A Q&A with Charlene Carruthers
“We are fighting for our lives—and the lives of our people against formidable opponents/enemies. We are optimistic and steadfast in the idea that we can learn to treat each other better. We are participants and practitioners in various projects of abolition. We are practicing and theorizing as we go. We are seeking to eradicate systems in the world while being in, of and outside of the world. And it is worth it.”
This mission statement comes from Charlene Carruthers’s forthcoming Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements. It’s also the mission of BYP100 (Black Youth Project 100), a Black youth organization founded in 2013 to empower the next generation of Black activism. Carruthers, a Black, queer, feminist community organizer, is the founding national director of BYP100. As Pride Month draws to a close, we caught up with her to ask about the work BYP100 is doing for the LGBTQ movement, police presence at Pride parades, and why it’s important to organize through a Black, queer, feminist lens.
Beacon Press: How involved is BYP100 in today’s LGBTQ movement and what are some of your plans going forward?
Charlene Carruthers: Our national and local work focuses on various issues that impact Black LGBTQ people. For example, our Washington, DC chapter is leading a campaign, within a coalition, to end the criminalization of sex work. This issue disproportionately impacts Black trans women (whether they engage in sex work or not), queer people, and gender-nonconforming people. We have always done our work in the tradition of radical Black feminist and LGBTQ movements.
BP: BYP100’s mission is to help advocate and organize through a Black, queer, feminist lens. Why would you say this is an important lens for young people to operate through when it comes to activism?
CC: The Black, queer, feminist lens allows people to view the world in a way that accounts for multiple modes of resistance and multiple experiences of oppression. Organizing is not inherently radical. It's important for young people to take up clear political commitments that are based in the basic notion that none of us will be free until all of us are free.
BP: Is there one specific instance that really pushed you to be a voice for your community and your cause as a whole?
CC: No, there’s not one specific instance. Traveling to South Africa when I was eighteen years old changed my life and made me more curious about the conditions in Black communities across the diaspora. However, I've always been the type of person who took action when someone I cared about was harmed our hurt. It may be because I’m the oldest of three siblings.
BP: There is contention involving police presence at Pride events. What is your stance on this? Do you think they should be involved, or do you think, regardless of intention—safety and enjoyment for LGBTQ law enforcers—there shouldn’t be a police presence?
CC: Pride began because of a riot against the police. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera didn’t resist so that the police could continue to harass our communities. I am an abolitionist, and I don’t believe that the police keep our people safe. This year at pride in Chicago, people were beaten and harassed by cops. It happens every single year. We should build our own safety teams to serve at Pride events. I know it’s possible.
BP: One final question: What is something most people don’t know about you?
CC: Most people don’t know that I’m an introvert who goes to the grocery store for fun. I believe that food is the best way to connect with other people. It’s also how I connect with myself.
About Charlene Carruthers
One of America’s most influential activists, Charlene A. Carruthers has spent over a decade developing leaders as an effective strategist, community organizer, and educator. She is a Black lesbian feminist and founding national director of the BYP100 (Black Youth Project 100), a leading organization of young activists in the movement for Black liberation. Her work has been featured in outlets including the Nation, NBC News, BBC News, Huffington Post, the New Yorker, Al Jazeera, Ebony, USA Today, and the Washington Post. Carruthers was born, raised, and still resides on the South Side of Chicago. Follow her on Twitter at @CharleneCac and visit her website.