When I decided I wanted to write something about Pride this year and our needing to find alternative ways to celebrate and honor our history while also maintaining those safeguards (like social distancing) meant to halt the community spread of COVID-19. That was the plan. Then Memorial Day weekend happened. Now, it is my duty to switch gears from Pride to Wrath, from safety from a virus to safety from people—specifically, the cops and the alt-right.
Pride is already political; this Pride must be abundantly so. If you clicked this link hoping for sparkles and “Born This Way” on a loop, you’re panicking at the wrong disco, my friend. Still, I encourage you to read on. Though, should you decide that you don’t want to because you’re “just not into politics” or you hate how “everything is political these days,” I remind you that being apolitical IS political: it is tacit approval of the status quo. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
[Photo credit: @katie_benn_ – https://www.instagram.com/p/CAzSk2Uh75x/]
Y’all, I have been staying angry for years but this last week of May 2020 has had me seething like I never have before. We have, for weeks, watched folks rallying in state capitals for states to reopen—disregarding all reputable scientific information about COVID19, its transmission, and guidelines to halt its spread—even as the number of cases and deaths climb. While I understand, especially with how socially ingrained the demand for productivity is, that getting back to work is important to these protesters, the messages they are sending—intentionally or not—are that a certain segments of the population (those hit hardest by COVID: the immunocompromised, the elderly, the poor, Black folks, …anyone with reduced access to preventative measures and healthcare) are expendable. These folks have almost exclusively been white; the signs they held ranged from “I need a haircut” to some really racist crap (CN: offensive, racist imagery); one group hung an effigy of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear; and many were armed to the teeth. The police response to these protests was calm, measured, protective.
Meanwhile, over the course of the last week of May, people gathered to protest the recent police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as the cover-up of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, among other injustices inflicted upon the Black community. These protests all began peacefully and, aside from outside agitators—in some cases, undercover police, remained peaceful… until the police instigated violence (oh, and can we talk about police use of tear gas and pepper spray in the middle of a pandemic caused by a pathogen that is transmitted by aerosol‽) At least one child was maced; reporters have been pepper sprayed and shot with less-lethal rounds, in one case resulting in permanent blindness in one eye; police officers drove their SUVs into crowds; militarized police have marched through neighborhoods and fired less-lethal rounds at civilians on their own property; a man was shot and killed when a Kentucky National Guardsperson fired into a crowd.
On top of the violence perpetrated against peaceful demonstrators by police, private citizens have gotten in on the action: one man in Salt Lake City aimed and fired an arrow from his hunting bow into a crowd while, ironically, yelling “All lives matter”—he later went on TV claiming to have been beaten by two Black men, while there is video evidence of his being taken down by a crowd of white people; a white man with a large bladed weapon (it has been alternately described a machete and as a sword) attacked a crowd of protesters in Dallas; a man drove a tanker truck into a crowd of peaceful protesters in Minneapolis; a man with a pickup plowed through a group of marchers protesting George Floyd’s death and memorializing the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Why am I talking about all of this in a piece about Pride Month, you may ask? Because the first Pride was a RIOT. A riot against the police. A riot against police violence started Black, Latinx, and poor folks who were femme gay men, stud and (*ahem*) butch lesbians, trans women and men, and drag queens. I’m talking about this in an essay about Pride Month because BIPOC Queer people exist—and they are also at increased risk of police brutality and murder; because when trans folx of color are murdered, their cases remain unsolved and the police and press continually misgender them. I’m talking about this because our issues have been and will always be intertwined: “no one is free until we’re all free.”
[Photo – hand lettering by Halsey Berryman – https://www.instagram.com/p/B8fK-bZB5b_/]
And I’m talking about it because there is still a lot of racism among white LGBTQ folks and allies. If you celebrate the Stonewall Riot by participating in Pride, you have no right to condemn these protests and riots. NONE. And if you know and understand Queer history, you have no grounds on which to claim that cops belong at Pride. Because police will pose for good PR photo ops and then, when the cameras are gone, assault you.
Our Black friends and community members are fighting for their civil liberties, for their right to exist. They are—literally—fighting for their lives against a capitalist society that values property over people and a police state that functions to “serve and protect” the interests of the wealthy. This is the same police state that looks the other way when white supremacists and alt-right trolls threaten Queer people, BIPOC, women, and people of other religions with violence; that calmly watches on as those white supremacists storm capital buildings armed with assault rifles; that gives neo-Nazis a fucking escort when they come to disrupt a Pride march. And, do not forget, many among the police are, themselves, white supremacists and alt-right trolls. (Oh! And white supremacists and alt-right jerks are also behind Operation Pridefall, aimed at attacking Queer folx all through Pride month.)
It is imperative that we all rise together to demand justice for all marginalized communities. The Queer community—and, here, I am specifically calling out the white, LG&B, middle class folks within the Queer community—absolutely must concern itself with the well-being of other oppressed groups. It is past time to reignite true spirit of Stonewall and reclaim Pride as a rebellion against the oppression of ALL of our intersecting communities, rather a corporate-sponsored party.
It’s not Pride Month this year. It’s Wrath Month. Time to fight for true equality.
(And, there is still a pandemic on, so—y’know—wash your damn hands.)