The historical roots and impact of race, gender, and sexuality shape public policy as both a disciplinary field and as a course of action.
In a collaboration with the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, the Institute recently welcomed Dr. Bianca D.M. Wilson and Dr. Celeste Watkins-Hayes in conversation around the racial foundations of LGBT rights.
The hour-long discussion covered major areas and themes of current research related to queer and trans people of color, poverty, system-involved youth, and more.
When asked, based on her research and experience, about what the overall social and cultural conversation is missing or getting wrong around public policy and LGBT rights, Wilson said, "When we think about what kind of bills and protections are at play now or on the horizon that are specific to sexual orientation and gender identity, like the Equality Act or efforts to protect the rights of trans-youth and trans people to receive gender affirming care, it's not that that's getting it wrong." She continued, "It's that the data on disparities and lived experiences of LGBTQ people clearly should be driving how we frame what it means to be an LGBT rights issue. It should be driving us to broaden that." And for a number of issues—poverty, food insecurity, and homelessness in particular—she says that while sexual orientation and gender identity specific anti-discrimination protections are important foundations, they "aren't gonna do it alone." "That really should be leading us to think about what are the policies that will improve economic well-being of neighborhoods overall," she added.
At the conclusion of the event, Wilson also offered advice to students:
"Know that there's value in all the ways that we come at social justice work... Spend some time finding someone who is doing something that excites you, then ask them how they got there. You are likely to find out that for every three to five people that you find that you like the work that they are doing, that they got there in different ways, so it opens up multiple paths to getting to that work."
Wilson is the Rabbi Zacky Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute and an expert in system-involved LGBTQ youth, LGBT poverty, and sexual health among queer women. Watkins-Hayes is the dean of the Ford School, founding director of the school's Center for Racial Justice, and has been internationally recognized for her research at the intersection of inequality, public policy, and institutions, with a special focus on urban poverty and race, class, and gender studies.
The event was hosted as part of the Institute's Queer Policy Series, a program that convenes policymakers, leaders, and students to examine policies at various levels that impact queer and trans students and youth, and provides tools for effecting policy changes that embrace and affirm diverse sexualities and genders.