I was disappointed when this year’s Pride was first canceled due to the coronavirus, having planned to attend for the first time in my life. But there is something extraordinary happening right now.
The Black Lives Matter protests shake the very core of our conception of the United States. If we are truly a country founded on the principles of liberty and equality, we must face our demons. While Pride is an important time for the LGBTQ+ community to feel acknowledged as equal members of our society, this moment calls on all marginalized people to come together in support of something bigger than ourselves.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pride, which was a protest for recognition and equality before it was a festive celebration of diversity. The 1969 Stonewall protests, which came on the heels of the civil rights movement, were sparked by a police raid at Stonewall Inn, which had become a refuge for its LGBTQ+ patrons. Though police harassment of the gay community was commonplace, the unexpected raid by police officers roused patrons already fed up by their continued abuse. At the time of the protests, the American Psychiatric Association still labeled homosexuality a pathology and the LGBTQ+ community faced oppression and discrimination. At the time of 2020's protests, there is still resistance to the idea that Black lives matter.
It is fitting then, that as the Black Lives Matter protests sweep the nation, this year’s Pride center around solidarity with the Black community, which faces daily discrimination, inequality, and unspeakable police brutality. When the All Black Lives Matter march was organized by Black LGBTQ+ leaders, I was even more motivated to take part in a tradition that helped pave the way for my rights and is now dedicated to demanding equality for the Black community. Despite its revolutionary declarations of liberation, the United States — nearly 250 years after its revolution and founding — has still failed to fulfill such promises.
At the center of the true American story is the history of Black Americans, whose struggle for freedom and justice has blazed the trail for the civil rights of all Americans. The Black Lives Matter movement is only the most recent iteration to realize the principles enshrined in this nation’s founding philosophies. Of course, there are many groups disenfranchised based on their ethnicity, religion, gender, and orientation, and so many who have sacrificed on the altar of equality. However, it would be remiss to overlook the distinct plight of the Black community and the endemic anti-Blackness that is not confined to U.S. borders.
I cannot pretend to understand that struggle, but much as the LGBTQ+ community has relied on allies in its movement, so too must we be allies to our Black brothers and sisters. As an Iranian-American, the child of Iranian immigrants, my belonging as an “American” has often been questioned. As a queer Iranian-American, my belonging to my own community has been challenged by a culture that is only just beginning to open its eyes to the LGBTQ+ community. After all, Iran is still a country that criminalizes homosexuality and whose foreign minister defends such marginalization under the guise of “moral principles.”
I would like to believe that love is universal, not only the love we show our partners, our family and friends, or our nations, but also the love we show in our humanity. Having empathy is the most basic part of our character, which is the reason for the outpouring of people across the world who have been moved to action by the brutal murder of George Floyd. Scenes of protest from the U.S., France, New Zealand and other countries, illustrate the reach of this tragedy and the pain of marginalization experienced globally.
Fifty years ago, it took immense courage for the LGBTQ+ community, where many had traditionally hidden their sexual orientation for protection, to take to the streets to literally, and figuratively, come out. As they marched, they chanted, “Say it loud, gay is proud.” And so, Pride was born. Over the decades, Pride has come to be celebrated in countries around the world, but much work is still needed to ensure the rights and equality of the global LGBTQ+ community. Progress takes time, but I still hope to see acceptance in my country of heritage that recognizes love is love. In my country of birth, I can work towards the hopeful ambitions of justice and equality we claim to espouse. Those efforts started with Black Americans who understood that we could never fulfill such ideals until Black lives mattered. Now, I stand by them, with pride, in solidarity.
Assal Rad is a Research Fellow at the National Iranian American Council. She received her Ph.D. in history at the University of California, Irvine. Follow her on Twitter @assalrad.