Marsha P. Johnson threw the first brick at Stonewall on June 28th, 1969. People love debating this notion as there are so many accounts around who actually threw it or if one was ever thrown. However, as Black queer folks, we are very clear on Marsha and the brick.
Unfortunately, the importance of that moment has been lost on many who now see Pride as the commercialized celebration of white queerness, rather than the continued struggle many of us carry from its very origins—especially Black queer folks. Whether it’s the police demanding they belong at our events, the division that still lies between white queers and Black queers, or the complete ignoring of our plight while corporations slap rainbow stickers on everything, Black liberation is still our fight and at all costs. This is a call-out and a call-in.
For us, “Pride” is still a riot against the very same systems that oppressed. For those who need a reminder, the Stonewall Riots which were the catalyst for the LGBTQ+ rights movement were not some planned protest or peaceful demonstration. It was a violent riot against the NYPD and a society that villainized and criminalized the existence of queer people.
Furthermore, it was a moment—often co-opted by white queer people—that was led by Black and brown trans and femmes. Those five nights of violent rioting led by Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Storme Dularvarie and Ms. Major Griffen-Macy live on as the symbolic catalyst for change in the ways in which we live as LGBTQ+ people.
However, over 50 years post that event, many of the same issues that plagued Black queer folks then, still exist now.
Let’s start with policing.
This year and several years prior, there has been a huge issue with police wanting to be part of Pride in “solidarity.” No matter how you slice it, the police have never been in solidarity with Black folks, with Queer folks, and especially with Black queer folks. This notion of policing being needed at our events is steeped in white supremacy, and a belief that many white queers share — that police ensure safety which is true…for them.
However, the privileged oppressed—white queers—often disregard the real terror of Black queers when police are around us. Simply put, they were at the first Pride. They were our attackers and oppressors. And in 50-plus years, they have done nothing but throw rainbow pins on their blue vests and continued in the tradition of our oppression.
Having queer police means doesn’t ensure queer safety in the same way departments having Black police has never ensured Black safety. There have also been many incidents of police aggression during Pride parades over the years that continue to prove it is less about our safety, and more about their continued desire to use authority as a fear tactic against our existence.
But this also speaks volumes about the division between white queers and Black queers. There is a reason that there are two separate Prides —Black Pride and Pride (often referred to privately and publicly as white pride). As someone who has been to both, there is a stark contrast between the two. I can remember in 2016, attending D.C. Pride where the headliner was Miley Cyrus. The same person who years prior stated “That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little.” The singer added that “it was too much ‘Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock’ — I am so not that.”
Her racially insensitive comments were met with major backlash from Black communities. Yet and still, white queers felt it was appropriate for her to perform at Pride, and our complaints went unheard.
To take it a step further, in 2018, a decision was made to add a Black stripe to the rainbow flag for Pride. This was met immediately with racism and anti-Blackness from many white queers who felt it was unnecessary despite our complaints about how the rainbow flag never felt representative of everyone who exists in queer communities.
There have also been recent examples, including Black patrons being treated differently than white patrons at LGBTQ+ establishments like Nellies Sports Bar in D.C. To cap all of that off, Black queers are often subject to the f-word in these establishments and pride events. I don’t mean f*g. I mean fetishization, where we are only seen as sexual objects rather than fully human.
Black queer folks are tired of the co-opting of a movement in resilience we started. We are tired of always having to take the mantle of saving the entire LGBTQ+ community, while those in the community with power take a back seat to the oppression whenever it suits them—using their whiteness as their shield. Black queer folks deserve safe spaces at our Black prides, and even more so at Pride events that state they are safe spaces for us all.
I’m fortunate and grateful for the Black queer spaces we create each year that give us the smallest feeling of safety, love and most importantly joy in the midst of chaos. But be clear, Black queer folks still have a lot of unpacking to do with our own internalized homophobia, femmephobia and transphobia to make those spaces even better for us. However, I’d much rather work through that on my own before feeling like “is Black OK?” in a white space my ancestors created for you to even occupy.
As I stated earlier, this is a call-out and call-in. I want to enjoy Pride. Black queer folks want to enjoy Pride. But it’s on white folks who claim to be our advocates (I don’t believe in allyship) and in communities with us to make these spaces ours. Until then, I’m a continue to throw my ass in a circle, and yell “period” in unison with the rest of my Black queer family at our pride events. Continue to show up for us when no one else does. And continue to advocate on our behalf for the equity we so rightly deserve.