This June marks the 48th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a series of violent acts of resistance in New York City credited with sparking the modern Gay Rights Movement. The uprisings, led mostly by trans people of color and drag queens, are commemorated each year with celebrations across the globe during what is known as Pride Month. For many LGBTQQIA+ people, this is a time to reaffirm their right to life and liberty against the backdrop of anti-queer stigma and violence they experience at the hands, knife- and gun-points of society-at-large.
For some in this community, however, these celebrations aren’t an escape from the harm they face, but the reinforcing of it.
Pride has been routinely called out for the often explicit exclusion of the rest of the umbrella (which is evident even in the term “Gay Pride” itself), its investment in hyper-capitalistic practices, and its commitment to centering whiteness. Just like Stonewall, whose heroes have been ahistorically reimagined to fit an unrepresentative image, Pride is often an affluent white, cisgender male fantasy of what a celebration of queer life looks like.
This is why Black queer communities, in particular, have created their own Pride celebrations.
This Memorial Day, I was in D.C. for its massive Black Pride weekend, and it was a much needed refuge considering the many queer spaces of color that have been shut down or gentrified over the last few years in New York. But repeatedly that refuge was shattered by other Black queer folks who unilaterally determined it was best to bring their white friends and partners along, upending any shared and special moments of community the rest of us might have had and sorely needed.
Black people who bring their white friends and partners to Black Pride events will argue that their friend is special, and will not contribute to any anti-Black experiences or otherwise cause a disturbance of safe spaces. But if your white friend or partner was truly special, they would know that there are some places they should not try and force themselves into. They would know that they don’t need to be any and everywhere a Black person is in order to be a part of that Black person’s life. And they would know that the needs of the Black community, including the need for exclusive camaraderie–even if that isn’t your need specifically–are important enough to respect, because Black people are important enough to respect.
Black Pride events are public, and there is obviously no explicit ban of non-Black people. But there is a general understanding of whom these events serve and why they are necessary in the first place. If Black Pride is supposed to serve Black queer and trans folks and protect them from the whiteness that has overrun and excluded us from mainstream gay consciousness, it can only fully do so without white people taking up space.
Anti-Blackness is inherent to whiteness, and thus anti-Blackness moves in all space where white people are. The state does not ask for intentions when it designates Black people a threat. Every white person has the state and its guns at their behest and a gentrifying tongue in their mouth, whether they intend it or not. This is not about the likelihood of your friend shouting an epithet, it is about the likelihood that their comfort means the disregard of ours.
Every white person can become an excuse for the state to “defend” itself and whiteness against a person of color, even if that means punishing you for simply defending yourself. Or even if that means having a Black friend attack other Black people for sensibly asserting their desire for Black only spaces. Sadly, the latter is a phenomenon I have experienced many times before, and will likely experience again after writing this.
One of my best friends is white. For some time, the need for exclusive spaces wasn’t a concept either of us always understood perfectly. But it was a concept that we understood more easily when we spent less time being concerned with the feelings of those who aren’t centered for just one small moment and more time being concerned with those whose voices are rarely centered ever.
The basic concept underlying the argument is simple: Black queer people need community-building spaces that center our needs because we are afforded so few. This is why we resist when queer spaces are made into spectacles by straight women celebrating their bachelorette parties. It’s not necessarily about disliking white people (although there is nothing wrong with that either). In a healthy relationship, asking others to stay out of personal spaces is actually an expression of love–as all love is predicated on sensible boundaries.
As Stonewall showed us, sometimes moving toward progress just isn’t going to be all rainbows and kumbaya. It will undoubtedly include the discomfort and occasional exclusion of white people. There is no other way to disrupt the status quo.
In most cases, being forced into spaces with whiteness can’t be helped. But when considering celebrations that have been built by the copious amounts blood, sweat, and tears that our Black queer ancestors shed for us, it absolutely can be helped, and should be critically important.
There is a whole entire mainstream Pride that will cater to your white friend or partner’s every whim, unless their whim is to consume the energy (and bodies) of a community trying to build in the wake of the violence their mainstream community created. If you want to expose your white friends and partners to your community in a healthy way, you do it with the consent of those involved, not by hijacking their refuge and using them as educational materials against their will. Otherwise, you only prove yet again that we are here just to be ignored, consumed and disrespected, rather than to be loved.