A survey of divisions and achievements since the troubled celebrations of last year
I like to say there was something in the air during Pride 2017. Here and abroad, it was a contentious affair, including here in Greater Boston (more on that in a moment).
Many in our LGBTQ communities, however, say the tension has always been present.
Pride parades will take place across the country this month. 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 communities—from women to trans people to people of color—holding their own gatherings.
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. Even as some strive to make celebrations more inclusive.
THE FLAG IN PHILLY
Last year saw a major controversy in Philadelphia over the city’s new Pride flag. Black and brown stripes were added to the rainbow flag as part of the Philly campaign “More Color More Pride, ” which was an attempt to visibly include people of color in the celebrations.
Amber Hikes, the executive director of the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs, told NBC, “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?’”
SEGREGATION IN DC
The nation’s capital is always a big draw for LGBTQ communities across the country come Pride. At the same time, DC’s white hosts aren’t always inviting and welcoming, and last year many people of African descent spoke out about it.
“We don’t socialize together,” Earl Fowlkes, executive director of the Center for Black Equity, told the Washington Blade. Fowlkes’ group advocates for African-American LGBTQ people and helps organize black Pride events in the US and abroad. “There are very few places where black and white socialize together, which is the basis of relationships and friendships, the basis of understanding.
“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.”
BOSTON BEING BOSTON
Boston Black Pride 2017 took place in February, offering hip-hop yoga in commemorating Black History Month and National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness, and featured a mix-and-mingle drag paint party, among other events.
LGBTQ people of African descent in Greater Boston have focused on, among other issues, unemployment, housing, gang violence, and LGBTQ youth homelessness. Health issues are also of major concern and sadly show the growing distance between the larger white LGBTQ community and LGBTQ communities of color; whereas HIV/AIDS was once widely considered an entire LGBTQ community problem, it now predominantly impacts communities of color.
Then there was Montreal, my go-to place when I want to flee both my home in Mass and the entire United States. Organizers of the city’s 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.
The growing distance between our larger and white LGBTQ community and LGBTQ communities of color has a historical antecedent, as BQLM showed. Many LGBTQ 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. The Stonewall Riot of June 27-29, 1969, in Greenwich Village, New York City, started on the backs of working-class African-American and Latinx 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 bleached from its written history.
Because of the bleaching of the Stonewall Riots, the beginnings of the LGBTQ movement post-Stonewall is an appropriation of a black, brown, trans, and queer liberation narrative. And it is the deliberate visible absence of these people that makes it harder, if not near impossible, for LGBTQ communities to build trusted coalitions with white LGBTQ communities.
With advances such as hate crime laws and the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country, and with homophobia viewed as a national concern, the LGBTQ movement has come a long way since the first Pride March in 1969. Many laud the distance the LGBTQ community has traveled in such a short time, from a disenfranchised group on the fringe of America’s mainstream to a community now 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.
Since Donald Trump has taken office, there has been an erosion of LGBTQ civil rights under the guise of religious liberty. Lawmakers are codifying discrimination measures and denying us services on state and local levels, while the POTUS is in lockstep with these practices. Furthermore, it’s anybody’s guess how this week’s Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ordered Colorado’s civil rights commission to reverse its ruling against a baker who refused to provide a specific service to a gay couple, will impact court decisions elsewhere.
Meanwhile, transgender Americans are being denied access to public lavatories, which is eerily reminiscent of the Jim Crow era, while there are laws in Kansas and Oklahoma that allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children in the homes of families they find morally reprehensible (aka us).
Where do we go from here? In my opinion, we need to recognize 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, Pride events are an invitation for communities to connect their political activism with their celebratory acts of song and dance in the 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 LGBTQ life in America.
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.