I remember my first Gay Pride event; it was Boston 1983. I was in awe—the crowds, the joy, the chants, the idea of marching for freedom where the Sons of Liberty had dared to defy the British Crown, the Faeries and other outrageously costumed folks, so much fun!
And I remember the religious service at the Arlington Street Church (UU); it was so moving to share worship with people of many faiths, sexualities, and genders, and to share our commitment to liberation and justice for all.
I don’t remember any festival after the march, although I am sure folks gathered to eat and talk and buy all the sorts of things that vendors make available at such events.
What I remember is the march. In fact, it is always the march that matters most to me. Pride, for me, is less a social event and more a movement for liberation, a political act, a joyful, powerful form of civil/religious disobedience.
This is why, although I faithfully attended every Pride while serving as Pastor of MCC Richmond, I was never very happy at the event. First, those in charge wouldn’t name it anything but Virginia Pride (does that mean we’re proud of our state?), and we did not march. Anywhere.
Block parties can be fun, but I thought, and still do, that we were in a struggle to change the world—to save not only our own bodies but those of countless others in our nation and around the globe. We surely need to celebrate ourselves, our fabulousness, but we need more. We need to march, speak up, act up, speak truth not only to power but to the entire world.
My belief grows out of my awareness of how political and social change is achieved, and even more from my belief and practice as a Queer liberation theologian. Real change, deep change, transformation that is sustainable, requires great passion, long-term commitment, and ceaseless organizing. I agree with the sentiment often attributed to anarchist Emma Goldman’s, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution,” but I also know, and know she knew, there will be no revolution if all we do is dance.
My belief in and commitment to activism was confirmed when I met Craig Rodwell. Beginning in September 1987, I worked for him as a sales clerk for eight months at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on Christopher Street in the Village (Greenwich). Founded in 1967 by Craig, two years before Stonewall, this was the first bookshop in the world to be devoted to gay and lesbian literature.
Craig was not the best boss I ever had, but the books were great, some notable people came in, and I had the opportunity to hear many stories that confirm that he was, or should have been and still should be, an icon in the LGBT movement. The truth is that we might never have heard of Stonewall if Craig had not rushed to a phone and alerted the New York Times to what was happening at 53 Christopher Street on the evening of June 28, 1969.
In November, 1969, Craig and three others at the meeting of the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) proposed an annual demonstration on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street. They also proposed that the annual event “encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged—that of our fundamental human rights . . . .”
Fundamental human rights. That’s the struggle they saw then, and I and many see today. That means LGBTQIA Pride events are political, they are about social change.
Of course, they also are about personal change and affirmation, and it is wonderful when we see people newly out celebrating with joy and love. This year, a friend of mine from church went to her first Pride march and festival in D.C. and was transformed by the experience. So, we still need LGBTQIA Pride.
But others in the community still find themselves on the margins. Some of them blocked this year’s Capital Pride Parade (notice it is a parade, not a march, and actually someone from outside would not know who was being proud of what). The group No Justice, No Pride, objected to sponsorship of the events by several major corporations. One member of that group who is Native American said, “Capital Pride’s list of sponsors reads like a who’s who of Native genocide: FBI, NSA, CIA, Wells Fargo, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Federal Bureau of Prisons.” Others objected to the presence of uniformed policemen marching in the parade. “We deserve to celebrate Pride without being forced alongside the police who kill us,” said another participant (read more here).
Many transgender people continue to feel invisibilized in these events as well. And D.C. Black Pride continues to be held in late May, in part in recognition of the white racism that has for so long been a significant component of community life.
I know many parade participants were angered by the protests, which caused a re-routing of the main parade. Some shouted “Shame” and other angry words. I do not see it that way. To me, these protests are in the very best tradition of the Stonewall rioters and the early activists in the 1950s and 60s, even before Stonewall. And certainly they are in line with ACT Up and other HIV/AIDS activists.
I have not attended LGBTQA Pride celebrations for several years, having grown bored with the lack of political consciousness by those who organize most of the events. I feel some guilt about this. I know it is important to participate in community events.
However, I would have been very interested in the protests, had I known about them in advance. I am going to pay more attention during the year and see if Pride organizers make an effort to get events more in tune with our need for a powerful political movement and our need to claim the work we, as a community, still have to do. If they do, I will be at Capital Pride.
If not, I will be there, too, joining others in speaking truth to the community we love. Craig died in 1993; otherwise, I have a feeling he would be joining me—if he had not already been fomenting rebellion long before most of us understood the need.
