ISGMH Denounces Systemic Racism, Commits to Institutional Change

The Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH) at Northwestern University is outraged by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor and by police violence that causes the deaths of Black people year after year. We denounce systemic racism, anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and police violence. We stand with the protesters in Chicago, in Minneapolis, in Louisville, and throughout the country who are voicing their disgust at the racist status quo.

Black Lives Matter.

Racism and police brutality are public health emergencies. Racism is at the core of health disparities we confront and seek to address every day, from the alarming rates of HIV diagnoses in Black communities to the unacceptable number of Black lives claimed by the current COVID-19 pandemic. As researchers and advocates working with sexual and gender minority (SGM) communities, we are also painfully aware that systemic racism and police violence disproportionately affect Black queer and trans people. We mourn the murders of Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Tony McDade, and Riah Milton. We fear for the safety of Iyanna Dior and our trans siblings who live with the constant threat of violence.

Today is Juneteenth, a commemoration of the day in 1865 that Union troops brought news to Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved people were free. This date fell more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had formally ended slavery. As we celebrate this holiday, it is also imperative that we confront and address the racism still alive in America in 2020.

As a majority-white institute at a large, private university, ISGMH has played a part in upholding systems that exclude and actively harm Black individuals and communities. As researchers, we recognize that academic research has historically focused on the experiences of white, heterosexual, cisgender individuals, and that interventions based on this work are unlikely to meet the needs of Black, queer, and trans people. ISGMH’s own intersectional scholarship on the interconnections of racism and homophobia extends back more than a decade, and several of our studies and interventions center the needs and perspectives of young Black men who have sex with men. We know that research focusing on studying and improving the lives of Black SGM is possible, fundable, and impactful. As we continue to be committed to centering the experiences of Black SGM in our research, we are also committed to interrogating our role in a racist system and to doing better.

The institutional changes needed for ISGMH to enhance its focus on racial justice will take time and work. It will require collective actions as well as personal reflections to uncover and unlearn biases that have contributed to the current state of inequity. It will require system-level changes that address our policies, practices, and culture.

We have started discussions within the Institute on how we can better combat racism and be actively anti-racist. To date, ISGMH has committed to the following inward-facing initiatives:

  • Establishing a Racial Equity Committee open to all ISGMH faculty, staff, postdocs, and interns.
  • Going through a multi-step anti-oppression workshop series led by Northwestern’s Office of Equity. The series will consist of workshops for leadership and managers as well as workshops that all ISGMH employees will participate in.
  • Holding a racial justice training.
  • Establishing a group open to all staff, fellows, faculty, and interns who identify as Black, indigenous, or persons of color (BIPOC) to share their experiences of racism, microaggressions, and discrimination and propose action steps to the Racial Equity Committee.

ISGMH will share more concrete plans as we further develop them, including outward-facing initiatives that stem from the work outlined above and that support communities of color, so that we can be held accountable for our commitments.

At ISGMH’s office in Chicago, we frequently meet in the Stonewall Conference Room named for the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in 1969. This riot was led by trans BIPOC who fought against the police violence directed at the LGBTQ people. We must work towards honoring their legacies. We pledge to use our privilege and platform to speak out against injustices and actively create a world free of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and prejudice.

Black Lives Matter

Image courtesy of blacklivesmatter.com.