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Profiles: Activist Mahnani Clay 

Wednesday, Jun 24 2015

Arguments are common enough on Facebook, but the firestorm that activist Mahnani Clay's recent post ignited was unique in that it brought some deep schisms in the LGBT community to light.

"I said, 'I'm queer by choice, but I'm black by fact,'" Clay said. Though she clarified that, "I chose to come out as queer. I didn't have to come out as black," the comment was "not popular."

In 2015, a renewed focus on injustice against minorities (#BlackLivesMatter) and the increasing visibility for the transgender community (#CallMeCaitlyn) have brought simmering divisions in the LGBT community to the surface (#ShutDownCastro). SF Pride, in particular, drew criticism when it waited until Jan. 14 to condemn the slayings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, five and six months after their deaths at the hands of police, respectively.

Also in January, 150 activists allied under the name Queer Trans People of Color made those racial divisions impossible to ignore in a protest against Toad Hall and Badlands, two Castro bars with mostly white, relatively well-heeled clienteles. As minority queers appealed for support from white brothers and sisters in the LGBT community, ugly confrontations were reported at the site of Toad Hall, where a bar named Pendulum once catered the African-American community until its abrupt closure in 2005.

"In the Castro, black people do not feel welcome," said Clay, who been part of the discussion as vice president of political affairs for the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and as a member of the executive board of the San Francisco Black Leadership Forum. She has also been part of the Castro protests as a supporter of Queer Trans People of Color, a leaderless — or, as Clay prefers to call it, "leader-full" — group drawing attention to the violence faced by many trans men and women of color.

Earlier this year, QTPOC circulated a letter questioning the mainstream LGBT focus on marriage equality and military inclusiveness, possibly at the expense of resources for trans minorities. The Human Rights Campaign notes that in 13 slayings of U.S. trans women in 2014, all but one were black or Latina.

"If you're not alive, you don't really care about any of the other priorities," Clay said. "The biggest priority for all of us is safety."

Although Clay does not identify as trans, she's well-versed in the intersections between gender, race, and sexuality.

"Our identities are not defined by one aspect. We are the intersection of those identities. For example, I am black. I am queer. I am formerly incarcerated. I am a mother. I am a number of things. Where all those intersect makes me who I am as a person and gives me a unique voice."

Clay credits San Francisco, to which she moved in 2011 after dark years as a "junkie prostitute" and serving time on a drug charge on the East Coast, for giving her a fresh start and cementing her role as an activist. The Corona Heights resident most recently founded Project Cheer, which, among other things, distributes gifts to the children of inmates in the criminal justice system.

She also sees hope in the city, as when her mentor Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi announced plans to move female-identified trans inmates out of the male population at County Jail.

"It takes a lot of guts to stand up and say, 'I'm with them,'" Clay said. "When I walk through the Castro, I don't necessarily feel that most of the folks on the street would stand up with me."

More From Your Pride Guide:

Your Pride Guide Intro
By Peter Lawrence Kane

Laverne Cox is Everywhere
By Peter Lawrence Kane

Faerie Freedom Village
By Peter Lawrence Kane

How to Be a Straight Ally on Pride
By Peter Lawrence Kane

Transparent Policing: Law Targets Anti-Trans Harassment
By Julia Carrie Wong


About The Author

Giselle Velazquez


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