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PRIDE: OPINION: Bringing Pride back to its roots Why we can’t celebrate Pride without supporting Black Lives Matter

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Photo C/O The LGBT Community Center National History Archive

By Lauren O’Donnell, Contributor

In the early hours of  June 28, 1969, there was a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. The Stonewall Inn was one of the only places where 2SLGBTQIA+ people were able to gather as it was one of few places that accepted drag queens as well as trans men and women. On June 28, the police raided the bar, assaulted patrons and arrested 13 people. The riots that followed were not about fighting for marriage equality, they were a response to police brutality against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Stonewall is frequently hailed as a catalyst for 2SLGBTQIA+ rights in North America, and it began with riots.

Many of the pioneers of the 2SLGBTQIA+ rights movement were Black trans women and trans Women of Colour, like Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Sylvia Rivera. These women paved the way for Pride as we know it today. Griffin-Gracy is still alive, and continues to be a pillar of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. You can support her retirement fund here. Within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, People of Colour and particularly trans Women of Colour are still routinely attacked. While the mainstream 2SLGBTQIA+ movement may be slowly gaining acceptance, the people who made it possible are still in constant danger.

Many of the pioneers of the 2SLGBTQIA+ rights movement were Black trans women and trans Women of Colour, like Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Sylvia Rivera. These women paved the way for Pride as we know it today. Griffin-Gracy is still alive, and continues to be a pillar of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. You can support her retirement fund here. Within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, People of Colour and particularly trans Women of Colour are still routinely attacked. While the mainstream 2SLGBTQIA+ movement may be slowly gaining acceptance, the people who made it possible are still in constant danger.

Oppressive systems are able to continue because they pit oppressed groups against one another, fearing that if we work together none of us will have rights. It’s an either/or mentality that drives a wedge between oppressed groups. As a result, we push away the very people that we should seek to work with. A case study of this can be seen at the 2016 Toronto Pride parade, where the parade was paused by activists from Black Lives Matter until Pride Toronto signed a list of demands. The media response to this event was varied, but there is a common theme— let’s take a moment to unpack it.

Many of the responses suggested that Black Lives Matter sought to undermine Pride. In 2016, The Globe and Mail published a particularly vitriolic opinion piece by columnist Margaret Wente. In the piece, Wente suggested that Black Lives Matter was usurping Pride Toronto.

“You’d think, just weeks after the slaughter [at PULSE Nightclub] in Orlando, that they might have chosen to cede the spotlight to the dead and wounded, who really were under attack. But no. The Black Lives Matter activists are firmly convinced that they are at the very top of the pyramid of oppression. Only after the parade’s executives meekly agreed to all of their demands (basically, more money for their projects) did they allow the show to go on,” said Wente in her article.

The pyramid of oppression — or the oppression olympics — is one illustration of putting oppressed groups in opposition. Being at the top of the so-called pyramid supposedly brings along with it more media coverage and public support. Wente uses this term to undermine Black Lives Matter’s protest, framing it as an attempt to dismiss the suffering of others.

In particular, Wente points to Black Lives Matter’s demand that the police be removed from Pride as being “wrong, and sad and bad,” and that their claims of being oppressed by police are over-exaggerated. Defending the police’s right to be at Pride is not uncommon, but the urge to defend the police should be examined. The first Pride was a riot against police brutality.

“Defenders of Black Lives Matter insist that the gay rights movement was birthed in protest against police harassment at Stonewall, and in Canada, amid riots triggered by raids on a gay bathhouse. Gay people, thus, should indulge BLM in its anti-police agitation. But invoking Stonewall and similar episodes of historic police abuse only shows how far our two countries have come. In so many places around the world — Russia, and, most recently, Turkey — the police attack pride parades and arrest gay rights activists. In North America, police protect them,” reads one article from the Los Angeles Times.

To be blunt, the fact of the matter is that North American police don’t always protect Pride. Our countries have made progress, certainly, but not for everyone. Progress isn’t the same as completion. Sometimes direct action is necessary in order to draw attention to the insidious ways that systemic oppression functions.

Thus far we’ve looked at how non-Black people covered the event. However, the Black 2SLGBTQIA+ community is not monolithic, and not everyone in the community supported the actions of Black Lives Matter, instead suggesting that they were detracting from Pride for their own agenda, or ignoring systemic problems within their own communities.

“Black Lives Matter could use their political and social power to actually raise awareness about this issue, but it is apparently easier for them to target the white gay community than it is to tackle black homophobia. And Pride Toronto yields to their requests, as if the black community is a monolithic entity represented by a single group,” said Orville Lloyd Douglas in an opinion piece for CBC.

Critiques from within the Black 2SLGBTQIA+ community are infinitely more important than those from outside the community. It’s nigh on impossible for a reporter from L.A. to see problems in Toronto, so in order to fully understand all sides of the issue, it’s important to seek out the voices within affected communities.

Speaking of listening to voices from within the community, what was the intention of Black Lives Matter in stopping the event? Let’s turn to the motivation behind the protest, from an article interviewing Alexandra Williams, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.

“We are not taking any space away from any folks. When we talk about homophobia, transphobia, we go through that too . . .  It should be a cohesive unit, not one against the other. Anti-blackness needs to be addressed and they can be addressed at the same time, in the same spaces,” she said.

The execution of the protest may not have been flawless, but the intent matters. As Williams points out, these issues are interconnected. Highlighting Black Lives Matter doesn’t usurp Pride, it returns it to its roots. Pride was spearheaded by Black trans women and trans Women of Colour as a protest against police brutality. How can we turn our back on the people who helped us the most?

So where do we go from here? White folks in particular need to use our privilege to support the movement however we can. We need to call out public officials, sign petitions and continue supporting Black Lives Matter long after the hashtags fall off the trending page. There are a number of ways in Hamilton that you can practice active allyship, including supporting local grassroots organizations, buying from local Black-owned businesses and being proactive in seeking out additional resources and education. Redefine Twenty is a local organization and an excellent place to start. Allyship is not an identity, it’s a constant action.

Ultimately, however, it isn’t up to us to lead this movement; we need to amplify melanated voices through direct action. This is not about us. This is about us showing up for the people who always showed up for us, from the very beginning. This isn’t about retribution, it’s about restitution.

As you celebrate Pride this year, know that any time you side with the police, or dismiss the actions of protesters, you are telling your Black 2SLGBTQIA+ friends that they cannot trust you. You are telling them that you value your own safety and comfort above their lives. Just because we can’t see systemic oppression doesn’t mean it’s not there.

 

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