Every year, Pride is the perfect celebration from city to city. It’s a party where everyone can come out, be themselves, eat, mingle, and be merry. When we think of Pride and what it is now, we think of one big party and parade. However, it didn’t start out this way. A lot of people had to fight for our right to party. Fun fact: Providence is one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly cities in the US, so it’s no surprise that Rhode Island Pride is one of the biggest and oldest parades on the East Coast. It’s friendly, open, diverse, and colorful and I’ve loved every second of it the past five or six years I’ve attended. Despite all of the many wonderful things about Pride, we tend to see it through only one lens: cis white gay men.
Historically, Pride has centered on white gay men as the face of Pride, excluding many others and neglecting to recognize that the rest of us are here too. Pride spawned from the Stonewall Riots, a protest against New York City police who raided a gay bar and treated the patrons roughly and with a total disregard for their safety. This incident led to six days of protesting and clashes with the police. A year after the riots, thousands of people marched on the streets of New York and thus created, “America’s First Gay Parade.”
Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two transgender women of color at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, played a pivotal role in what Pride has evolved into today. We may not know for sure who threw that first historical brick, but we do know that it was a trans woman of color who started it all. That begs the question, why are Queer People of Color (POC) not included more in Pride conversations? So often, we see only white people of all identities representing Pride but that’s not what Pride is about. Pride has a Black Queer perspective that has been overshadowed for far too long. It’s time we bring it into the light.
Providence-based Rhode Island Pride has a diverse staff filled with POC leaders and has been a successful parade for over 40 years, and each year, thousands of people show up and show out. Due to COVID, we lost a few celebrations, so I expect this year’s will be the biggest we’ve seen. Since Boston Pride will not be returning this year, we may see some of that crowd showing up here too.
After protests and boycotts over issues of race and transgender inclusion, Boston Pride leaders made the decision to dissolve the parade altogether. Boston, in general, is a city that has faced criticism from POC who’ve stated they don’t feel safe due to the racism they experience – making it no more surprising but all the more galling that they would decide to dissolve the whole parade instead of addressing the very valid concerns about race and transgender inclusion. But it is disappointing. This could have been the perfect time to make some changes and uplift Black and POC Queer voices. There is a silver lining, though: Many grassroots organizations will be putting together their own Pride events and parades, so the city will still celebrate.
Boston is not the only city to see protests and boycotts due to the lack of minority inclusion. In 2017, D.C. Capital Pride was disrupted by protesters who said the event was too corporate and marginalizes minorities – the very community the tradition was created to celebrate. No Justice No Pride, a collective of organizers and activists across the District of Columbia, linked arms to block the parade and shouted, “What side are my people? What side are you on?,” and “No justice, no pride.” Luckily, no arrests were made and police formed two lines to allow the protesters to continue.
The protesters believed that DC Pride organizers worked too closely with police and corporations. Pride all across the US has become so commercialized that there’s even a word for all that the pandering organizations and companies do during Pride month: “Rainbow Capitalism.” Rainbow capitalism –– which has many other names –– is a form of capitalism where organizations change their logos to rainbows and pretend they’re allies of the LGBTQ+ community to make money until July 1, when all of their logos go back to normal. We see this from banks, defense contractors, churches, retail chains, and corporations, who set up their booths at Pride and give out rainbow-colored pens, pins, and other goodies. Yet, where are they the rest of the year? They show up to the parties, but don’t actually show up for the LGBTQ+ community.
We’ve strayed far from what Pride used to be; we forget sometimes why we’re even celebrating. Pride started out as a protest and we’re still protesting today. There’s simply not enough POC inclusion or Pride from a Black Queer perspective. It’s not only the super-religious who are protesting at Pride anymore; it’s the people who are being overlooked and pushed to the side. The mistreatment of black and POC queer folks flows from city to city, country to country. DC and Boston are not the only places with these concerns.
In the same year, DC Capital Pride was protested, four people were arrested in Columbus, Ohio, who were part of a group that set out to protest violence against minority LGBTQ people. New York City and San Francisco were also cities where protests erupted. Complaints were made about Black Queer in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood where people were being treated poorly – not being allowed to wear sweatpants or Timberland boots, not being served at bars in a timely manner, being stopped and asked for ID where white customers were allowed to walk right in –– among other indignities. Philadelphia officials vowed to penalize businesses who were guilty of this and issued a report confirming the racism that occurs in the Gayborhood. The city also unveiled a Pride flag with a black and brown stripe included to attempt to be more inclusive to Black and POC queer folks. This flag was met with anger from those who felt that it was including race unnecessarily.
We should begin to unpack why interjecting race into LGBTQ-related issues is met with anger and protest. The contributions of Black and POC Queer folk have long been forgotten and overshadowed to the point that all over the world, people are protesting. These are not isolated incidents and we should all be allowed to celebrate Pride comfortably and safely. We need to see Pride from the Black Queer perspective instead of the lens we are so used to using.
Uncomfortable conversations need to be had where marginalized voices are uplifted and not spoken over by white Queer voices. Only then can we begin to celebrate a Pride that Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and others of color fought for.