Pride events are gearing up, and I have a lot to say about a few things that have been on my mind lately.
Even people entrenched in the LGBTQIA+ community may not know that the first Pride was celebrated to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots which occurred in 1969.
The Stonewall Inn in New York City was a popular bar where the poorest and most marginalized people in the queer community congregated, including butch lesbians, drag queens and transgender individuals, effeminate gay men, homeless youth, and queer sex workers.
In the 1960s, homosexuality was still illegal and it was also required that an individual wore at least three items of clothing that matched their gender assigned to them at birth.
Police raids were common, but since the Stonewall was run by the mafia who profited off their clientele, they generally paid off the police.
In June of 1969, the two hundred-some patrons of the Stonewall Inn were raided by police. Their IDs were checked and recorded and some police took customers dressed as women to the bathroom to “verify their sex.” There was inappropriate handling of queer women by police. And they had collectively had enough.
A butch woman in handcuffs looked at bystanders and yelled, “Why don’t you guys do something?” And the crowd became an angry mob, breaking out into a full blown riot.
Michael Fader, present that night, recounted:
“We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration… Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us…. All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren’t going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it’s like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way, and that’s what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we’re going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren’t going to go away. And we didn’t.”
We should never forget that queer trans women of color who were also sex workers like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were at the front lines of the resistance against being arrested for being LGBTQ+.
These are the women that are still being forgotten and overlooked in the queer community, nearly 50 years later. These are the types of women who are still murdered at an alarming rate, and whose murders are still defensible by “gay/trans panic” in 48 states to this day.
Pride isn’t about “marketable gayness (read: attractive, fit, white cisgender men),” as much as many Pride celebrations would have you believe. The first one was held the year after the Stonewall Riots occurred as a remembrance of the events and sacrifices these people on the margins made.
As I’ve written about before, intersectionality is extremely important to me. People can be black and gay or trans and have disabilities, or any combination of marginalized identities.
Intersectionality is acknowledging that people can belong to more than one group, and that we must advocate for all of them.
If your Pride doesn’t have space for trans people, for people of color, for sex workers, for people on the asexual spectrum, for bisexual and pansexual people in straight-presenting relationships, non-binary and gender nonconforming people, intersex people, femme and butch, people who are differently-abled, and people of all body types, you’re completely missing the mark.
These people in the margins of society fought for us that night in June 1969, so we should still be advocating for them. Just because same-sex marriage is legalized, that doesn’t mean that equality for all has been reached. We’re not done yet. Not by a long shot.
The next order of business is regarding allies.
I’m grateful for allies. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today with LGBTQIA+ rights.
But there’s definitely a good way and a bad way to do it.
Some of the incidences regarding bad allyship which stick out most in my mind happened to my ex wife at her place of work when we were together.
She worked for an extremely inclusive company that was outspoken about LGBTQ+ rights, which was wonderful. It was because of this that I was able to be on her health insurance plan before marriage was a legal option for us. She appeared in a video they put out regarding their support of marriage equality soon after we got engaged, and she exclaimed “She said yes! Now we need the state of Illinois to say yes.”
In preparation for Chicago Pride, there was a sign-up sheet for people to ride the float, and it filled up in record time. She was too late, and ultimately, out of the twenty people who rode the float, only three identified as LGBTQ+. Three. She was extremely upset but no “allies” offered their spot up to queer people.
News flash: if you’re taking up space and visibility that should be given to a queer person, you’re not a real ally.
In a similar vein, the previous year, her company had a bunch of Pride shirts made and was handing them out for free, but by the time she had gotten to them, they were all gone. She, an out lesbian since age nine, was left without a Pride shirt as she watched all of her straight coworkers walking around with them.
Even five years later, remembering how she felt in these situations still makes my blood boil.
But they were vivid, excellent object lessons about what not to do as an ally.
“You may think you are an ally, but you are wrong. You cannot be an ally. You can only act in allying ways, or you can avoid doing so. There is a big problem in progressive circles; often, you see people prioritize being seen as an ally more than acting like one. This is only possible when we misconstrue the word “ally” into an identity.”–Timothy Murphy, in an article on Huffington Post called “Ally is Action, Not an Identity.”
My ex’s coworkers were performative “allies” who had no substance when it came to centering the queer people in the situations where they were supposed to be celebrated.
There was a viral video released for Pride last year featuring dancers performing while a queer “alphabet” flashed across the screen with words from the community from A-Z. It was beautifully done. Except there was a major issue. The first word that was displayed was “A: Ally.” But that’s not what it stands for in “LGBTQIA”—it stands for Asexual/Aromantic. And it obviously caused a fervor because it was symbolic of this constant issue queer people face, with our identities being erased and people outside our community still managed to make it into something about them that was definitely Not. About. Them. (Read more about it/see it here)
So what are some good things you can do as an ally? And what are some things that the queer community wished you knew?
