Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
This Pride Month, America will say goodbye to the critically acclaimed FX drama Pose, a show about possibility that’s centered on a diverse group of LGBTQ+ outcasts who find power, acceptance and family in the ballroom culture of '80s and '90s New York City.
As a scripted series with the largest ensemble of transgender actors, all of whom are of color, Pose has been hailed as historic and groundbreaking on so many levels. This show, created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals, and featuring Janet Mock as a writer and director, became the anointed television program for the Black LGBTQ+ community. This award-winner tackled many issues, including discrimination, homophobia, drug abuse, gender-identity violence, death, poverty and the devastation of the early HIV/AIDS crisis.
For three trailblazing seasons, the diverse cast — led by MJ Rodriguez and Tony Award winner Billy Porter — took us on a journey of highs and lows. They pushed us to visualize a new world that holds the humanity of trans women at its center and values as a non-negotiable their safety, acceptance, approval and access to healthcare.
As a show, Pose also illuminates the joys and pains of being Black and gay in America — or better yet, Black and queer. Through powerful storylines and lived-experience-based storytelling, the series often had us in our feelings and laughing just a couple of minutes later.
Pose will go down as one of the few shows that reclaimed the promise of love and opportunity for an LGBTQ+ community still under attack by broken theology, misguided state legislatures and popularity-seeking governors throughout the country.
In terms of plot, Pose laid bare the ugly realities some members of the LGBTQ+ community faced during the ‘80s and ‘90s, and still to this day — a fact made worse when sexual identity intersects with race.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 28 transgender or non-binary people were killed in the U.S in 2021. In May, at least eight of them — Keri Washington, Jahaira Dehalto, Thomas Hardin, Sophie Vasquez, Serenity Hollis, Whispering Wind Bear Spirit and Danika "Danny" Hensen — were killed.
Pose exposed a truth often neglected by popular culture: happy beginnings and ends can sometimes be far and few between for Black members of the LGBTQ+ community. While a great deal of progress has been made, HIV/AIDS, bullying, hatred, homophobia and all the harms that accompany them are still commonplace.
Recently, a disturbing video surfaced from Broward County, Florida, showing Chad Stanford, 13, being stomped on, kicked, spat on and slammed to the ground by a group of older students at Deerfield Beach Middle School. As a sixth-grader, Chad's only "crime" was identifying as Black and gay. What makes this story more heartbreaking is that not one adult came to his aid.
As Chad told WPLG-TV in Miami, the homophobic bullying has been happening all year.
Chad's aunt, Requel Showers, told WPLG-TV, "He wanted to kill himself because they keep bullying him. Hearing that makes me cry."
Chad's middle school is just a couple miles away from where I, Richard Fowler, went to middle school. Sadly, not much has changed on this front through the years. According to The Trevor Project, an alarming 21% of Black LGBTQ+ youth have attempted suicide in the past year, compared to only 13% of their white counterparts.
If you, as a person who watches Pose, remain disconnected from the realities of the current Black LGBTQ community, you might think that many of the storylines harken back to a time gone by. In reality, many of these challenges are still alive and well in today's society, worsened by legislators who prioritize anti-LGBTQ legislation.
As you read this piece, hundreds of bills have been introduced in state capitols around the country that seek to erase transgender people and make LGBTQ people second-class citizens. Here is a short list:
- Anti-trans sports bans in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Kansas, Montana, West Virginia and Tennessee
- At least 35 bills prohibiting transgender youth from accessing best-practice, age-appropriate, gender-affirming medical care
- Two bills that would forbid discussion of LGBTQ+ people, or sexuality or gender generally, in the classroom in Arkansas and Tennessee
- Religious refusal bills allowing for discrimination against LGBTQ+ people based on religious beliefs in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Arkansas (which has two)
- At least 15 bills that would prohibit transgender people from having access to the restroom or locker room consistent with their gender identity
These proposals, a step back for LGBTQ+ rights, will further marginalize a community that lacks federal anti-discrimination protections.
Pose's final season was a master class on possibility. Not only did the audience get to witness some of their favorite characters finally having a happily ever after. They also saw those characters overcome their heartbreaking past and turn it into power and success, whether that was through weddings, getting clean, becoming entrepreneurs, finding family in the ballroom culture or celebrating life through the stigma and pain of HIV/AIDS.
With the airing of the series finale this past Sunday and Pride Month in full swing, it has become the audience's responsibility to continue fighting for equity and LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Now is the time to "live" your life as an advocate for young people like Chad Sanford, so they will never again face the unbearable pain of homophobic bullying. Now is the time to "werk" for transgender equality, so transgender people — especially those of color — can live free from pain, suffering and the potential of violence.
Most importantly, now is the time to "pose" and use your voice. Speak up and speak out against anti-LGBTQ+ laws passing in your states. This community doesn't need more allies; they need people willing to be instigators for good.