It took a global pandemic, but the original spirit of Pride is finally being honored
I’d rather dream a bit bigger and hope that we’re collectively realizing that “normal” is not a place worth going back to ever again.
CW: murder, antiBlack violence, transphobia
When coronavirus started making its presence known in the U.S. by March of this year, it quickly became apparent that life as we knew it would have to make a major shift. One of those shifts is the postponement, if not cancellation, of various, large gatherings, including the traditional Pride events (many of which would’ve taken place this month). Many people have expressed sadness and disappointment at the loss of various Pride parades and events after 50 years of (what they consider) community, celebration and revelry.
I’m not one of those people. Not only am I not particularly upset over the cancellations of many of these Pride events; I’d also be perfectly fine if they never came back, even after the virus is finally contained. The corporatization of Pride (also known as Pink Capitalism) has long been an issue that led to my disillusionment with most Pride events years ago. So, for me, it’s been especially interesting watching how this Pride month has shaped up. We went into this month unsure of exactly how Pride would look in an era of sheltering in place, physical distancing and large crowds all but being banned throughout the country.
…and then, in Minneapolis, on May 25, 2020, a cop kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes and murdered him.
People have observed the continued, widespread violence happening against Black people throughout this country and decided that white supremacy was a bigger threat to humanity than this virus. Also, I think it was the timing of this string of anti-Black violence, happening while we’re going through a pandemic that’s been effectively unmasking just how inhumane this system is.
The U.S. is seeing record unemployment that has left people staying home, many of whom in financial ruin. So, I believe there’s a combination of the racial injustice getting visibility in the media, coinciding with the socioeconomic unrest brought on by this pandemic, which has backed a lot of people in this country into a corner and they’ve decided that enough is enough.
The uprisings just happening to coincide with Pride month have also led to marches and protests that are, not only specific to the LGBTQ community, but also intentional in centering Black LGBTQ people. Some examples are Brooklyn Liberation: An Action for Black Trans Lives in New York City, the All Black Lives Matter March in Los Angeles and the Drag March for Change in Chicago. All of which drew massive crowds, estimated to be in the thousands.
This is significant because, rewinding just a few years, there were a slew of protests and acts of civil disobedience that took place at Pride functions all around the U.S., and beyond (including one at Chicago Pride). These actions took place for various, more specific reasons, but there was one central theme that tied most all of them together: LGBTQ people with the most access and proximity to power (usually white, affluent and/or cisgender LGB folks…or, as I usually call them WhiteGayze™), selling out Pride to the highest bidder, and intentionally pushing the more marginalized parts of our community out of sight in the process.
Pride had spent 50 years devolving from a march commemorating the uprisings of Black and brown trans women/feminine folks into, primarily, an annual PR opportunity for corporations who just want to use marginalized groups and our spaces distract from the fact that their wealth has been attained by depriving regular people of resources (which disproportionately affects many of the very groups most marginalized within the LGBTQ community). And that devolving into a corporate PR machine was enforced by a policing institution that exists, first and foremost, to protect the interests of the ruling class against, again, many of the very groups that are already most marginalized within our communities.
And up until this moment, those protests were largely responded to with more violence: attacks from police, coupled with a general dismissal and gaslighting from the WhiteGayze™ who are comfortable assimilating into the status quo. Pride parades still exist to center the interests of capitalism at the expense of most of the actual LGBTQ community.
So, while I’m not someone who believes that everything happens for a reason, nor do I think it’s ever right or appropriate to try and romanticize the brutality that Black people and other marginalized groups face at the hands of the state by projecting some “larger purpose” onto it, I do find it noteworthy that so many factors have merged to accidentally recapture so much of the original spirit of Pride, coming off of the Stonewall uprisings 51 years ago.
In this moment where economic uncertainty is more widespread than it’s been at any point in most of our lifetimes, it’s fitting that our communities are going out and marching without having corporate sponsorships shoved down our collective throats. In a time where the tide of public opinion is finally turning against police in a way so meaningful that terms like “defunding” and “abolition” are reaching the mainstream, it’s fitting that we’ve gone from parades where police cars, decorated with rainbow decals, are prominently featured, to protests where people are shouting to defund/abolish the police.
It’s also crucial to note that, in a time when several Black trans people have been murdered (such as Dominique Fells in Philadelphia and Riah Milton in Ohio, both murdered in the same week, and Tony McDade, who was killed by police in late May, to name a few), this kind of solidarity and resistance is as necessary as it’s ever been.
Violence against Black trans people is often an extension of state violence against Black people as a whole. Pushing for policies that strip away police funding, and allocating it towards institutions that are more people and community-centered, only serve to make Black trans people, and Black LGBTQ communities as a whole, that much safer from violence. We need affordable housing, healthcare, jobs that pay a living wage and access to quality education.
Whenever it becomes safe to gather without protective measures, and corporate and state interests inevitably try to make their presence known in Black and/or LGBTQ spaces again, I hope we can collectively continue to move in a way that honors the anti-capitalist, liberatory history of Pride. And beyond hoping this energy will continue even after things are “back to normal,” I’d rather dream a bit bigger and hope that we’re collectively realizing that “normal” is not a place worth going back to ever again.