QUEER & NOW: Chase Strangio Remarks

Remarks given at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park on Monday, June 17, 2019 as part of The Public Theater’s Public Forum: QUEER & NOW event.

Good evening.

I heard that this year is an anniversary. 50 years since the Stonewall riots as they are sometimes called. And because of this anniversary, we are told, we should pause longer, pride harder, remember differently.

But what is an anniversary if we mark time through historical narrative that only some people get to tell?

What is 50 years but a story of resistance that is framed by a perspective of what constitutes a beginning (but whose beginning? And in the service of what end?)

And this story is always constrained by the unrelenting gaze and lens of whiteness, cisness, maleness.

Our true story of liberation goes back to the beginning and transcends time and space. It is magical and messy and Black and nonbinary and unsettled. It rejects bodily and geographic borders. It is here with us today.

I honor Stonewall as a marker in a history of what made my life possible.

I also honor the riots that came before.

The riots in the streets, the riots in people’s hearts and souls and homes and families.

I honor the bisexual plus communities who fought and died for our collective liberation only to be erased from our narratives.

I honor the Indigenous people whose land we — those of us of European descent –stole.

I honor the memories and lives of the Black trans women murdered this month. And those murdered in the months that came before and those that came before stretching back to and before someone threw something at Stonewall.

I honor queer futures and queer pasts.

And I thank you.

I thank you for holding me on this stage tonight, for giving me this life I lead.

In return, this is what I give to you.

Next week, on June 26th, we will file a brief at the Supreme Court defending the simple proposition that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination under federal law. It is a collection of words that sound in a language of power. Though it is a dangerous language; when reoriented toward our queerness, it is nonetheless a gesture of resistance that I share with you-a shield against violence.

This brief will then travel before nine justices who will read hundreds of pages that all boil down to a simple question: is it because of sex when an employer fires someone for being LGBTQ?

Of course it is, is the answer.

How do you describe being trans or bi or gay or queer without referencing sex. It is our relationship to our sexed bodies and our sexed attraction or lack thereof that defines us as LGBTQ so it is discrimination because of our sex to fire us because of who we are.

It is a simple argument. A conservative argument.

But in law there is no principle. Because power knows no consistency. Nothing is certain but the fact that we live and breathe and always have.

This case, this story that we tell to 9 arbiters of our injustice, is neither a beginning nor an end. It is an offering.

And what does this all have to do with Stonewall and legacies of beautiful messy complex lives?

Each word we present before the Court holds the memory of our ancestors. Without their struggle to name themselves into existence, none of us could fight within these halls of power so that we might see them crumble.

I offer you the promise that I will never forget, each sleepless night, that we are vessels bringing our collective imaginations into spaces that were defined so that we would never enter them. And in those spaces I will leave behind the codes that tell a different story than the one people are expecting to hear. It is a story about how we are here to break open the cracks in the architecture of these structures: the physical ones that lock people away and the discursive ones that constrain our imagination.

On June 26th we will make a simple demand before a powerful body.

The demand will contain the multitudes of all the June 26ths that have come before, including that June 26th 50 years ago two days before a riot at the Stonewall bar.

In 50 more years someone might tell a story that begins on that day. It may say something like 50 years ago a bunch of lawyers filed a brief at the Supreme Court that changed the course of our history. That story will be wrong. Just like the story about Stonewall. Our stories don’t begin on certain dates. They don’t progress in a line toward a future that we can name. Our stories are bigger, messier, longer, and more transcendent than that.

We are beautifully queer and queerly beautiful. Our bodies cannot be captured by the language of our state nor can our liberation be contained by a historical narrative we did not write.

Let’s instead write our present. Let’s call upon our lineage and honor our dead. I grieve during this month as I celebrate and most of all as I fight.

May you honor your beautiful, messy, queer present and work to crumble the architecture of power that tries to kill us.

Thank you beautiful loves. I will see you in the multitudes of the magic we conjure.

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