The LGBTQ+ community undeniably has its own history of systemized oppression and abuses. We have faced and overcome countless battles to declare presence, claim visibility, demand an end to discrimination both institutional and personal, and though in Western cultures there is still a fair ways between where we are and full genuine equality we certainly have made important progress. PRIDE began as a symbol and celebration of that fight and has grown to also be a symbol of acceptance, love, and safety of community.
Established dates for PRIDE events vary around the world but the vast majority of local, provincial/state, national PRIDEs are held in June and July. In more typical times we would already be in full swing but due to the pandemic most physical events have been cancelled leaving us feeling a little lost, unsure how best to channel our urge to celebrate and express. And now in the face of all these important and worthy international protests against race based police brutality we are even less sure how to support and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community without interrupting voices which have too long been silenced now screaming to be heard. A plea we know all too well.
This may feel conflicting but, in truth, it holds the answer. It is a plea we recognize. Oppression is an evil which doesn’t really much care who its victim is, as long as it has one.
As we reflexively draw in breath to express and celebrate PRIDE rather than feel blocked or intrusive we can see this as an opportunity to add our breath to this fight. The core mission of PRIDE is equality and acceptance for all. Stepping in, standing up, speaking out on a battlefield against systemized oppression, discrimination, and abuse is exactly what PRIDE is all about.
None Of Us Are Free Until All Of Us Are Free
Anti-Black brutality at the hands of law enforcement may not be our community’s specific turf or struggle but it is certainly close kin to our own, discrimination is discrimination and oppression is oppression. This doesn’t mean LGBTQ+ voices need to have, or demand, a turn at the current megaphone. It means the monster Black people are trying to fight hunts in our villages as well.
The machinery of oppressive systems based in discrimination works the same regardless of the group they target, the fundamental principles remain constant. Elevation, excuse, mitigation, exemption, and vindication of the group in power and subjugation, villainizing, dehumanization, and silencing of the group targeted.
We also are used to hearing slurs jokingly hurled as part of common social vernacular, we are used to seeing bullying and abuse laughed at or ignored, we are used to the sight of standing up and speaking out leading to far more violent consequences than silently enduring, and we are used to our being identified as part of a particular group resulting in automatic disqualification from being viewed as human beings deserving of basics rights and freedoms.
This current fight belongs to the Black community but they are fighting a shared monster. An insidious and pernicious monster which if denied one target will simply seek another. The Black community has their overwhelming host of legitimate and horrific grievances as we have ours. But any system or form of ideology which allows for violent and discriminatory subjugation of any group allows for violent and discriminatory subjugation of any group. It is simply a matter of who is holding the reigns.
Any fight which helps tear down and destroy these kinds of systems frees us all. It’s not a race, contest, or competition. This current fight is their fight and while we cannot fight it for them, nor should we, we can help them fight it because victories here are dominoes which can and will fall in all directions.
Celebrate Black Voices Within Our Community
Having said that, anti-Black racism most definitely overlaps into and affects our community as well. Variations in gender and sexual identity occur in people of all races and backgrounds so obviously any discrimination specifically targeting Black people will also engulf members of our community.
Sadly within our community we have a bit of a dual fronted struggle with racism. Members of our community are victimized by it from discriminatory societal systems at large but also from within our community as well. The fact our community draws members from all walks and aspects of life means we wind up not only being vulnerable to grander sweeping societal systems but also to potentially inheriting some of their pernicious ideologies and perceptions.
Being a victim of discrimination does not immunize us from discriminating against others ourselves and our community certainly lives in a bit of a glass house when it comes to its treatment of queer people of color, Asian members of our community in particular, or of trans people.
When it is at its best the LGBTQ+ community can be the most awe inspiring beacon of acceptance, love, support, and celebration of personal truth. At its worst it can be prone to racial hierarchies, divisive absolutism, and competing in what gets referred to as ‘triggering Olympics’ wherein we seem obsessed with establishing who can take the greatest amount of offense the fastest with the ultimate goal not of change but of punishment.
We are a dysfunctional family to be sure but we are a family, and this current fight directly affects some of the most vulnerable among us.
