The Importance of Celebrating Pride During the Black Lives Matter Movement and a Global Pandemic

By Sage Freed

With the cancelation of pride parades around the country, and the days seemingly blurring together during quarantine, it may be surprising to know that it’s almost the end of June, and in turn, the end of Pride Month. Maybe you’re not sure how to celebrate your identity without the pride parades in most cities around the nation, or you’re not sure where you can find LGBTQ+ organizations to donate to instead. With the current Black Lives Matter protests, people might feel some guilt or apprehension about celebrating the LGBTQ+ community during this time of change. But with that said, the Black community and the LGBTQ+ community have been inextricably linked together since the very beginning, with Marsha P. Johnson, a black drag queen, and many other black figures who are part of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. It’s crucial when celebrating pride to acknowledge and respect the contributions of every part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Cities and towns around the world cancelled their pride parades and celebrations. Some cities postponed them until later this year, but most big cities went digital. These online events contained drag routines, speeches, and musical guests. In Los Angeles, local radio stations broadcasted stories from local artists throughout the month. Every city has a unique approach to Pride, and this year, how to celebrate it online. In Chicago, people used Twitch to showcase performers and special guests. Because of the hot temperatures, Phoenix usually celebrates in April, but this year they postponed their celebration until November. In the meantime, they’re releasing daily videos from LGBTQ+ community members. 

When you think of Pride Month, you don’t usually think of Rhode Island. But Rhode Island Pride, the largest LGBTQ+ non-profit serving the state and surrounding area, took it upon themselves to do good not only for their community, but for every struggling American around them during this trying time. They operated and supported a food and supply drive that successfully fed over 13,000 Rhode Islanders who are suffering. With over 150 volunteers and around $91,600 raised, RI Pride Emergency Supply Drive helped many families and individuals who are facing adversity during the current economic unrest surrounding the pandemic. This showed an amazing way of celebrating Pride, while also demonstrating proper precautions during this pandemic. 

Digital celebrations and food drives aren’t the only things people have done. During this month, we can further our knowledge about the history of Pride, along with gender and sexuality throughout different cultures. The history of pride and gay liberation is very diverse, but with the lacking education of LGBTQ+ history in general, finding information to include the entire spectrum of people in the community can be difficult. Luckily, in our digital age, it is possible to educate ourselves through a quick Google search.

Learning about the LGBTQ+ community and its history is essential to fully appreciate it. In the current Black Lives Matter movement, with protesters still out on the streets, it’s important to understand how people of color have greatly contributed to the LGBTQ+ community. Before the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, which featured a famous Black drag queen, indigenous communities celebrated the fluidity of gender and sexuality throughout their long history. Both Black and indigenous people of color have tremendously contributed to the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Two-spirit,” a term used by many Native Americans and indigenous groups, is a relatively modern interpretation of their long history with gender and sexual fluidity. Each indiginous group had its own words in their native language to explain this identity, which describes gender-nonconformity. In some tribes, the people were seen as male-assigned or female-assigned, and in other tribes they were seen as a separate third gender. In many nations, they are given religious roles like healers, shamans, and ceremony leaders. In others, they were given specialized skills. As an example, two-spirit males would become weavers, while two-spirit females would hunt, and could even become chiefs. Like the major disruptions and diseases that followed with colonizers, the two-spirit people in the tribes were often singled out and killed. Because of this, these two-spirit practices went underground, and eventually disappeared. Luckily, the LGBTQ+ indigenous communities today have been reviving these past traditions. Today, you can get involved in many organizations and societies if you want to learn more or support this part of the community. These organizations are regional, so it’s up to you to find the closest one to your location.

The Stonewall Riots of 1969 are for many, the spark that ignited the gay liberation and gay rights movement in America. In the 50’s and 60’s, gay bars were routinely raided by police, and these gay bars were often the only places LGBTQ+ people felt welcome, and where they found a community. Along with the anti-gay laws and societal views at the time, it was understandable for the gay community to feel threatened and angry when the police regularly came and invaded their place of comfort. So on June 28, 1969, the police raided Stonewall Inn in Greenwich, New York City. The police became violent as the tensions rose, and the rioting continued days after, both sides sustaining injuries. A prominent LGBTQ+ figure that was part of the riots includes Marsha P. Johnson, a drag queen of color. Johnson was rumored to be one of the first to start the riots and continued to be a prominent speaker for gay rights after Stonewall.

Along with contributing to the Stonewall Riots, Marsha P. Johnson and her friend Sylvia Rivera created STAR. STAR, known as Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, was a collective dedicated to helping people who were homeless, gay, drag queens, and sex workers. Both Rivera and Johnson were persecuted by their own families for how they dressed and who they loved, so they founded STAR to give a home to the most vulnerable communities at the time, in which they were a part of. Seen as the “mothers of the household,” they generally funded STAR through sex work. Created during the five-day sit-ins that occurred after Stonewall, Johnson and Rivera continued their fight for freedom, even when people in their own community did not agree with them. The P in Marsha’s name stands for “pay it no mind,” and brilliantly encapsulates how she wasn’t ashamed of who she was. She continually fought for the LGBTQ+ community and was adamant about obtaining the rights she thought her people deserved.

