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June 28, 2021

Celebrating Pride Means Being Anti-Racist

Joelle Miller, CRSJ Section Intern

Pride is more than a celebration of white gay cisgender men. This statement probably seems obvious to most of us, even flagrant and unnecessary to others. Despite initial reactions, it is an important assertion. Because what we see at Pride year after year is an incomplete depiction of queerness that fails to celebrate all queer people. While white LGBTQ+ people, especially white gay cis men by nature of their relative privilege, are seen at the forefront of Pride, marginalized LGBTQ+ folks are forgotten. 

Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans and gay drag queen, played a pivotal role in the Stonewall Uprising protests.

Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans and gay drag queen, played a pivotal role in the Stonewall Uprising protests.

According to the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, which reports on international Pride events throughout June, the celebration of Pride improves the overall “visibility, acceptance, and legal protections” for LGBTQ+ people.

Pride should make every LGBTQ+ person feel visible, accepted, and protected. To achieve this requires that white and non-Black queer folks, if they truly value Pride, must be doing anti-racist work and dismantling their anti-Blackness as well as that within their communities—because white supremacy and homophobia, as all systems of oppression, work in tandem. 

Racism and Homophobia in Tandem 

Increasing calls for intersectionality, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, emphasize that dismantling any oppression requires dismantling all oppression. In simple terms, intersectionality asks that we understand that all of our many identity factors (race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, among countless others) interact with one another and shape our experiences in the system we live in. 

These identity factors are always present all at once—I am both Black and a woman at all times, never just one or the other. And this is true of each one of us and our many identity factors. The simultaneous experience of oppressions means that dismantling one oppression requires dismantling them all. 

Suzanna Pharr eloquently explains this interconnectedness of oppressions: “They are all connected: sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, anti-Semitism, ageism. They are linked by a common origin—economic power and control—and by common methods of limiting, controlling, and destroying lives. There is no hierarchy of oppressions. Each is terrible and destructive. To eliminate one oppression successfully, a movement has to include work to eliminate them all or success will always be limited and incomplete.”

Because queer liberation and Black liberation are often still incorrectly viewed as two separate goals, representations of Pride remain white-dominated and white-centered. Intersectionality teaches us that Black and queer liberation movements are inextricably linked, and the beginning of Pride teaches us that Black queer people were at the center of both movements, despite their erasure.

The First Pride: Stonewall, Marsha P. Johnson, and Black Queer Activists

The birth of Pride was the Stonewall uprising on June 28, 1969, at the historic Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village (the first pride parade happened the following June, commemorating the uprising of the year before). Starting in response to continuous police raids and mass arrests of trans and queer people at bars, the uprising was staunchly against the police brutality that was disproportionately harming marginalized LGBTQ+ people. 

More specifically, Pride was borne out of anti-police brutality riots led by Black queer and trans folks who knew the establishment was designed to work against them in more ways than one. While both white and Black queer people have historically been targeted by police, Black queerness is an overt target for policing and state-sanctioned violence in a way that white queerness is not. Despite facing oppression from heteronormative and homophobic power structures, white LGBTQ+ people still simultaneously benefit from white supremacy; Black queer and trans people can never receive the same protection and refuge from white supremacist structures that white queer people do. 

The whitewashing of Pride is especially harmful because it erases the particular role of Black people and Black Americans in creating the foundation that allows white queer folks to celebrate their sexuality on such a visible scale.

While Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans and gay drag queen, said she did not actually throw the first brick at the Stonewall Uprising, she played such a principal role in the protests that it is widely assumed she did. She was a relentless force in the riots, but beyond this, she emerged from the uprising as a central activist for gay and trans liberation. She invested in and practiced collective care for her community through her activism and establishment of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries organization (alongside Sylvia Rivera), focusing especially on countering the AIDS epidemic and the homelessness and hunger crisis affecting LGBTQ+ youth. 

Black and Queer Liberation 

Though Marsha P. Johnson’s story should and must be highlighted in any complete telling of the Stonewall Uprising and the creation of Pride, it is equally important to note that she is only one story of the many Black queer and trans people who were present at the riots and set the foundation for Pride. In a time marked by notions of respectability politics and pressures to conform to heteronormative standards, Black queer and trans people were consistently setting the tone for a more liberated existence. 

Titus Montalvo, who was present during the Stonewall riots, recalls that drag queens and gay men of color were the driving force during the protests—and this unsurprising when considering that many of the strategies, protest tactics, and slogans of the gay liberation movement were heavily influenced and shaped by the Black Panther Party and the Black liberation movements that preceded and existed in tandem with the gay liberation movement. Without Black queer intersectional activists, the gay liberation movement and continued activism of LGBTQ+ communities would look fundamentally different.

Yet, the struggle and activism of Black queer and trans people remains virtually ignored by those who are most indebted to their contributions. 

Pride without anti-racist work and a celebration of Black queer and trans people is an ahistorical representation of what Pride means and who is to thank for its very existence. To protect all queer people and celebate queerness in all forms requires a commitment to resisting racism and anti-Blackness. As you celebrate, remember not to close the door in the face of those who opened it for you. 

This Pride, and every day, commit to uplifting the voices, stories, and struggles of historical Black queer activists who paved the way for the gay liberation movement, as well as contemporary activists who are continuing the fight for liberation for all. We should all be unapologetically proud of who we are while making sure that everyone else is empowered to do the same.