Pride Month: Three Lessons From 2019 That Help Us Connect More Meaningfully With The LGBTQ+ Community

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What is your understanding of Pride Month? Or indeed of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ+) community? 

I will be the first to admit I know far too little. I write these lessons to start to free ourselves from this ignorance. Lessons I have observed during this year’s Pride Month, June, from those better informed. Lessons that barely scratch at the surface, but nonetheless, useful, I think.


ONE: PRIDE MONTH WAS STARTED BY REBELLIOUS BLACK TRANSGENDER WOMEN

A quick search tells us the history of the LGBTQ movement starts with The Stonewall rebellion, in New York, 1969. 

Context is everything

Following WW2, America was fearful of change, and being gay was considered an un-American trait, like anarchists and communists. Gay people were therefore harassed in society. They were kicked out of public sector work, like the army and government agencies. Based on the argument, gay people were vulnerable to blackmail and therefore posed a security risk. The FBI kept the names of those discarded, which was anyone suspected to “engage in overt acts of pervasion”. And the locations where they hang out.

The FBI used this information to locate gay people. This treatment was justified by so-called scientific studies, which concluded homosexuality was a mental disorder due to an intense fear of the opposite sex. This led to other restrictions: cross dressing was forbidden, and businesses were advised not to serve gay people. 

Resistance against this homophobia had started earlier to the 1969 rebellion. In the form of peaceful protests. The Stonewall rebellion changed all this and brought campaigners together. 

By that time bars were hugely significant for gay people because they were often the only places they could be. Having been discarded from society. Threating closure meant people had little elsewhere to go. And it seems the Stonewall Inn Police raid was “the last straw”, epitomising the community’s long-standing struggle. 

“this shit has got to stop!”[1]

The Stonewall Inn was a favourite for the “poorest and most marginalised” in the gay community. On that night, 28thJune 1969, it was women like Storme DeLarverie, a mixed-race butch lesbian, who rebelled and encouraged others to fight back. 

Storme DeLarverie, born 1920, New Orleans, to an African American mother and white father. It is believed DeLarverie was the woman who threw the first punch that sparked the Stonewall rebellion that night of 1969. Delarverie was against the use of the term “riots” in describing the Stonewall events saying; “It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot.” I have used the term rebellion here therefore. 

During these raids, Police would carry out both an ID, and sex check for those suspected of cross dressing. Failing these led to an arrest and public shaming. That night, some of those lined up, refused to comply with either checks. Police decided to arrest them all but had to wait for cars to pick up both the confiscated alcohol and arrestees. In the meantime, those released earlier from the bar waited outside. And a crowd gathered. When DeLarverie was arrested and seen to be hurt by Police, the crowd started voicing their anger. Punches, bottles, coins were thrown at Police, who soon hid back in the bar for safety. 

That night Police lost control and there was no going back. 

The rebellion erupted throughout the community leading to organisations being formed, newspapers established to stimulate LGBT rights. Masha P. Johnson was one of those that brought this together. She, a gay, transvestite and queen, was popular at the Stonewall Inn. Her work during the rebellion and after includes the formation of two important groups that encouraged rebellion beyond the village, reaching cities like San Francisco. Leading to the first gay pride march in 1970. 

Masha P. Johnson, born Malcolm Michaels Jr, 1945. The P referred to the question of her gender to which she is said have explained to one judge; “Pay it no mind”. Johnson founded the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded the gay and transvestite advocacy organisation S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), alongside close friend Sylvia Rivera

TWO: “THE PRIDE PARADE IS FOR STRAIGHT PEOPLE” 

This is what one parade goer in London told me. He didn’t seem to say this with resentment. But it paints an odd picture of the reality, if this is indeed true. 

Especially in light of the bizarre call for a “straight parade by anti-gay campaigners. Started by an American group from Boston, Super Happy Fun America, who had applied to their city to host events for straight people in March. Unsurprisingly, this is a group of white male republicans who reasoned; “Straight people are an oppressed majority. We will fight for the right of straights everywhere to express pride in themselves without fear of judgement and hate.” 

It doesn’t appear to have come to anything, but it successfully, and perhaps this was its intent, disrupted the Pride Month discourse. Many gave views as to why this was a bad idea. Arguing; “Every day is a straight pride parade”. Teaching us Pride Month is first and foremost about the pain and trauma suffered by LGBTQ community in a homophobic society. 

This backlash seems no different to the white racism argument when Black people speak of racism. Or of white men campaigning for men’s rights in response to women’s rights. 


THREE: BLACK TRANSGENDER WOMEN HAVE “BEEN LARGELY ABANDONED BY THE GAY RIGHTS MOVEMENT”. 

Despite their role in starting the LGBTQ rights movement, it seems Black Transgender women have not progressed as much as white gay people. And are struggling to survive. This goes back. Masha P Johnson was found dead in the Hudson River in 1992. And it seems Police too quickly concluded her death a suicide. This was contested by those closest to her, and the case was reopened as a homicide in 2012.

And it has not gone away. The deaths of Black transgender women in America show this particular group continues to be vulnerable. In this Human Rights Campaign report, we learn that in 2018, 26 transgender people were killed in the US, and “the majority of whom were Black transgender women”. 

Furthermore; “it is clear that … the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare, and other necessities.” 

The figures for this year stand at 12 Black transgender women. This includes 23-year-old Muhlaysia Booker, who was found dead in May after she had spoken out about her attack just a month before. A video clip of that attack, with a crowd looking on, had been shared on social media. 

Muhlaysia Booker, who in April 2019 was violently attacked in broad daylight, and as many watched on. Booker said this followed a car accident she was in where the driver had pulled a gun on her. Someone offered a $200 reward for beating her up. In early May, Booker spoke out about her experience to raise awareness. She was later found fatally shot on a street in Dallas, not far from where she had sustained the April attack.  

This leaves tension between “transgender women of color and white gay men”. Which was sadly demonstrated at this year’s Stonewall Inn 50-year anniversary event. A woman, unidentified, interrupted it to pay tribute to those transgender women killed but did not get a warm reception because, “the white men wanted to celebrate.” 

In June, another death was reported: Layleen Polancoa Latinx[2]transgender woman was found dead in prison. While the cause is still to be determined, the timing leaves many concerned about how seriously the authorities are taking these deaths. Especially in light of the US Police commissioner’s recent, and only, formal apology for Police actions at the Stonewall rebellion. 


What can we conclude from these? 

We can start to see there is a long history of homophobia. A history founded on fear and hate. We can start to appreciate that Pride Month marks a vital historical rebellion, one that was led by transgender women. By Black women. And it is this category of women that are vulnerable still to violence. Their gender, in collision with race and poverty, limits their access to basic needs. 

We can understand the meaning behind anti-gay campaigns. A threat wrapped in the very narrative developed to fight that hate. 

Lastly, these lessons tell us it is vital that Pride Month is not considered to be for straight people. As it defeats its purpose to promote equality for those excluded from society.



[1]anonymous Stonewall riots participant[73]

[2]Used to describe a person of Latin American origin or descent ( used as a gender-neutral or non-binary)

 

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