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. Like I’ve mentioned above, acknowledge that it’s not about you. Stand back, shut your mouth, listen and learn. Center those in the queer community and don’t get pissed off if you’re corrected. You’re a guest in queer spaces and you aren’t owed anything.
KEEP YOUR FEELINGS IN CHECK. Did the sentences above seem kind of rude or mean? A true ally acknowledges all those things and doesn’t ask “but what about me?” If you want to have the spotlight, there are another 11 months out of the year just for you and pretty much every other space, pop culture item, etc. Don’t be the equivalent of the “all lives matter” people. Yeah, they do, but that’s not what this is about!
DON’T VIEW US AS A SPECTACLE. Sure, attending a Pride parade can be fun, but don’t treat it like you’re going to the zoo. Our existences should not be considered a novelty!
KNOW THE HISTORY OF PRIDE. Thanks to my little primer above, you know this now, but I’d also highly recommend artist Mike Funk’s comic that depicts the events of Stonewall 1969. Sure, it’s become a celebration and a party, but it came from someplace pretty intense.
BE AWARE OF PRONOUNS. Are they a butch lesbian or a trans man or non-binary? Don’t assume you know what they use…it’s okay to ask! And actually, it’s really cool if you introduce yourself by saying “Hey, my name is ______ and my pronouns are she/her/hers” even if you’re cisgender and you think it’s pretty clear. By offering this up, you’re normalizing the sharing of pronouns and it makes it less awkward for others to broach the subject. And if you can’t ask them, it’s fine to use “they” until told otherwise. It’s the safest default. If you mess up, don’t make a big deal about it. Just use the correct ones in the future and move on.
REMEMBER THAT NOT ALL LGBTQIA+ PEOPLE ARE VISIBLE. There are bisexual and pansexual people in straight-presenting relationships. They’re still valid members of the queer community. People who identify as asexual (have a lack of sexual desire towards anyone, to varying degrees and with varying desires for romantic partners…it’s a spectrum) are also welcome. And don’t assume anyone’s sexuality. I’m actually guilty of this myself (even though I’m pansexual I’ve got that whole bi/pan erasure deep within me) when I’m sometimes caught off guard by someone who looks quite queer who also has heterosexual relationships. I bet I actually surprise a lot of people in this way myself.
REMEMBER THAT GENDER IDENTITY AND SEXUALITY ARE SEPARATE MATTERS. There are lesbian trans women. There are gay trans men. There are bisexual/pansexual non-binary people. And there are people in varied gender identities that consider themselves to be straight.
ADVOCATE FOR THE QUEER COMMUNITY ALL YEAR LONG. Be politically active and vocal about our rights, and put your money where your mouth is if you’re able. Research LGBTQ+ owned businesses and spend your money there. Consider donating to charities like The True Colors Fund, which supports homeless queer youth. At least 40% of young homeless people are LGBTQ+ and need all the help they can get.
EDUCATE YOURSELF. There’s this thing called Google, and you can use it to find answers to questions instead of burdening someone in the LGBTQIA+ community to answer it for the thousandth time. It’s exhausting to be continually educating others. And then, when other people have questions about LGBTQIA+ issues and you know the answers, help to educate others. It’s a lot of work and can get frustrating to always be answering the same questions, so lighten our load and take some of that upon yourself. But remember to never speak for us and always defer to us when applicable! Keep up to date on the best terminology (it’s always changing, I know, but we all try to do our best!)
PLEASE BE AWARE OF WHAT WORDS ARE SLURS. Thankfully, I think people have mostly become more aware of what’s really uncool to say, but never use those slang terms for gay men and women (you know the ones) and the t-word for trans people is a total no-go, no matter what RuPaul says.
BE CONSCIOUS OF YOUR PRIVILEGE. If you’re straight and cisgender, you’ve probably never been concerned about your safety when holding hands with your partner. You’ve never had to be scared to simply use the bathroom. You’ve probably never had a random guy on the train tell you that you’ve just not had the right dick yet to make you straight and follow you home. Sometimes we get defensive because we’re used to these situations. And if you witness anything dangerous going on because of these situations, stand up for us. Offer to join us when going to the bathroom if we’re scared to do so alone.
Whew. I know that this was a lot of really strong feelings but I’m kind of that sort of person. Forgive us if we lash out. We just deal with a lot of stuff and are kind of sick of it. Ya know…like what happened with Stonewall.
Happy Pride! And thank you to all those folx who have come before us so we’re able to use this as a celebration.