Without Solidarity We Cannot Survive: DSA for the queer and trans working class

This piece was originally published in The Organizer, a publication of the now defunct Collective Power Network. It has been republished with the author’s permission.

For our liberation, queer and trans people must organize as socialists, and socialists must defend queer and trans life. Olivia M and Saoirse G reflect on how DSA offers a unique political home for queer and trans workers, and what their inclusion means for DSA.

  • The U.S. Transgender Survey found that 48.3% of transgender people in the United States had thought about suicide in the last year. 40.4% of them had attempted suicide at some point in their lifetime. 40% of homeless youth report identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (compared to 7% of the general age group).
  • Statistics on violence against queer and trans people, and particularly trans women of color, are unreliable due to underreporting – but even in official statistics the levels of violence are alarmingly high. Transgender people make up 72% of hate violence homicides, the vast majority of which are trans women of color, but only 13% of reports of violence in general, likely due to widespread distrust of police. 
  • Rates of poverty for bisexual women and transgender people are almost 30%. Essential healthcare for HIV+ and transgender people is regularly denied by private insurers, and even where it is available, is denied to countless more due to lack of insurance and/or inability to cover costs.

Statistics like these can be rattled off by most politically active queer and trans people. Like the names of so many of our dead, they must be remembered. But they must also be remedied. For our liberation, queer and trans people must organize as socialists, and socialists must defend queer and trans life.

As the largest socialist organization in a century, DSA offers queer and trans people answers to crises that are usually unacknowledged in mainstream liberal politics. Socialism provides an analysis by which we can see how housing struggles, labor organizing, and electoral fights are all interconnected as struggles for the interests of trans and queer working-class people. 

This is further facilitated by the sheer number of queer and trans people who organize within DSA, who by their presence in virtually every chapter, committee, and meeting across the organization reinforce a view of queer politics that isn’t siloed, but universal. Queer politics in DSA is not simply those issues labeled queer or trans by the mainstream, such as marriage equality, but is broadened to all our struggles with working-class people against the capitalist class. This is a major strength of our organization that derives both from a socialist perspective and the presence of trans and queer working-class people in the organization.

The socialist analysis of queer and trans politics is paired with an environment that provides a community for queer organizers. Trans and queer people are regularly cut off by family and friends they had before they came out, and in many parts of the United States, there is no local queer community to easily join or participate in. DSA is one of the only organizations in the US that takes as a given the dignity, rights, and identity of queer and trans people. This, combined with the broad way queer and trans politics are integrated into DSA’s priorities, makes it a natural home for the trans and queer working class. 

Queer and trans members are also a bridge to segments of the working class DSA has yet to establish a deeper presence in. The economic hardship and discrimination that queer people face often pushes them into lower strata of the working class, such as in service jobs and other low-income areas of work. As an identity group which DSA does have a significant presence in, our queer and trans comrades are one of the best vantage points by which we can recruit and organize the larger segments of the working class we have not yet been able to organize, particularly Latinx and Black workers.

It is important to remain vigilant to ensure DSA is representative of queer communities, and of course the underrepresentation of other marginalized groups–particularly people of color–guarantees that DSA is not demographically representative of queer and trans people within those groups either. Intentional recruitment will be necessary to ensure that queer and trans people are represented in our totality. 

But as we recognize that underrepresentation in one demographic will almost inevitably lead to underrepresentation of intersecting categories between that demographic and all other demographics, we should also celebrate that our organization’s membership, concentrated in certain social strata and groups as it is, contains a very high proportion of queer and trans working-class people. Though we do not have a full demographic mapping of our membership, as is needed, it would be unsurprising to hear that our membership is proportionally more queer and trans than the general population. And this affords us advantages and opportunities.

Liberal discourse around queer politics typically focuses on a highly limited set of issues which are exclusive to queer and trans people, particularly around recognition in marriage, the family, and legal documents. While these issues are important, this focus neglects the reality that many of the most oppressive aspects of queer and trans life are experienced through healthcare, housing, and the workplace–and as often through poverty and exploitation as through formal discrimination. It is no exaggeration to state that Medicare for All and a homes guarantee would represent a gigantic step forward for queer and trans rights.

But this is not enough–it is also crucial to have a representative movement including socialist trans and queer people who ensure that these demands address our needs as well. The recent British case of the Tavistock clinic being forced to cease providing puberty blockers to transgender children (as it was the last clinic still doing so, this likely dooms thousands of trans children to avoidable, non-consensual, and permanent changes to their bodies) shows that even in a system of socialized medicine, a hateful political climate can cause immeasurable harm to trans life. The opposition Labour Party, under the leadership of Keir Starmer, has nothing to say about it. 

Queer and trans people in DSA have a voice in the country’s largest socialist movement that is capable of ensuring our inclusion in a powerful working-class subjectivity–not one which is created out of lowest common denominators, but instead one that unites workers in both our commonalities and our differences, and builds solidarity across identity lines. That we are more representative of these groups ensures that there is a powerful constituency present to push the organization to fight for the expansion and protection of queer and trans rights, and makes the internal life of the organization far more welcoming and positive for queer and trans members.

Queer and trans people are a minority both globally and within the United States–without solidarity, we cannot survive. This creates significant obligations towards us on the part of cisgender and heterosexual socialists, but also upon queer and trans people to pick up the red flag and fight to build a mass socialist movement. Collective Power Network is proud to have a heavy density of queer and trans members, active participants in the struggle for socialism and the liberation of our people. As queer and trans members of DSA and CPN, we hope that queer and trans people who are not yet organized join our movement, and fight for the liberation and socialism we desperately need. 

Olivia M is a member of DSA Metro Cincinnati & North Kentucky. Saoirse G is a member of Metro DC DSA.