happened.
“Black lives do matter,” attendee Yvonne Moss replies to Parker. “The younger ones are our future. If they keep getting gunned down, what do we have to look forward to? Keep doing what you’re doing.”
[GVP] What’s your definition of queer?
[AP] For our collective speaking, it’s an umbrella term. It’s the spectrum. For me personally, queer has a lot to do with my politics. I reject the binary. Everything is fluid. Capitalist white supremacy makes you check a box. My gender expression is femme and that didn’t always happen. By me holding what some folks think as femininity and masculinity, I can be expressive. I can spit or do different things and claim them as being feminine. It’s patriarchy that robs black women and femme-identifying folks from their strength characteristics. It was strategic to make us feel disempowered so I reject by claiming and reclaiming, again and again, everything as femme.
[HC] I grew up as a little black girl in the south in a small town in N.C. My father’s a preacher, so I grew up in a household that wasn’t okay with the ways in which I realized I didn’t fit certain gender norms. I just knew that I wasn’t like the other little girls. For me, it was a journey of trying to find what that thing was. I stumbled into queerness and felt comfortable because it felt like something that I could mold into whatever it was meant to be to fit my identity. Even transgender feels very tight and confining for me, but queer feels like something I can be liberated by as a person. It’s not only about who you’re attracted to, but how I present myself to the world. It’s very political as well. It feels like something that’s purposeful. All these identities came together.
[GVP] Do you love being queer?
[HC] I love being queer. It’s so much fun. Queers have all the fun.
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