One of the most important things those who wish to help can do is to ensure Black voices remain out front and center where they cannot be ignored and where the cameras cannot turn away. We can do that by promoting Black voices and stories in general and we can also simultaneously do a bit of work at home to address some of the imbalances within our own community by promoting Black queer voices and black queer stories, by supporting and celebrating Black members of our PRIDE family.
If you want, start with the icons our own history. Marsha P. Johnson was a Black trans woman not only often credited with being the first to throw a brick (or a rock or a shot glass) at Stonewall, though she said in interviews she didn’t arrive on the scene until things were already well underway, but she also spent her life on the front lines protesting abusive policing in any form as well as advocating for sex-workers, prisoners, and people with HIV/AIDS.
All forms of discrimination are ghoulish fanged heads attached to the same monster. If we circle our collective strength to stomp down whichever head rears its hateful maw we are helping to kill that central monster, a victory which will eventually free us all.
For Once Stereotypical Images Can Be Useful
One of the unfortunate truths about the LGBQ+ community is that despite some of our best efforts the commonly held public image and face of our at times dysfunctional family is still that of cis gendered white gay men.
Over the years it has morphed from the eccentric swishy uncle, a la Liberace, to the rippled club boy, a la Ryan Phillipe in Club 54, to the lispy homemaker, a la Modern Family, to the on-trend designer, a la Queer Eye, to the clean cut hipster with familial aspirations, a la Neil Patrick Harris and his husband and twin children. All of them white, cis gendered men, variably effeminate, and all presumed ready to break out into show tunes at any moment. To be fair, Neil doesn’t really help us much on that particular front (sorry Neil).
This has happened in part due to some of the above mentioned inherited biases of attitude and practice within our community but is also due in large part to the continuing pervasiveness of those biases in society at large. Even though it is something we are working to change, and need to, the most commonly perceived public face of the LGBTQ+ community currently remains that of cis gendered white gay men.
Internal biases certainly do exist and are then exacerbated by our constrained interactions with the culture around us. As we fight for visibility, representation, and voice cis gendered white men are the first members of our community society at large is will to allow a seat at the table.
The privileges extended to cis gendered white men are at the heart of many of the problems in our Western culture, privileges I have benefited from in my life, but we can also use those advantages as a tool to turn them back against the problem. We of that stereotypical public face can use the access and visibility granted to us by our less marginalized public acceptance and presence to pull a ‘Greta’. We can turn the mics we have access to over to voices which are continually denied them.
One of the most powerful things those with privilege can do to help is to actively transfer the benefits of that privilege to those who lack them, or more accurately those who are systematically denied them.
If Eyes Reflexively Turn Our Way Let’s Turn Them Back
PRIDE is a vitally important, symbolic, and in its way sacred moment and space for our community.
That the suffering of others is more prominently in public minds and hearts at the moment does not lessen, invalidate, or dismiss the hardships and persecution members of the LGBTQ+ community have faced and continue to face. It simply shows we are not the monster’s only victims.
Yes, this is typically our moment to raise our flag in celebration of the battles we have won and as inspiration and solidarity for the battles we still have before us and there is nothing saying we cannot still do so. The circumstances of this unique moment offer us a chance to display the truest power of PRIDE at its best by raising our flags and voices in support of others who are suffering under the same fangs which tear at us.
We do not have to silence their voices to engage our own. We do not have to silence our voices to promote theirs. By adding our voices to theirs we can keep the focus where it is needed until it can effect genuine change, change which will ultimately benefit us all.
By adding our voices to theirs we can help deflect any attempts to change the news cycle back to where it needs to be in order to keep the pressure and awareness focused until it can ensure the very positive steps taken in arresting and charging all the officers involved in this latest atrocity are not simply another round of impermanent mollifying.
Discrimination is discrimination, oppression is oppression, and systems which allow for abuses to perpetuate without consequence can and will be aimed at whoever those holding the reins of power choose to target.
Rather than let discrimination keep us divided let us join our forces against this particular head of the monster. Each victory, each lasting change we are able to bring about will make the central beast weaker and weaker.
Fear of the unknown and of those who are other will always be with us. Fear of the unknown is part of human nature but what we can change, what we must change, is the condoning and continuing of societal systems which allow groups or individuals to weaponize that fear and use it to brutalize others with impunity.
None of us are truly free until all of us are free.
No lives truly matter until Black lives truly matter as well.