Sharing the Love
“You just felt pure love,” Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said, of the cheers she received at this year’s Motor City Pride parade as she and her team marched down Griswold St. “It was an energy that…was empowering. You felt it in your heart.”
Tlaib’s role as representative of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District was the most obvious reason for her to attend Motor City Pride; in addition, she was invited by NextGen to join them in the parade, followed by a town hall and brunch at Granite City. But for her, it was even more personal: the significance of “showing up” for the LGBTQ community is something she understands as an ally from another marginalized group.
“Look, I’m Muslim in America right now,” Tlaib said. “And if anything, I know what it feels like…when people don’t show up for you. And for me it was about showing up, lifting my LGBTQ neighbors, especially at the time…[when] more and more discrimination is still happening in the workplace…[and] younger people are coming out earlier in their lives and not being supported by their school administrators or even the school community.” She said that being there was a way to “push back” against those things.
“There’s still so much work to do to stop the dehumanization, stop the kind of other-ing that happens in various institutions. So it’s going to take more than just passing bills…it’s also trying to change the culture, trying to uplift those that really right now need a sense of belonging. That’s why it was so important for me to be here.”
On Being an Ally
While this is Tlaib’s first term in Congress, she has already established a record of not merely “talking the talk” when it comes to issues facing her LGBTQ constituents, and the LGBTQ community at large. For one thing, she visited the Ruth Ellis Center in February to meet with representatives from REC and Inclusive Justice, a statewide Michigan faith organization dedicated to addressing LGBTQ inclusion within the faith community. And in March, when the Human Rights Campaign’s Michigan contingent lobbied in Washington, D.C. for the Equality Act, Tlaib was the sole member of Congress to meet with them in person; the others had representatives meet on their behalf.
Being a child of immigrants, Tlaib remarked how her mother was treated because of her accent, and how Tlaib was treated because of her upbringing in general. In response she said she sought out allies, and that such experiences spurred her to actively look for ways to be an ally herself. “I never want anyone to feel ‘less than,’” she said.
“It’s not just ‘talk the talk,’” she said, “…but actually showing up and being in the room in a space where maybe I didn’t get asked to be, but I’m coming there anyway…[because] love should be shown to everyone, no matter their sexual orientation, no matter their religious beliefs, no matter the way they look. So it’s always important for me to be there, and to uplift. Not just to be asked to come, but show up without being asked.”
Recognizing an Epidemic
As the member of a group that often gets short shrift in this country in general, and by the current presidential administration in particular, BTL asked Tlaib for her own take on our grossly inadequate response to certain hate crimes: namely, the epidemic of violence and murder of trans women of color, which affects the Congresswoman’s own district.
“You know, there’s such double standards,” Tlaib said. “You look at the application, from the Department of Justice, in regarding hate crimes… if it’s a certain type of group, they’re ‘all hands on deck.’ But when it’s…our trans sisters, you don’t sense that same passion, that same kind of determination to try to address it. And we all feel it.”
In terms of what she could do as a national leader, Tlaib said, she hoped to expose the issue, to “put a mirror up to our own government,” and ask why attention and resources go toward one group over another. Tlaib went on to express how important it is for this to be a partnership. However, she acknowledged that it’s asking a lot of the LGBTQ community–trans women of color in particular who are victims or survivors–to come forward. It’s something she said resonated with her when she attended a memorial for Kelly Stough, who was murdered last winter, and whose killer was subsequently charged with the crime. Tlaib then said, “as much as it’s scary, use your member of Congress’s office. Use other allies to come forward… And then I can go and say, ‘yes this is an issue that hasn’t been addressed.’”
We’re in This Together
As we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, Tlaib agreed that while the LGBTQ community has made great strides, we have mountains to climb and miles to go. Returning the focus to violence against LGBTQ people, she criticized the reactionary attitude of the government and said its response was lacking in general, but that her disappointment preceded the current presidential administration. She decried the government’s refusal to acknowledge that these hate incidents are “a form of terror, and [when] this intentional targeting of people based on their sexual orientation is not seen at the same level as other forms of hate crime…I want to push back and say to our government, to do more.”
Perhaps when more elected officials take up the issue—especially after more LGBTQ people are elected—the government will be forced to do more. Having representatives in government who truly represent LGBTQ people is key, and as one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, Tlaib can speak with firsthand knowledge about the importance of diversity in electoral politics.
“I now understand why people like us need to be running for office from all different backgrounds,” she said. Tying it to the LGBTQ community, she added, “when we passed the Equality Act, it was our LGBTQ members of Congress that kept us focused, kept us grounded, reminded us of the importance of it.” She said that having them in the room “made a huge difference.”