I have mixed, complicated feelings about Pride. On one hand, of course, it’s wonderful to be in a space where we are able to openly celebrate who we are- our sexuality and sexual orientation, our gender identities (to some extent) and families and the ways in which we build and show and create love. That being said, however, I somewhat detest pride and what it has become.
The first pride rallies and marches were built on the momentum of the Stonewall riots. They were a time queer people could come together and stand in solidarity against the police brutality constantly perpetrated against the queer community. It was a time where we released ourselves from shackles of fear and embraced all of who we are, regardless of social messages.
Pride was dangerous. Going meant you could lose everything- your home, your family, your kids, and possibly your life. Of course, it is a result of years of pride festivals and parades that have helped push LGBT…well, L/G rights, anyway, through to where that concern, while still present for some, is not as pervasive as it used to be.
And now, instead of protesting the police, we hire them to protect our marches and rallies and block parties. In this, we have forgotten, of course, that police brutality is still a massive problem for people of color, particularly trans women of color, for sex workers, and for non-assimilation queers, especially non-binary folks.
So when I went to Baltimore pride, I wanted to be overwhelmed and astonished at how white it was, how incredibly…normative it felt, but instead, I felt a sense of resignation. Baltimore is a predominantly black city, but here was our pride: overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly…normal looking, minus the plethora of rainbows.
Oh yes. The rainbows. Regular ROY-G-BIV rainbows, no black or brown stripe present. If you haven’t read the controversy around the Philadelphia pride flag (you can read it here), it appears that the rainbow is sacred and should not be altered to include black and brown stripes (we’ll just ignore all the variations of the pride flags we have had over the years, ok? See here and you can read a piece, “Is the Rainbow Enough?” from Robin several years ago about it here).
Perhaps I’m a bit cynical. But never has it been more clear to me that we need intersectional analysis around pride. We make pride unsafe for the very people who were our founders. It has become a large block party, and that’s fine… we should have block parties and dance and celebrate and wear rainbows… but to me, that’s not pride. That’s just another night at the club.
To me, the whole purpose and intent of pride is that it is a time to come together against those things that threaten our communities: police brutality, homelessness, drug addiction, homophobia and transphobia, loss of healthcare, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, etc. We still have so far to go, and it feels like pride is a celebration of winning one battle when the war wages on around us.
Maybe that seems melodramatic. We have come a long way from the social climate of the 1960’s, but I worry that we have been so single-minded in our approach that we start to view our queerness in a vacuum. And yet… queer POC still face systemic racism every day. Queer homeless youth (and queer youth in general) have a heartbreaking suicide rate. Queer sex workers are still victims of assault and violence from the police with no recourse to deal with it. Trans women are still murdered at an absurdly high rate. And this doesn’t begin to touch the intersections of these things: queer homeless youth who are sex workers. HIV positive POC trying to access medical care. And so on.
So, what exactly are we celebrating? I think that’s well-reflected in the demographics of our pride parades… yes. We can get married. Those are celebrating have, in many regards, “already arrived.” But I found myself wondering where these faces and bodies are when there are protests against police brutality and ending stigma around sex work and…and…
This evolution of pride does not bring me joy. It brings me a lot of sadness and grief and anger because I can see the lines of division and privilege so poignantly. This pride was not built for people who do not (or cannot) assimilate to the mainstream queer dream. This pride was not built for non-white bodies. This pride was not built for trans and non-binary bodies. This pride was not built for sex worker bodies. It was not built for these bodies… but it was built on the backs of these bodies.
My pride? My pride sees color. My pride recognizes that we all face different struggles, some individual and some systemic. My pride recognizes that, until we are willing to see color, willing to see sex workers as human, willing to see trans people as worthy of respect, willing to see one another as whole people, willing to be just a little bit uncomfortable, then we still have work to do. I’ll show up for the work. I’ll show up for the intersections. I’ll show up for the grit and the grime and do the best I can, and it won’t always be right, and I hope someone has the emotional capacity to inform me that I’m doing it wrong, and I hope I have the grace to hear it and honor the work it takes to be a constant educator because of the color of someone’s skin or the shape of someone’s jawbone or the way someone makes money.
My pride is uncomfortable. My pride is loud and unashamed and talking about hard issues that no one else will talk about. My pride may or may not have rainbows, but it has a diversity of ideas. My pride is intersection.
We Want to Hear from You!
Help Make this a Conversation!
What are your feelings about LGBTQIA Pride? When was the first Pride you attended, and how did you feel? How satisfied are you with our progress in combatting homophobia, bi-phobia, transphobia? What more needs to be done? Do Pride celebrations have a role in this work? What would you change about Pride in your community, if anything? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.
Join Us Third Thursdays!
Please join us THURSDAY, July 20th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.
Previous month’s sessions can be watched here.