By ena ganguly
The experiences of immunocompromised queer people of color (QPOC) are diverse. Each one of us has a different story as to why we have a weakened immune system. One can be born with it, or get it later on in life. It can be because of a chronic illness or because of a medication we are taking. There are many ways to have a ‘compromised’ immune system, and many ways to protect and support our immune systems.
As a queer immunocompromised South Asian, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and recently, the upsurge in mass protests against police brutality, shed light to my limitations in navigating ‘The Outside’. In March, when the severity of the virus really set in, the littlest excursions had to be meticulously planned out: where I was going, what I was going to wear, how I was going to cover my arms, legs, hair, and face. I had to figure out how to go about accomplishing all my errands with the added anxieties and fears of living through a pandemic, but also being a person of color who may be targeted by white people. Unsurprisingly, I was targeted, a few times, at local grocery stores and co-ops by white women. Did you know that anxiety, panic and external stress affects your immune system? This makes racism all the more lethal.
Both my partner and I were also met with the challenge of ensuring that we have all the necessary supplies to protect ourselves at this time. This was difficult to do because so many folks who were anxious about scarcity were hoarding supplies that they did not need in such large amounts, leaving the rest of us to try and buy overpriced items on the internet, barter with community, or worse, not have the supplies we need to survive.
Now, my struggle looks more like how to show up for Black communities in ways that are still mindful of my well-being. Seeing the state of protests in my city, with innocent youth of color killed and critically injured, I felt extremely discouraged from showing up to these spaces. Not because of potentially being a target of police brutality, but because of the risks I would be exposing my immune system to when in a large crowd of people or getting hit with tear gas or rubber bullets. Even more than that, I was concerned about potentially spreading COVID-19 to communities of color.
Yet, as a non-Black person, I feel that it is an obligation to show up for Black communities, especially now, when there are such seismic pushes to defund police and pressure our elected officials to address racist acts and stop racist city funding and policy practices. Even more so, the realization that there are so, so, so many Black folks who experience chronic illnesses such as mental health issues, diabetes, high blood pressure, and also have compromised immune systems, showing up to these protests! We know, and we see, so many Black folks, the elders, the immunocompromised, the disabled and the queer and trans, coming out for their communities during this time, and since time immemorial.
Naturally, I keep asking myself the question: how can I protest mindfully and what can I do instead of physically showing up to protest? And though each of us immunocompromised QPOC have different journeys, I see that this is a question coming up for many of us who want to show up for our Black siblings. My own partner, a queer Black woman, is immunocompromised because of the medicine she has been taking, and though the idea of her attending one of these protests scares me, recently, we had a hard but constructive conversation about our thoughts regarding protests.
The process of being able to hear her feelings enabled me to think more critically on how we can protest without necessarily putting ourselves at risk. During our conversation, we agreed that we could show up to protests for some time, with covered faces and gloves on, and stand with signs from a distance. Here is a great Vox article with resources on how to prepare before attending a protest and what to do if you are attacked by the police. There are also two great Know Your Rights articles to peruse through: one by Lambda Legal and another by ACLU. We also agreed to look for petitions and action items we can do while staying at home.
After some research, I found the #BirthdayforBreonna campaign, founded by Cate Young, a Black woman and immigrant, who is also immunocompromised. From Refinery29, she states, “”I’m immunocompromised so I can’t be on the streets right and I felt like I wanted to be involved but I felt helpless,” says Young. “I wanted to figure out how to do something from home. The campaign is designed to be done entirely in your home for people who don’t want to be or can’t be in the streets but still wants to make a difference, and it allows us to elevate a victim who isn’t getting as much attention as she should be but still contributes to the overall cause.”
The action items for the #BirthdayforBreonna campaign are simple: sign this petition, donate directly to Breonna’s family if you can, email the Kentucky administration using a prepared email template, send letters, use hashtags #SayHerName and #BirthdayforBreonna in social media posts to build awareness, donate to the Louisville Community Bail Fund if you can, and so much more. I also found a petition for justice for George Floyd’s murder, here and on Change.org.
My last suggestion is to check up on your Black friends and hold space for them. Something I learned from my partner through this time is not to ask, “Is there anything I can do?” because that’s taxing for the person you’re asking all that from. Many people are exhausted at this time and to ask one more thing from them, even with the best of intentions, can have a counter effect. Instead, ask, “What’s your Venmo or Cashapp?” or “Can I come by today and drop some cookies off to you?” or just a “I love you and I’m thinking of you. I’m here if you want to talk.” This can be really healing and therapeutic for folks, and it takes the onus off of the person you are trying to take care of, by just taking care of them.
Though my partner and I still want to show up physically to some local protests, for those of us who absolutely cannot put themselves in that position, the aforementioned actions are so necessary, and just as important to fulfill. Do your part: sign petitions, donate, check in with your Black friends and take care of yourselves. Something a friend said recently was a great reminder for me. She said, “I have to remind myself that this is a marathon, not a race. That it’s okay to cry sometimes.” And that allowed me to reframe current events. Liberation won’t happen in the next few weeks; it’s going to take a lot of time. We need to be well rested, taken care of, and nourished while we keep doing the work to get there.