Black Pride is a history to be proud of

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LGBTQ Pride with the Rainbow flag

June is Pride Month for LGBTQ communities nationwide — and parades abound. As we all rev up each June for Pride, so too do the fault lines of race, gender identities, class, and more. Rainbow symbolism means little when decades-long unaddressed disparities bring us where we are today with Pride festivals: divided.

LGBTQ communities have come a long way since the Stonewall rebellion in 1969. We use this month to laud our advances. These include hate-crime laws, legalization of same-sex marriage, and making homo/transphobia a national concern, to name a few. We have gone from a disenfranchised group on the fringe of American society to mainstream society with the commercialization and corporatization of Pride.
However, communities of Queer and Trans Black, Indigenous, and people of color continue to experience Pride differently. As a predominently white event, many LGBTQ+ BIPOC revelers experienced social exclusion and cultural invisibility. And — after decades of Pride events where many LGBTQ+ BIPOC tried to be included and weren’t — Black, Asian, Latino, Indigenous, and other POC Pride events were born in search of unity, the hallmark of Pride.

By 1999, Black Pride events had grown into the International Federation of Black Prides, Inc. The IFBP is a coalition of 29 Black Pride organizations across the country. It was formed to promote an African diasporic multicultural and multinational network of LGBTQ/Same Gender Loving Pride events and community-based organizations dedicated to building solidarity, health, and wellness and promoting unity throughout our communities. Also, in understanding the need to network and build coalitions beyond its immediate communities, IFBP formed the Black/Brown Coalition.

Years of dissension

Pride is about the varied expressions of the community’s life, gifts, and talents. However, the divisions in our community during Pride also show us something troubling and broken within ourselves. In 2017, a Black queer resistance rose across the country and beyond, denouncing the glib notion, at the time, that “gay is the new Black.”

Philly’s flag

For example, 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,” a way to visibly include people of color.

“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?’” Amber Hikes, the new executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs told NBC Out.

D.C.’s segregation

The nation’s capital is always a big draw for LGBTQ communities across the country when it comes to Pride. But the D.C. community isn’t as inviting and welcoming to its entire community, and in 2016, the LGBTQ people of the African diaspora 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 was the executive director of the Center for Black Equity, the new moniker of the IFBP. This national D.C.-based group advocated for African American LGBT+ people and helped organize Black Pride events in the Unted States. and abroad. “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, commemorated Black History Month and National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness, and hosted a Mix and Mingle Drag Paint Party, to name a few. The tension that year between LGBTQ and BIPOC communities was so thick you could cut it with a knife. LGBTQ+ BIPOC and white allies had worked for years to decentralize the behemoth-like hold and power Boston Pride had over the entire state and much of New England for decades. With more acceptance of LGBTQ Americans, many activists feel that local Pride events throughout Massachusetts should hold communities, towns, local officials, and politicians accountable to its LGBTQ denizens, especially in the drive to combat anti-LGBTQ legislation seen nationwide.

Montreal

And then there was Montreal — my go-to place when I want to flee both the state and country — which had its troubles in 2017 at Pride too.
Organizers of 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, referring to the Stonewall uprising of 1969.

I quote part of BQLM’s statement at Montreal Pride: “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

The statement continued: “Let the names of these trans and queer women resonate in your heads and be visible in all editions of 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 LGBTQ community and LGBTQ+ BIPOC communities has a historical antecedent, as Montreal Pride showed. Many LGBTQ people of African descent and Latinos argue that the gulf between whites and themselves is also about how the dominant white queer community rewrote and continues to control the history and representation of Stonewall. The Stonewall uprising of June 27-29, 1969, in Greenwich Village, New York City, started on the backs of the working-class African-American and Latino trans community 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 narrative.

Because of the decolorizing of the Stonewall riots, the beginnings of the LGBTQ movement post—Stonewall are an appropriation of a black, brown, trans, and queer liberation narrative. And it is the deliberate invisiblity of these LGBTQ+ BIPOC people that makes it more challenging, if not near impossible, for LGGBTQ+ BIPOC communities to build trusted coalitions with white LGBTQ communities.

2020 — George Floyd’s murder

George Floyd’s death was an inflection point and wake-up call for white America. George Floyd’s face, that of a cis-gendered male, symbolizes the new face of anti-black violence, as Matthew Shepard’s face came to symbolize homophobic violence after his murder in 1998.

There is a difference between policing a community and protecting one. Over-policing is an issue for communities of people of color, especially its transgender community. Many communities of color experience PTSD just seeing the police.

In Boston, numerous chants were heard along the Trans Resistance MA parade route from marchers, revelers, and onlookers, bringing attention to many of the issues the black transgender community confronts. One chant was, “No racist police!” LGBTQ civil rights and African-American civil rights histories intersect on many issues, with violence and police brutality among them. However, the refusal of Boston Pride’s board to publicly support the LGBTQ+ BIPOC community position statement on policing simply further highlighted the decades-long racial strife among us.

Corporate Pride

“Corporatization of Pride” has become a double-edged sword. It’s part of moving toward the mainstream. Corporations that openly hire LGBTQ people become allies and affirm LGBTQ issues. These corporations come out of the closet to distinguish themselves from those who don’t, like Chick-fil-A. Also, corporate sponsors are vital for the financial cost and continuation of Pride events. However, Pride events have become a vast corporate and commercialized extravaganza at which marginal groups are nonessential except for photo ops highlighting diversity. Some see the parade floats as selling the soul of the movement’s grassroots message for entry into the mainstream instead of changing the mainstream.

Different priorities

Black Pride grooves to a different beat. LGBTQ people of African descent have used these events to set out their agenda. For example, Sunday gospel brunches, Saturday night poetry slams, Friday evening fashion shows, bid whist tournaments, house parties, the smells of soul food and Caribbean cuisine, and beautiful displays of African art and clothing are just a few of the cultural markers that make Black Pride distinct from the dominant queer culture.

For years, mainstream Prides had themes focused mainly on marriage equality, which was limiting. You’ll see health booths at Black Pride events. People are tested for STDs, vision, hypertension, and HIV/AIDS. Sadly, a health issue like HIV/AIDS shows the growing distance between the white LGBTQ communities and LGBTQ+ BIPOC communities. Once HIV/AIDS was a top priority for the entire LGBTQ community. Now, the crisis predominantly affects communities of color.

Other social determinants of health the community focuses on are unemployment, housing, gang violence, youth homelessness, mass incarceration, prostate health, trans health, domestic violence, depression, and more. The news too often not reported or under the radar are the proactive steps taken to stem these problems.

Where do we go from here?

Black Pride is an invitation for community. Black Pride acknowledges its ancestors’ struggle by continuing political action, self-empowerment, and celebratory acts of songs and dance for our civil rights in both the larger LGBTQ community and America. Also, Black Pride contributes to the struggle for equality, demonstrating an African diasporic aspect of joy and celebration that symbolizes not only our uniqueness but also affirms our commonality as an expression of also LGBTQ life in America.

While Pride events are still fraught with divisions, they nonetheless bind us to a common struggle for LGBTQ equality. Where we go from here now, in my opinion, is in recognizing the need to network and build coalitions beyond one’s immediate community, thus creating an intersectional social justice activism throughout our cities and towns and across this nation to foster healthy and wholesome communities.
But, as long as LGBTQ+ BIPOC communities continue to be absent each June, Pride Month is an event not to take pride in.