It is Pride Month and I’m watching the white LGBTQ community respond to the pain and anguish of our black LGBTQ siblings in a time when we are finally being forced to confront the reality of anti-black police brutality. This weekend LGBTQ activists from NYC to LA are transforming their annual summer Pride festivals as a moment to protest in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
Closer to home, Indy Pride is devoting their entire Virtual Pride Celebration to performers who are black, indigenous or people of color. Additionally, they have announced that they will not be contracting with police to provide security at future in-person Pride events. This has provoked an important public debate about the role that cops have historically played in the fight for LGBTQ equality.
This role has often been antagonistic. For many people – particularly trans people and queer people of color who are disproportionately affected by police violence and discrimination within our carceral system – it still all too often is.
I’m struck by how much has changed for queer people. For instance, that we even have an LGBTQ community able to have a public debate about anything at all. Those of us who carry the unearned privilege of being white must be willing to do the work to make our spaces safe for our black and brown siblings.
There was a time when we were a disorganized “rabble.” The riots at Stonewall are often credited with sparking the LGBTQ equality movement. They were led by rule-breaking black and Latinx trans sex workers with criminal records who were fed up with being raided and beaten by cops for violating “crossdressing” laws. They took to the streets to fight that violence right where it was happening.
See? Even at Stonewall or at Compton’s Cafeteria it was as much about racist police brutality as it was about anything.
If we like wearing whatever the hell we want to a fun, vibrant Pride celebration (I certainly do), then we have those women to thank. If we enjoy being able to employ queer lobbyists and policy experts to work politely and calmly in the halls of power to push the needle forward for all of us … we have a riot to thank for that.
I write this as an out trans woman who is privileged enough to be able to work in this movement – a respectable organizer for the ACLU, a respectable organization. Who still has to choke back terror every time she interacts with police. Whether it’s at a peaceful protest, a simple traffic stop, or walking by a group of armed and uniformed security officers at a celebration -- that fear is always with me. I have certainly experienced harassment and discrimination from people in uniform. Will they look at my skirt and decide I must be a sex worker? It’s happened before. If I’m out on a date in the wrong neighborhood will they haul me in and put me in a men’s jail? It’s always on my mind. I sometimes choose to stay away from some places simply out of fear of a fraught police interaction. And that’s nothing compared to what my black and brown sisters experience.
Every bit of liberation that we enjoy today comes down to an angry black trans woman throwing a brick because that was the only tool that would get anyone’s attention. And it is black queer people who are still left behind by our movement. It is up to all of us to do the work to end that.
Black queer people still have to fear violence of all kinds, including anti-queer and anti-black police brutality. Black trans women are still at the very bottom of every measure of lived equity that we can name - abuse, rape, incarceration and negligence.
Today, as peaceful protestors are gassed and overrun by militarized police forces and the national guard across the country, black voices are being painted as “violent” and therefore worthy of being ignored.
Everywhere I look here in Indianapolis, my home city, I see black leaders like the women of Indy10 Black Lives Matter putting in the work. Protecting their people. Providing aid. Advocating for peaceful protest. Standing firm as helpers even when they have to square off against gangs of cops who behave more like thugs than peacekeepers.
Black anguish deserves to be heard – not swept away with batons and tear gas because some folks seem to find shop-windows to be more valuable than the lives of #DreasjonReed, #BreonnaTaylor, #AaronBailey, #TonyMcDade, #GeorgeFloyd or any other of the long list of black lives taken by police violence. It is a list that should sicken all of us to the point of taking action.
For those of us who are queer, it is a dishonor to the memory of our foremothers to ignore those names now. Or to make excuses for the violence these protestors are experiencing at the hands of the police. We must be helpers. “It is our duty to love one another.” I hear that shout at every single Black Lives Matter demonstration I’ve ever been to.
It is time for the white LGBTQ community to demonstrate that we understand what those words mean. If we don’t like rioting – it's time for us to do the work to end the unjust conditions that make a riot inevitable.
We do that by listening to our black and brown siblings. By showing up for them when they ask us and in the way that they ask us and believing them when they tell us about systemic racism. By insisting on accountability from our police and voting for candidates who will commit to reducing our collective addiction to racist, violent, and retributive systems of policing and incarceration.
It is Pride month, and I’m going to make #BlackLivesMatter every single day of it.