In the early 1970s, the first Pride memorialized the Stonewall rebellion.
Since then, mainstream LGBTQ movements have divorced Pride from its radical history of protest and uprising against police violence in order to corporatize it to sell products and paint police cars in rainbow flags. Many queer people have either stopped attending Pride events or created their own alternatives.
This year must be different. We all must return Pride to its radical roots by answering the call to organize in our local communities to defund the police because this call to has always been at the center of queer liberation movements.
In 1966, trans and gender nonconforming people, sex workers, street youth, and drag queens in San Francisco fought back against police violence through radical activism in what came to be known as the Compton Cafeteria Uprising.
In 1969, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were on the front-lines of the famed Stonewall rebellion that took place for several days as a response to violence and escalation on behalf of the New York Police Department at the Stonewall Inn. In 1970, they created STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), a radical organization focused on supporting sex workers and homeless queer youth, after a days long sit-in protest with other members of the queer liberation movement that also birthed the Gay Liberation Front.
Several queer liberation organizations, activists, writers, and organizers have come up through this history, including a group of Black radical socialist lesbian feminists organized under the Combahee River Collective. In their 1974 Combahee River Collective Statement, they introduced the term interlocking oppressions (giving way to the framework of intersectionality coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw) and influenced the trajectory of Black queer radical organizing for years to come.
Defunding the police is an LGBTQ issue. Countless Black trans women and Black trans people experience interpersonal and community violence on a daily basis — like Iyanna Dior who was recently beaten up on video by a group of people in Minneapolis and Nina Pop who we lost to deadly violence in Missouri in May — and are made no “safer” by the presence of police. Police are the violence. In the Trans Agenda for Liberation’s first pillar — Black Trans Women Living and Leading Fiercely — a coalition of majority Black, indigenous, and migrant trans, non-binary, and gender- nonconforming leaders working with Transgender Law Center call for abolishing the prison industrial complex. The prison industrial complex is a web of imprisonment, policing, and surveillance that includes the call to defund the police.
Police violence against Black trans people like the murders of Layleen Polanco and Tony McDade, should indicate for us that police and policing only exist to perpetuate harm and violence. And we must shrink their scope. What if for Pride we actually took the time to imagine what safety for our communities could look like outside of the police, and we worked with each other to make that possible? Black, queer, femme writer Benji Hart mandates that police and prisons do not belong in our future.
Several organizations and campaigns across the country have already been working to defund the police, and LGBTQ people have always been on the front-lines of work to divest from police and invest in communities.
The #NoCopAcademy campaign in Chicago fights for an end to the construction of a $95 million dollar police academy and instead an investment in youth and community. Durham Beyond Policing is a grassroots coalition working to get municipal resources in Durham invested in the health and wellbeing of Black & Brown communities, and disinvestment in policing and prisons. With a mission to see a 50 percent reduction in the Oakland Police Department’s budget, Defund OPD - Invest in Community aims for that money to go to alternative non-police programs. And particularly in the time of COVD-19, Care Not Cops in Portland calls for the governor and the city and county to end police sweeps and patrols of houseless community members and to end all quality of life policing activity, among other demands.
Several other organizations are also leading these efforts, and now is the time to join in. We need more people to imagine what safety for our communities could look like outside of the police while collectively building towards it.
As more and more people are answering the call to make ALL Black lives matter, this moment requires that we return Pride to its radical roots. We need accomplices and co-conspirators, people who will take up the fight to defund the police, just like we need more people in the fight to end bail and pretrial detention, because those should be LGBTQ movement priorities too.
This year, Pride is about defunding the police. It is about reshifting power — away from the police and into each other, in the legacy of queer liberation movements before us.
Ash Stephens is a Black trans (mostly) masculine person who lives in Chicago. He’s the Policy Coordinator at Transgender Law Center and also a PhD Candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He’s an abolitionist and has organized with collectives Love & Protect and Survived & Punished: NYC Chapter focused on supporting defense campaigns for criminalized survivors of violence. He has previously written for The Advocate and Truthout.