Don’t come to pride unless you know what it means. Please do not parade through the city streets in a rainbow haze unless you are prepared to pay homage to the queer ancestors who led us there. Please do not adorn yourself in rainbow regalia and gawk at the drag queens and leather pride if you are not invested in the queer community when it is not a corporatized spectacle. Come to pride when you know what it means. Come to pride when the thunderous marching reminds you of the cadence of the many, many marches before this one. Watch the families, their children blissfully unaware that a few decades before, such acceptance was a myth. Let it feel like relief that we throw glitter and confetti rather than bricks, as was the case fifty years ago at the Stonewall Inn. But be grateful for that brick. Offer reverence to those trans women of color who risked everything for them and for us. There is more to this day than rainbow tee shirts.
Pride owes everything to trans women. First came the Compton Cafeteria Riots in August of 1966. Like its more famous successor, the riot was a response to police brutality and persecution that trans women were subjected to in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, CA. Jim Compton’s Cafeteria was a popular end-of-night spot for trans women in the area. They got fed up from the targeting they experienced from law enforcement, and that night, fought back.
Three years later came Stonewall. The Stonewall Inn was a well-known LGBT spot in New York City. In June 1969, this wasn’t a fun, kitschy night club. Stonewall was a haven for queer people to congregate. They risked their safety to explore sexuality on their terms. It was a know risk, as police targeted the joint and frequently arrested patrons for the then-illegal activities. On that night, trans women of color had enough– throwing the first brick that errupted into a riot. Queer people owe so much to Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and the other trans women who blazed the way for our rights.
I am not inflating myself to into the voice of the queer community. I have a voice. I do identify as queer. That queerness is coded in excessive privilege. I am white, hyper feminine, educated, cis-gender, able-bodied, middle class, English is my first language, and I am a US citizen. I am apple pie with fangs; a bald eagle with blowtorches for wings. Queer privilege is calculated by proximity to heterosexuality– or, at least, heteronormativity. How straight do I look and sound? How comfortable do I make you at first glance?
Given stereotypes and the fact that I also date men, I am read as straight more than queer. I will likely not lose my job or housing over who I’m dating. I don’t have to prove the validity of my body or gender to anyone, and while my body has been the site of violence, that wasn’t in response to my sexuality.
I owe this essay to LGBTQIA folks who can’t write it. I owe my outrage to those who cannot fight. The price to be a privileged person of progress is to advocate for the oppressed, to see them when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable, and risk our own egos for their livelihood. Winter Break of my senior year in college, Leelah Alcorn hurled her body before a semi-truck because death felt easier than continuing the violence she experienced as a trans teen. We lived in the same state. I never met her. I’ve never forgotten her name.
The current political climate opposes LGBT people. It has tried to erase trans people. Marriage equality, housing, job security, health care, hospital access, legal authorities, assets, adoption, and the basic acknowledgement of humanity is at risk. June 26, 2016 was a glorious day. The supreme court passed marriage equality, and the White House glowed in rainbow hues. The job is nowhere near done. Do not allow commercial displays and sweeping narratives to lull your outage to rest. Homelessness runs rampant within the queer community. Mental health issues are reported as higher and under addressed. In some states, you can be fired for being gay. You can be denied housing for your sexuality. You can be discriminated against for adoption. Trans people are constantly subjected to violence and misgendering. Do not tell me that we have “arrived” because we can get married. We, as queer people, can’t erase the other members of our community like that. It makes us no better than the current administration.
Pride isn’t an opportunity to go to a drag bar. It isn’t an excuse to wear a tutu. That doesn’t mean I don’t want you there. I do. I want you at Pride. I want you at the rallies that happen in other months. I want you to research LGBTQIA services in your community, and how you can help. I want you to check people like a chessboard when they say “well-intended” slurs. I want you to vote for candidates who support the LGBTQIA community. I want you to share LGBTQ art on your social media (crediting the artists). I want you to call people by their preferred pronouns and leave them alone in the bathroom they chose to use. Show up at pride. Show up every other day of the year too.
It isn’t all RuPaul’s Drag Race and rainbow apparel. Don’t lose the gift in its wrapping paper. Don’t allow the corporations and branding and the stuff to detract from what this is. Pride is resistance. It is outrage and joy combined in a rainbow fervor. This is our ode to Sylvia and Marsha. It is a love letter to every queer generation that lived in the closeted grayscale, how brilliantly our colors pierce through it now. It is the safety net we wrap everyone in for a weekend — this city is YOUR city. Pride is a middle finger to shame and oppression. It shouts that love will rise every time. Because love is loud. It is proud. It has a place for everyone. I just want everyone to understand Pride’s place too.