By Chris Hadley
On June 28th, 1969, the police stormed Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. There was no coincidence that the police chose this bar—they routinely raided bars catering to queer people of color, especially those that were frequented by trans and genderqueer individuals such as Stonewall. Generally during these raids, the police would arrest all those violating laws preventing cross-dressing…these informal laws required a person to wear at least 3 articles of clothing ‘suitable’ for their legal sex and were often enforced entirely subjectively. June 28th was a revolution not because it was the first time police targeted Black and Brown queer people, but because it marked a dramatic change as they, along with white patrons of Stonewall, collectively fought back. There’s much discourse about who threw the first brick; accounts credit it to Marsha P. Johnson, a black transwoman who would later become a prominent figure of the gay rights movement. Others credit Stormé LaDeverie, a biracial lesbian working as a bouncer there with throwing the first punch, launching the others to resist arrest and fight back themselves. Some accounts say there was no brick at all. While we may never know who cast the first proverbial stone, what remains clear is that Stonewall was fought in large part by black and brown queer people.
What is also clear is that this was not just (or even primarily) a riot for gay rights, it was a riot against police brutality. As we look to the present, more than two weeks into a national anti-police brutality movement, it’s also abundantly clear that the fight at Stonewall is still being fought. Among the names of those killed are a large number of black trans people: Tony McDade, Iyanna Dior, Nina Pop, Monika Diamond. These are just recent victims of an epidemic of violence against the black trans community. In 2013, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported that transgender people of color were six times more likely to experience physical violence from the police compared to white cisgender people. In 2019, 26 trans people were murdered, a majority of them black trans women. In 2020 thus far, 13 trans people have been killed, only counting the reported and documented occurrences.
On June 2nd, 2020, a rally at Stonewall was held in honor of those trans people killed by the police as well marking the second day of Pride month. Since its conception 51 years ago, Pride has grown into a global movement with millions in attendance at parades in major cities—World Pride in New York City last year garnered a crowd of an estimated 4 million people. However, with this globalization comes hyper-commercialization and capitalistic attention from corporations. Pride has become a branded event. As June begins, so does a period during which businesses hop onto rainbow-themes for their own gain, often with very little attention to the actual history or critical players of the movement. Take Jack Daniels promoting #FlavorsOfPride cocktails, ignoring the significantly higher rate that LGBTQ+ people suffer from substance abuse than cishet people… just one of many examples. For many, Pride has become synonymous with the raucous parades and parties instead of the fight for queer rights and the history that comes with LGBTQ+ identities. June is a month full of floats with pop-stars atop them, tossing branded condoms and confetti to the masses gathered to celebrate. This is called rainbow-capitalism (or pink-capitalism). With rainbow-capitalism comes a much more dangerous process of white-washing queer history and ignoring key black players in the gay rights movement. In doing so, corporations publicly donate their money and center their allyship around white, cis, queer people while ignoring queer communities of color still facing major gaps in socioeconomic status, healthcare and education.
This year, Pride looks very different. As attendants left the Stonewall rally on June 2nd 2020, they were intercepted not by colorful floats, but the police who beat and arrested them as they peacefully locked arms. One man, Jason Rosenburg, took to Twitter to show the gash in his head and his arm hanging limp from his dislocated shoulder. On June 5th, 2020, the police opened fire on Ruby Deluxe, a gay bar in Raleigh, North Carolina where peaceful protestors had taken shelter at a first-aid station that the owner had set up. On the first day of Pride month, the same scene played out at the gay bar Blazing Saddle in Des Moines. These scenes of police brutality harken eerily back to those first moments at Stonewall as police rounded up patrons, brutalizing them and forcing them into paddy wagons.
This year we must realize that Pride is not a party. It may be a celebration of our queerness, but at its core Pride is an uprising. This is no transformation, no bastardization of a global party, but rather the opposite, returning to the truest form of Pride. Rioting is our history. This year it is white queer people’s responsibility to protect, stand up for, and stand with those black and brown members of their community who have been ignored by those who claim to support as they are killed by layers of historical oppression. This year white LGBTQ+ people must realize that their silence is complacency, that Black people, black trans people, black queer people have been on the front lines of the queer rights movement since its inception, fighting for the rights we enjoy today, and remain there now as the murder of George Floyd pushes our world into a new civil rights movement.