Return, Remember, & Refocus: Why This Year’s Pride Is So Important

Kevin Wilson

Return To Pride: How Black Lives Matter & Covid Created The Catalyst For Change

By now, you may be familiar with the origin story of Pride: how it started as a riot in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City with Black queer and trans women at the forefront. That uprising kickstarted the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement, but over the decades, Pride itself has evolved. More party than protest, annual Pride marches in the U.S. are now a family-friendly and even mainstream event. Instead of activists and agitators, they’re filled with corporate brands and police officers. 

That is, until 2020. Covid-19 has taken Pride parades away from the LGBTQ+ community this year, with about 500 parades around the world canceled or postponed. Without these marches, Pride 2020 has come with a major sense of loss for many people — loss of community, of revenue, of visibility. Recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations have further knocked Pride’s sense of business-as-usual off-kilter.

But this unusual historical moment has also provided the perfect opportunity to return to the radical, community-oriented roots of Pride. All over the country, community-organized marches and motorcades have served to unite and uplift local LGBTQ+ communities without the distraction of so-called “rainbow capitalism.”

Because as we all contemplate how to go back to “normal” after these Covid-19 times, we’re also forced to reckon with the fact that normal wasn’t working. In the same vein, Pride in a “normal” year was never truly welcoming for marginalized queer and trans folks, nor did it stay true to the original purpose of the Stonewall Uprising: queer and trans liberation.

 

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Pride is such a crucial time for LGBTQ+ communities — it’s a time and space in which queer and trans people can be themselves and be celebrated for it. In its early days, this annual gathering also served to remember and honor what happened at Stonewall. But as the original message of Pride has gotten watered down over the years, these unabashed celebrations of progress have managed to leave entire groups of people behind.

Frequently, Pride events are dominated by white people and cis gay men. Other communities often create their own Pride events, such as Chicago’s Party Noire, which centers women and non-binary people of color. These are more welcoming alternatives to sponsor-backed Pride celebrations, where Black and brown people run the risk of being othered, tokenized, or excluded. 

Jor-El Caraballo, a New York City therapist who specializes in seeing LGBTQ+ clients, says the commercialization and racial exclusion of Pride have gone hand-in-hand. 

“As Pride has become more commercialized, it’s become more sanitized,” Caraballo tells GO. “Pride highlights white gay representation while largely ignoring Black and brown people and trans women of color, who we have to thank for the movement. This is largely influenced by the boards and views of corporations which tend to be led by white cisgender gay men and similarly identified allies.”

In addition to racial homogeneity, Pride marches are unwelcoming in other, sometimes invisible ways. For example, parades typically involve a major presence of police — the very people who frequently enact violence against Black and brown queer and trans people. Moreover, some corporate sponsors at Pride often do very little for LGBTQ+ communities during the other eleven months of the year.

There’s always been criticism and debate over the commercialized party vibe of Pride. But until this year, the idea of overhauling Pride seemed overwhelming, if not downright impossible. Rarely has there been an opportunity to pause en masse and consider new ways of doing things. Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter have presented that opportunity. 

Pride events in 2020 are taking place against a backdrop of nationwide protests against police brutality and white supremacy. Many organizers have taken this moment to intentionally intertwine both LGBTQ+ and Black liberation and to center those who never get to be centered at “regular” Pride. As a result, Pride is closer to being a riot again than it’s been in years.

 

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In New Orleans, a grassroots Take Back Pride motorcade was followed by a protest in which participants took down a statue of slave owner John McDonogh and threw it into the Mississippi River.

In New York City, an estimated 15,000 people wore white and marched silently to protest violence against Black trans lives.

In Los Angeles, All Black Lives Matter protesters chanted while marching the streets: “Racists, sashay away!”

Also in New York, an LGBTQ+ March for Black Lives descended upon Stonewall. On Pride Sunday, an annual Queer Liberation march will likely attract many more people now that there’s no official Pride march to distract.

Even virtual events have moved into a more inclusive direction, with Global Pride vowing to center Black Lives Matter.

Organizers at the New Orleans Workers Group, who organized the Pride motorcade, pointed out that Pride events began as a commemoration of the rebellion at the Stonewall Inn… where working class queer and trans people — mostly Black, many of them sex workers, many of them homeless — fought back against police brutality.”

“For decades, the New Orleans Pride organization has turned this instead into a celebration of the police, military, and corporations who are our oppressors,” they wrote. “We want a different Pride.”

 

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Whether you’ve been able to attend any actual Pride events or not, you can incorporate the radical roots of Pride in your own celebrations. Caraballo says that this time “can be more about supporting organizations that serve the local communities, investing in mutual aid funds and being transparent and showing up for queer lives no matter the environment that you’re in.”

He added that “queer folks have a lot of power, especially buying power” — to the tune of $3.7 trillion worldwide, according to a 2015 report by LGBT Capital. “The money that might typically be used for travel and extensive social events can now be diverted to those organizations, direct-care services and the continual lobbying we need to ensure that all LGBTQ+ folks are protected and valued in all areas of life.”

Not sure where to focus your spending? Consider donating to Black trans-focused organizations such as the Black Trans Travel Fund, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, For The Gworls, and the Okra Project. Or, donate to a mutual aid fund for LGBTQ+ folks, like the Queer Writers of Color Relief Fund or the Homeless Black Trans Women Fund.

It’s also a great idea to focus your efforts on local organizations. In NYC, there’s the Audre Lorde Project, the Ali Forney Center, and the Trevor Project, along with many others. If you don’t know where to find local LGBTQ+ community organizations and mutual aid funds, ask your local queer Facebook group for specific ideas.

Also, don’t forget the importance of making donations on an individual level. Contribute to CashApps and GoFundMe pages whenever you can, especially for Black LGBTQ+ people. There are constantly threads of this sort being boosted on Instagram and Twitter; one example is below.

Lastly, set up auto payments for recurring donations, if you can afford to — people and organizations need your help year-round, not just when they’re trending.

The old version of Pride served its purpose, for a time. Sponsors took Pride to a whole new level of visibility, helping to normalize queer and trans identities for people who might not otherwise be exposed to any.

But it’s time to step back and remember: Nobody is free until all of us are free. 


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