The continued distance between the white LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ communities of color has a historical antecedent.
As Pride month is underway for LGBTQ+ communities across the country, Boston Pride is turning 50. And despite COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines, a half-century of struggle and triumph will not go uncelebrated.
Instead, Boston Pride’s 50th anniversary is going virtual.
As this milestone is celebrated, riots have erupted across America because, once again, an unarmed black man was killed at the hands of police. This time his name is George Floyd. Floyd’s death symbolizes the new face of anti-black violence, as Mathew Shepard’s face symbolizes homophobic violence.
LGBTQ+ civil rights and Black civil rights histories intersect on many issues, violence and police brutality among them. The 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village began the modern-day LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. Hopefully, the riots and protests occurring now as a result of Floyd’s death will sustain the Black Lives Matter movement.
Floyd’s death appears to be an inflection point and wakeup call for white America. For the first time ever, during this Pride month LGBTQ+ communities and organizations across the country are elevating the voices and faces of its Black communities. For some LGBTQ+ of African descent, however, the gesture is at best too late, and at worse a clear sign of tokenism, with groups seizing the moment to be politically correct. Historically, Pride events have always mirrored the fissures in society with segments of its community—women, transgender people, and people of color—often holding their own events.
Boston Pride had an inauspicious beginning, with a small, motley group of gay and lesbian activists. They marched from Cambridge Common to an anti-Vietnam protest on Boston Common in June 1970. The group held a rally on the latter to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, and in the time since Boston Pride has grown into a week of activities with the parade as the flagship event.
Boston Pride’s profound impact on LGBTQ politics, both here in the Commonwealth and across the country, couldn’t have been predicted 50 years ago. Massachusetts is known as an LGBTQ-friendly state, and we have the court victories to prove it. With civil rights gains such as transgender protections; the legalization of same-sex marriage; a hate crime bill; and bans on gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment—plus a ban on conversion therapy—to name a few, we’ve come a long way since the first Pride march five decades ago.
With advances, of course, come disadvantages. For some in the LGBTQ+ community, Boston Pride has become too corporate. They see the company floats and paraphernalia as selling the soul of the movement’s grassroots message for entry into the mainstream. However, others in the community welcome corporate sponsors, seeing it as vital for the financial cost and continuation of Boston Pride and affirmation of LGBTQ+ issues. However, as Boston Pride becomes more corporate, marginal groups within the LGBTQ+ movement have become less visible.
After decades of Pride events where many LGBTQ+ of African descent tried to be included and were rejected, Black Pride was born. Boston Black Pride, for example, focuses on community needs like HIV/AIDS, unemployment, housing, police brutality, and now COVID-19. Sunday gospel brunches, Saturday night poetry slams, Friday evening fashion shows, bid whist tournaments, house parties, the smell of soul food and Caribbean cuisine, and the beautiful display of African art and clothing are just a few of the cultural markers that distinguish Black Pride from the dominant queer culture.
The continued distance between the white LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ communities of color has a historical antecedent. Many LGBTQ+ people of African and Latin descent argue that the gulf between whites and themselves is also about how the dominant queer community rewrote and continues to control the history of Stonewall. The Stonewall Riot of June 27-29, 1969, in Greenwich Village, New York City, started on the backs of working-class African American and Latino queers who patronized that bar. Those brown and Black LGBTQ people are not only absent from the photos of that night, but they are also erased from its written history.
Because of the bleaching of the Stonewall Riots, the beginning of the LGBTQ+ movement post-Stonewall is an appropriation of a Black, brown, trans, and queer liberation narrative. It is the deliberate visible absence of these African American, Latino, and Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ people that makes it harder, if not nearly impossible, for LGBTQ+ communities to build trusted coalitions with white LGBTQ+ communities. For example, in 2017, Philadelphia had a controversy over its new Pride flag after Black and brown stripes were added to the rainbow flag as part of the city’s “More Color More Pride” campaign to visibly include people of color in the celebrations.
As Amber Hikes, the new executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, explained to reporters, “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?’”
Boston Pride, presently, includes two programs aimed at LGBTQ+ people of color—Black Pride and LatinX Pride. But more must still be done.
Now 50 years in the making, Boston Pride has played an integral part in highlighting our political movement of self-acceptance. The events bind us all to a common struggle for LGBTQ+ equality, and, moving forward in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, I hope the entire community embraces intersectional concerns and goals to best address systemic racism and police violence that both of my communities—African American and LGBTQ+—share.
Rev. Irene Monroe can be heard on the podcast and standing Boston Public Radio segment ALL REV’D UP on WGBH (89.7 FM). Monroe’s syndicated religion columns appear and the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail. She is a s a Visiting Researcher in the Religion and Conflict Transformation Program at Boston University School of Theology.