I like to say there was something in the air as to why Pride 2017 — here and abroad — was one of the most contentious Prides ever. Many, however, in our community say the tension was always present.
As we rev up for this year’s festivities, so too will the fault lines of race, gender identity, and class emerge. In addition to the main Pride events taking place in many major cities and towns, there will be segments of our community — from women to trans people to black folks — holding their own.
Pride is about the varied expressions of the life, gifts, and talents of the entire community. But the divisions in our communities during Pride also show us something troubling and broken within ourselves. And last year a black queer resistance rose up, across the country and beyond, denouncing the glib notion that “gay is the new black.”
Last year Philadelphia memorably had a controversy over its new Pride flag. Black and brown stripes were added to the rainbow flag as part of the city’s “More Color More Pride” campaign, as a way to visibly include people of color in the celebrations.
“It’s a push for people to start listening to people of color in our community, start hearing what they’re saying, and really to believe them and to step up and say, 'What can I do to help eradicate these issues in our community?'” Amber Hikes, the new executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, told NBC OUT.
Down in D.C., the nation’s capital is always a big draw during its Pride parties, but the city's white communities aren't always inviting, and last year many people of African descent spoke out about it.
"We don’t socialize together. There are very few places where black and white socialize together, which is the basis of relationships and friendships, the basis of understanding,” Earl Fowlkes told the Washington Blade. Fowlkes is executive director of the Center for Black Equity, a national D.C.-based group that advocates for African-American LGBT people and helps organize black Pride events in the U.S. and abroad. “And until we start doing that and creating those spaces to do that we’re going to have misunderstandings and a lack of sensitivity toward issues of race.”
Then there was Montreal — my go-to place when I want to flee both my home in Massachusetts and the entire United States — which had their troubles last year at Pride too.
Organizers of Black Queer Lives Matter (BQLM) disrupted the minute of silence during the parade because of Pride’s whitewashing and complicity in the erasure of its black and racialized origins during the Stonewall uprising of 1969.
This is part of BQLM’s statement at Montreal Pride:
"Pride Montréal will have to answer for its decisions, its actions or its lack of actions before the LGBTQ Montreal racialized communities. Recognize that we have created Pride and give it back to us! Marsha P Johnson. Stormé DeLarverie. Sylvia Rivera.
"Let the names of these trans and queer women resonate in your heads and be visible in all editions of Pride! They are trans and from POC communities and are at the origin of the Pride movement!”
The growing distance between the white LGBTQIA community and LGBTQIA communities of color has a historical antecedent, as BQLM showed. Many people of African descent and Latinos argue that the gulf between whites and themselves is also about how the dominant queer community rewrote and continued to control the history of Stonewall, which started on the backs of working-class African-American and Latinx queers who patronized that bar. Those brown and black LGBTQIA people are not only absent from the photos of that night, but they are also often bleached from its written history. Because of the bleaching of the Stonewall riots, the beginning of the post-Stonewall movement is an appropriation of a black, brown, trans, and queer liberation narrative. And it is the deliberate visible absence of these African-American, Latino, and API LGBTQIA people that makes it harder, if not nearly impossible, for LGBTQIA communities to build trusted coalitions with white queer communities.
With advances such as hate-crime laws and legalization of same-sex marriage, the movement has come a long way since 1969. Many laud the distance the community has traveled in such a short time from a disenfranchised group on the fringe of America’s mainstream to a community now somewhat embraced. But not all members of our community have crossed the finish line. Some are waving the cautionary finger that within our community not all are equal. And Pride events can be public displays of those disparities.
Cultural acceptance is just one of a few things LGBTQIA people of color do not experience from larger Pride events. Many Pride celebrations are predominantly white, and many people of color experience social exclusion and invisibility within these spaces. After decades of Pride events where many LGBTQIA people of color tried to be included and weren’t, black, Asian, and Latino Pride events were born.
As we feud with one another, this is what is at stake: erosion of our protections.
For example, the U. S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments for the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case, which has many of us on pins and needles, will be decided this Pride season, and a baker’s right to refuse to make a wedding cake for same-sex couples on the grounds of religious freedom could be enshrined by the high court.
Since Donald Trump has taken office, there has been an erosion of LGBTQIA civil rights under the guise of religious liberty. There are bills are called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that are a backlash to the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage. Lawmakers want to use them to codify LGBTQ discrimination to justify denying us services on state and local levels, and Trump is in lockstep with these discriminatory practices.
Meanwhile, transgender Americans being denied access to public lavatories is eerily reminiscent of the country’s Jim Crow era, denying African-Americans access to lunch counters, water fountains, and, libraries, gas stations, theaters, and restrooms.
Then there are the laws passed in Kansas and Oklahoma that allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children in the homes of families they find morally reprehensible (a.k.a. us).
Where we go from here is recognizing the need to network and build coalitions beyond one’s immediate communities; thus, creating an intersectional social justice activism throughout our cities and towns to foster healthy and wholesome communities.
While Pride events are still fraught with divisions, at their core they are an invitation for communities to connect their political activism with their celebratory acts of song and dance in a continued fight for justice. They should highlight the multicultural aspect of joy and celebration that symbolizes not only our uniqueness as individuals and communities, but also affirms our varied expressions of LGBTQIA life in America.
REV. IRENE MONROE does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on Boston Public Radio and is a weekly Friday TV commentator on New England Channel NEWS. She’s a theologian and religion columnist.