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June 28, 1969
Police arrested 13 people while raiding the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City.
These arrests provoked six days of protests throughout the city as outraged activists, tired of the prejudiced pattern of shutting down gay bars, took to the streets. Among the first protesters were Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, trans women of color who became prominent activists in the fight for LGBTQ equality.
The legal justification for the police raid at Stonewall was that the bar had no license to sell liquor. However, as the State Liquor Authority refused to grant licenses to gay bars, this was in actuality a thinly-veiled excuse to target gay clubs, further smother the community, and silence the voices of those demanding justice and equality for queer people.
June 17, 2017
Police arrested four protesters at the Stonewall Columbus Pride March in Columbus, Ohio.
These four were part of a larger group of protesters who blocked the march route to hold a seven minute moment of silence to commemorate Philando Castile the day after the officer who unjustly killed him was acquitted on all charges—one minute for each bullet fired. The protesters wrote in an a statement that this moment of silence was “an effort to raise awareness about the violence against and erasure of black and brown queer and trans people, in particular the lack of space for black and brown people at pride festivals.”
The legal justification for the four arrests was that the protesters had no permit to block the street. However, this was in actuality an excuse to ignore the intersectional nature of social activism, police black and brown bodies, and silence the voices of those demanding justice and equality for black and brown people, specifically in the LGBTQ community.
As I compare the above events, two truths stand out to me.
1. As history denotes, pride is rooted in protest.
2. While black and brown queer and trans people have helped lead the fight for LGBTQ equality, they’ve been consistently marginalized and ignored within their own community.
Stonewall started out as a protest against police brutality, and people of color were fighting on the front lines from the beginning. These protests were the catalyst for our pride marches today. It’s incredibly hypocritical to delegitimize a protest against injustice while at a march that began as a protest against injustice, which is exactly what happened at the Stonewall Columbus Pride March. The inclusion of “Stonewall” in the name as an homage to the original protests in New York only adds to the upsetting irony.
Because the LGBTQ community is made up of people marginalized for their identity, it can be hard to believe that we would further marginalize members of our own community. But this has been happening for decades, and it continues today.
We marginalize queer people of color when we write “no Asians, no black people” on our Grindr bios, and when the only queer representation in media is white. Even when we marginalize people of color in non-queer-specific ways, such as casual microaggressions, that still contributes to the marginalization of queer people of color. People do not live in vacuums of individual identities; they exist as all of their identities.
We marginalize trans people when we view marriage equality as the ultimate success for the LGBTQ community, ignoring the fight for bathroom access and healthcare for trans people.
We marginalize every other queer identity when we center gay people as the most important and visible members of our community, and when we continue to view gender, sexual orientation, and romantic attraction as binaries rather than spectrums.
I’ve been privileged to grow up in an era when pride mostly presents itself as a joyous parade, colorfully celebrating the beauty of love and how far we’ve come in our struggle for equality. But we can’t let rainbow-themed festivities erase the long history of protest that paved the way, or the intersectional identities of the iconic activists who led those protests.
A few weeks ago, I marched in Boston Pride for the first time. With a rainbow flag in my hair and colored rhinestones adorning my face, I thought I’d captured the spirit of pride. But while marching amidst the rainbow floats and “Love is love” posters, a sign caught my eye. The quote on it was, “The Stonewall Riots were started by trans women of color. So why is Pride all about cis gay white men?”
That poster made me and my glittered-out face do a double take, and it got me thinking. How have I used my experiences as a queer person of color to speak out against racism in the LGBTQ community? How have I misused my privilege as a cis person to marginalize and erase trans identities, thus contributing to structural violence against trans people?
If we’re going to celebrate as a community, we need to make sure that everyone in our community is included, protected, and heard. May our upbeat music and cheering at pride never drown out the voices of those we have marginalized.
Becina J. Ganther ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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