What’s happening to LGBT Pride?

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Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe
Many say the tension was always present

I’d like to say there was something in the air. Pride 2017—here and abroad—was one of the most contentious events in its history. Many in our LGBT communities say the tension was always present.

Pride parades will be taking place across the country this summer, and as we all rev up for this year’s festivities, the fault lines of race, gender identity and class will re-emerge. In addition to the main LGBT Pride events taking place in many cities and towns, there will be segments of our communities—from women to trans people to people of color—holding their own.

Pride is about the varied expressions of the life, gifts, and talents of the entire LGBT community. But the schisms 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.”

Philly’s flag

For example, last year Philadelphia had a controversy over its new Pride flag. Black and brown stripes were added to the rainbow flag as part of the city’s campaign “More Color More Pride.” It was a way of visibly including 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?” said Amber Hikes, the new executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs.

D.C.’s segregation

The nation’s capital is always a big draw for LGBT communities across the country come Pride. But D.C.’s white communities aren’t always inviting and welcoming, 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, 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, continued, “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.”

Boston being Boston

Boston Black Pride 2017 took place in February. It offered hip-hop yoga, commemorating Black History Month and National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness. There was a Mix and Mingle Drag Paint Party too—to name a few. Sadly, the growing distance between our larger white LGBT community and LGBT communities of color is shown by how, for example, a health issue like HIV/AIDS, which was once an entire LGBT community problem, is now predominantly impacting communities of color. LGBT people of African descent have focused not only on HIV/AIDS and same-sex marriage but also unemployment, housing, gang violence, and LGBT youth homelessness.

Montreal’s protest

Then there was Montreal—my go-to place when I want to flee both my home in Massachusetts and the entire United States. But they too had their troubles last year at LGBT Pride.

Organizers of Black Queer Lives Matter disrupted the minute of silence during the parade because of Pride’s whitewashing and complicity in the erasure of its black and racial origins during the Stonewall uprising of 1969.

BQLM’s statement at Montreal Pride read in part: “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 LGBT Pride! They are trans and from POC communities and are at the origin of the Pride movement!

The growing distance between our larger and white LGBT community and LGBT communities of color has a historical antecedent, as BQLM showed. Many LGBT 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 Latin queers. They patronized that bar. Many brown and black LGBT 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 LGBT movement post-Stonewall is an appropriation of a black, brown, trans, and queer liberation narrative. And it is the visible absence of these African-American, Latino, and API LGBT people that makes it harder, if not near impossible, for LGBT communities to build trusted coalitions with white LGBT communities.

The LGBT movement has come a long way…BUT

With advances such as hate crime laws, legalization of same-sex marriage across the country, and homophobia viewed as a national concern, the LGBT movement has come a long way since the first Pride March in 1969. Many laud the distance the LGBT community has traveled in such a short time; this disenfranchised group on the fringe of America’s mainstream has now become an embraced community. But not all members of our community have crossed the finish line. Some are waving the cautionary finger that within the LGBT community we are not all equal, and LGBT Pride events can be public displays of those disparities.

Cultural acceptance is just one of a few things LGBT people of color do not experience from larger LGBT Pride events. Many celebrations are predominantly white, and many LGBT of color revelers experience social exclusion and invisibility within these spaces. After decades of events where many LGBT people of color tried to be included and weren’t, black, Asian and Latino Pride events were born.

Fighting among ourselves

As we feud with one another, our protections are eroding and at stake. For example, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, many of us were on pins and needles. The decision by the high court that a baker has a religious right to refuse to make a wedding cake for same-sex couples is now enshrined.

Since Donald Trump has taken office, LGBT civil rights are eroding under the guise of religious liberty. There are bills called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts,” a backlash to the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage. Lawmakers want to use them to codify LGBT discrimination, to justify denying 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. What’s more, laws passed in Kansas and Oklahoma now allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children in the homes of families they find morally reprehensible (aka LGBTs).

Where do we go from here?

We have to recognize the need to network and build coalitions beyond one’s immediate communities. Thus, we need to create an intersectional social-justice activism throughout our cities and towns. It will foster healthy and wholesome communities.

While LGBT 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 a continued fight for justice. They should highlight the multicultural aspect of joy and celebration that symbolizes our uniqueness as individuals. It can also affirm our varied expressions of LGBT life in America.

Rev. Irene Monroe can be reached on twitter twitter.com/revimonroe