Another LGBTQ+ rights activist, Bayard Rustin, was also a civil rights activist. He’s well-known for being Martin Luther King Jr.’s key advisor. Posthumously, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work on the March of Washington and Freedom Rides. This year, he was pardoned for his 1953 arrest where he was found having sexual relations with two men in a car. At the time, he had to register as a sex offender. He didn’t start his gay rights activism until the 80’s, and in 1986 he testified for the New York State’s Gay Rights Bill. Because he and his partner, Walter Neagle, couldn’t legally marry, Rustin ended up doing what a lot of gay people did at the time, and adopted him in 1982. Rustin is an activist often swept under the rug because of his sexual orientation, and learning about him and his life increases the much needed acceptance of queer Black men, or LGBTQ+ people of color.

Some other Black LGBTQ+ activists and pioneers include: Phill Wilson, Andrea Jenkins, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and Willi Ninja. Phill Wilson is a prominent HIV/AIDS activist, especially for the Black community. He founded The Black AIDS Institute in 1999, and in 2010, he was appointed to be on President Obama’s Advisory Council for HIV/AIDS. Wilson’s work resulted in the “Act Against AI DS” campaign. In November 2017, Andrea Jenkins made history in becoming the first openly transgender Black women in U.S. public office. She’s also a published poet and oral historian at the University of Minnesota.

Audre Lorde, a black lesbian, broke ground and made lasting contributions for feminist theory, race studies, and queer theory through her writing. She also spoke at the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. James Baldwin, a writer and social critic, is best known for “Notes of a Native Son” and “Giovanni’s Room”. A 1956 novel, “Giovanni’s Room” portrays bisexuality and homosexuality. Balwin spendtmost of his career educating people on Black and queer identities, and has a famous lecture called “Race, Racism, and the Gay Community.” Lastly, Willi Ninja was a choreographer and dancer known as the “Grandfather of Vogue”. Vogueing is a dance style that became popular because of Madonna’s 1990 hit song “Vogue”. These amazing people are only a fraction of the LGBTQ+ Black community that have influenced the world, and many more deserve to be recognized and acknowledged for their contributions to society. 

This June, along with the cancelled events and BLM protests, there has been a major Supreme Court case decision that impacted the LGBTQ+ community, along with the Trump Administration’s decision on health care. On June 12, the Trump Admin finalized their move to remove nondiscrimination rights for the LGBTQ+ community in healthcare and health insurance. The transgender community will be disproportionately affected, and being in the midst of a global pandemic and racial unrest does not help matters at all.

This decision also comes at the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, which at the time, was the deadliest mass shooting in recent history. But with good news hard to find, the SCOTUS decision that came out on June 16th was a much needed positive moment in all of this turmoil. With a 6-3 decision, the case determined that LGBTQ+ people couldn’t be discriminated against in the workplace. While there is a lot more that needs to be done, this is a major step towards a better future.

Another way you can support the LGBTQ+ community is by donating to organizations that support the community and are created by its members. It is definitely understandable that during this pandemic and economic crisis, you may not have the extra funding to support the community, but it is still an option for some. There are some really great organizations and groups that deserve support for the great things they do. Of course, you can also continue learning about the diverse and ever expanding LGBTQ+ community through great books, documentaries, and shows during Pride.

It is important to remember that you can celebrate LGBTQ+ rights and march on the streets for Black lives at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive and are often more entwined than we expect.

The Black Lives Matter movement needs people chanting “Black Trans Lives Matter”! With the average life expectancy of 35, Black trans lives deserve so much more than what the world has given them. You can support communities without donating money, by signing petitions, educating yourself, and marching in protests. These are all things you can do to help people in need, and create change in a world where it is desperately needed. Pride started with a riot, so let us continue that legacy.

LINKS AND RESOURCES

Here is a list of some resources you can use to support the LGBTQ+ and Black community:


SOURCES USED

Pride Guide 2020: How U.S. Cities Are Celebrating Virtually and in Person Rhode Island Pride Wraps Up Food and Supply Drive; Plans for Pride Month

16 queer black pioneers who made history Black History Month: 11 black LGBTQ trailblazers who made history

Marsha P. Johnson Sylvia Rivera Bayard Rustin 

Stonewall riots Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries Black AIDS Institute

Two-Spirit People: Sex, Gender & Sexuality in Historic and Contemporary Native America Two Spirit | Health Resources

Transgender Health Protections Reversed By Trump Administration : Shots – Health News Supreme Court sent ‘clear message’ with LGBTQ ruling, plaintiff says Orlando Shooting: What Happened At The Pulse Nightclub Attack : The Two-Way

32 Black-Led Queer & Trans Organizations To Support 

Sage Freed

Writer, editor, artist, poet

Sage is a 16 year old junior in Howard County, MD. She spends her time drawing, painting, and participating in her community through protests, and fighting what she believes is right. She’s very passionate about art, and believes that it can bring communities together, impact people into learning new things, and can change peoples opinions towards a better future.

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