Today I saw something I never expected to see here in the Dominican Republic. I was representing Soulforce at one of the first meetings of this year’s General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) alongside several hundred delegates, businesspeople, and community organizers from across the Americas working to strategize the sustainability of their communities and the greater region. We were listening to the Secretary General of the OAS answer questions from the working groups on things like labor, human rights, people of African descent, and “the family.”
At some point a man stands, walks around the large ballroom saying, “Right now, at this very moment there is a man in the women’s restroom [translation mine].”
Many people shushed him as he left with a couple other men… but then we started hearing a commotion outside the door. All of a sudden, half a dozen Trans women left their seats and sprinted for the door, and a half dozen cis queer women followed; I found myself among them squeezing through security who was trying to keep us inside the meeting. It was almost an automatic response- my mind saw people who I identify as my people, and my body instinctively followed them. We found ourselves in a group of 30 or so circling the entrance to the restrooms. Some had phones and cameras, some had microphones and video cameras from media outlets. The angry man was standing in front of the doors yelling about men being in the wrong bathroom and all these LGBTQI people and allies, some of us friends, some of us strangers (I didn’t know a single soul there) were all facing this handful of angry, yelling people.
And then something else happened. Something I didn’t see coming. Someone started chanting “DISCRIMINACIÓN!” and everyone responded “DISCRIMINACIÓN!” and all of a sudden we were louder than them, and we kept chanting, louder and louder. And then at some point it changed to “TRANSFOBIA!” “TRANSFOBIA!” “TRANSFOBIA!” and that was all one could hear. Our voices, screaming in chorus. It was a moment.
So often we find ourselves in these scary and painful moments alone or with just one beloved friend or lover, but today we were critical mass. Even though we probably made up less than 10% of the people attending the OAS, today, in front of those bathrooms, we were critical mass. We were the ones that defined the frame of what was going on in that bathroom. Just moments before we had been named as a threat to the “natural family,” a concern to be addressed and rectified by the OAS, at a time where we are still often told we are “against nature” and “against God” and contrary to “common sense.” In that moment, we were able to name what was really going on. Discrimination. Transphobia.
There was such anger and ferocity in our voices as we chanted. I realized when I eventually got back to my seat that my throat was sore from screaming. It was as if we were trying communicate the urgency of our very lives in that moment. The same day we lost so many of our queer Latin@ siblings in the Orlando massacre. In the wake of the religious freedom bills and HB2 that we are still grieving and resisting in North Carolina. (Someone actually told me, “Where do you think all this stuff about bathrooms came from? North Carolina, that’s where.”) At a time where violent crimes against Trans women in the Global South are catastrophically high. In a place where at that very hour in front of the meeting, there were hundreds of people, as far as the eye could see, dressed in all white, People of Color and people of faith, organized by the Catholic Church to protest the conference with a message of the “Right to Life,” and by extension, a one man-one woman definition of marriage and family.
They were there to defend the rights of unborn babies, and I can’t help but question the hypocrisy of claiming a right to life for some while contributing to death of so many others. So so many of us. We are already born, already breathing. We are so desperately wanting to live, so clearing under attack, so where is our right to life? And not just life, but life abundant as Jesus promises in John 10:10. I believe in that life.
So in the midst of this incredibly painful time, I am thinking of the adage, “Love like you’ll never get hurt and dance like nobody’s watching,” and I’m praying for critical mass. We love like life depends on it because our lives do depend on it, and we dance because Queer Joy is real and because someone is always watching. And yes it’s dangerous, but our people keep coming out, and we are getting to critical mass. When I see my Trans sisters being brave in the face of Christian Supremacy, it makes me more brave. When I see our Queer comrades from the Global South sweetly slow dancing in the streets of Santo Domingo, it makes me more bold with my own Queer love. And when I hear that there will be a counter protest tomorrow at 8am by local LGBTQI groups to resist the Christian fundamentalism that threatens our lives every single day, you can bet that that is where you will find me.
We love fiercely and we dance joyfully, because we are growing critical mass. We are here. We have always been here. And now we are finding each other, more and more. We are getting louder. And we will not be disappeared. We will survive. And I believe that we will win. Critical mass is coming. Soon.