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Somerville City Councilor-at-Large Willie Burnley, Jr. Courtesy photo.
Somerville City Councilor-at-Large Willie Burnley, Jr. Courtesy photo.

As a Black and queer person, I know that when a person’s very existence is criminalized it inevitably results in fear, hate crimes, and death.”

The rain poured down on me and a cadre of queer and trans youth in front of the bricked facade of Somerville’s City Hall. The Progressive Pride Flag rose as Pride Month began and while I reflected on the colors of that flag, which were meant to include Black, Brown, and trans folks into the LGBTQ+ community, images flashed before my eyes of Black and queer ancestors fighting for freedom with bricks, my grandmother registering Black voters under the cover of night in the Deep South, and the poetic reality of the rose that rose from a crack in the concrete. I know that our resilience and defiance have shaped freedom in this country and are needed now as much as ever. 

Across the nation more than 130 laws have been filed demonizing transgender folks, including those preventing trans youth from accessing gender-affirming healthcare at the risk of incarceration or having their families ripped apart. It has been horrible to watch. As a Black and queer person, I know that when a person’s very existence is criminalized it inevitably results in fear, hate crimes, and death. 

More than 58,000 trans youth are at risk of losing or have lost access to gender-affirming healthcare across 15 states in the past two years, according to one study. These laws create hostile environments for trans children and their families in states like Texas where parents are investigated for child abuse for essentially having enough compassion and love for their children to support them in being their authentic selves. I know there will be some that say that, as a Somerville City Councilor, I should stay away from culture wars and stick to local issues. But this isn’t a culture war; it’s a war on human rights and its consequences are deadly. 

In Somerville, the majority of genderqueer Middle and High School students have experienced depression as well as a disproportionately high rate of self-harm and suicidal ideation, according to a 2021 health study. We know that the assaults on their bodily autonomy, like the assault on reproductive healthcare, will inevitably lead to hopelessness and death. 

Some will call these legislative and judicial attacks ignorance, or cissexism and patriarchy, and they are right. However, it is important to know that these disturbing and inhumane precedents are part of the far right’s larger political project that seeks to decimate public education at the cost of human lives. This assault is rooted in anti-Blackness and found its inception in the fight over racial integration. 

Since then, we’ve seen white flight from public schools and a steady increase in parents decrying the role of public education in enabling their children to understand inclusive, egalitarian, and pluralistic worldviews. It is no wonder that the far right’s discourse about Critical Race Theory (CRT) mirrors their discourse on LGBTQ+-inclusive education: they see it as indoctrination that has led many of their power-hungry demagogues to declare it time to pull our kids out of “government schools.” 

On its own, this should concern us all. But critically the assault on public education, like the assault on reproductive healthcare, has been framed in a way that will lead to the death of our neighbors. That’s why we must stand up and fight for bodily autonomy and racial justice this Pride. 

This is why I’ve proposed an ordinance that will prohibit Somerville Police from complying with any out-of-state requests to investigate, arrest, or share information about people in our community on the basis of receiving or facilitating gender-affirming or reproductive healthcare. It is why I’m calling on our state to pass Senate Budget Amendment 388, which will essentially pass these protections and more statewide. It’s why I’ve begun talking with my school committee counterparts about ensuring Somerville Public Schools require LGBTQ+-inclusive sex ed that centers consent whenever sex ed is taught. 

It is not enough for Massachusetts to wag our fingers at other states. We’ve been a national leader of LGBTQ issues. And, quite frankly, we must do more to ensure there is racial justice in education. I believe that we can make progress locally while pushing forward these national movements for justice. As the brick thrown by Black trans folks at cops upholding an oppressive status quo led to a renaissance of liberation, we must recognize our duty to end racial violence of all kinds, including the fight to privatize education and uphold a classist world of economic exploitation. For the sake of our children, we must make this Pride Month a riot against white supremacy.

Photo credit: Somerville City Councilor-at-Large Willie Burnley, Jr. Courtesy photo.

Willie Burnley, Jr. is a Somerville City Councilor-at-Large.

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