June marks Pride Month here in Canada and in many other places around the world. It is a time to celebrate all two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual (2SLGBTQQIA) and gender non-conforming people. It is a time to celebrate how far we’ve come but also to recognize how far we still have to go. Most of all, it is a time to celebrate love, in all its various forms.
It might seem callous to preach love and celebration in light of recent events in our world. With protests against police brutality and systemic oppression continuing to take place, celebration seems far from everyone’s mind. However, with a quick look back in the history books, we can see that gay pride is inextricably linked with racial oppression and police brutality.
For example, do you know why Pride Month is celebrated in June?
It is to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, which occurred in June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City. At the time, police officers would often raid clubs like the Stonewall, trying to shut down any acts whatsoever of non-conformity or homosexuality. Although the morning of June 28, 1969 certainly wasn’t the first time the club had been raided, something was different this time around. People had had enough.
As police officers arrested club-goers, a full scale riot broke out, involving hundreds of people. Patrons fed up with the senseless police brutality and persecution of gay people started to stand up for themselves. People started throwing bottles, bricks and anything they could grab at the police. One of those people was Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman and gay rights activist.
Johnson is often credited with throwing the first stone but reports on the matter differ. Either way, Johnson’s importance in the gay rights movement has been forever enshrined. She, and other queer people of colour were among those on the front lines of that epic battle, fighting against oppression and standing up for their rights. Johnson continued to be a organizer and an activist for her entire life, setting up the country’s first ever shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth.
Although the Stonewall Riots were by no means the beginning of the gay rights movement, they acted as a rallying cry for queer people everywhere. And, one year later, they led directly to America’s first ever pride parade.
Thousands of people marched in the streets of Manhattan on June 28, 1970 from the Stonewall Inn all the way to Central Park, shouting “say it loud, gay is proud.” Although it wasn’t called a pride parade at the time, it was America’s first ever gay pride march and set the stage for every pride parade that has been hosted since.
So, as you can see, the rainbows and parades we see in celebration of Pride Month now are actually a direct result of queer people, and especially queer people of colour, rioting in the streets. So really, talking about Pride isn’t so callous at all. In fact, I think it’s an extremely important and timely conversation to have.
Especially since black transgender women like Johnson are among the most at risk groups of people in North America right now. According to Julian K. Glover, an African American Studies doctoral student at Northwestern University, the life expectancy of a black transgender woman in the US is between 35 and 37 years. This is less than half the average life span of a white, straight woman in the same country.
Discrimination and oppression exist in interconnected ways all around us. We need to examine our history in order to fully understand our present. What’s going on in the world right now is not disconnected from what went on in 1969.
So, let’s celebrate love and connection this month but let’s also not take the progress we’ve made for granted. Let’s proclaim our love, loud and proud, while remembering what it took to get here.