Every year on June 19th, we celebrate the ending of slavery in the United States. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1st, 1863, it took more than two years for news to reach the enslaved in Texas. Juneteenth, aka Freedom Day, acknowledges that delay and is observed as a day of pride and reflection. Juneteenth also sits directly in the middle of LGBTQ+ Pride month, which was established in 1969 to commemorate the Stonewall Uprising. Both are celebrations of important milestones for Black and LGBTQ+ liberation. And yet, as a Black queer person, this overlap sometimes splits my identity in half.
In Black spaces, where Juneteenth is primarily celebrated, there is a perception that being LGBTQ+ is antithetical to Blackness. Other Black people tell me all the time that queerness was constructed by white people, although there is so much evidence to disprove that, and that it’s an intentional endeavor to weaken Black families and communities. My celebration of Pride is met with scorn by other Black people who wonder why there is seemingly more support for LGBTQ+ liberation than for Black liberation. At the very least, I’m told I should endeavor to be Black “first.” Liberatory movements do not occur in succession, and I don’t have to pick one aspect of my identity to focus on. They all simultaneously exist and inform how I am marginalized. And yet, as I’m fielding questions about why I gave up on Black men or why I’m actively going against nature, it does feel like they’re trying to incentivize me to choose a side.
On the other hand, LGBTQ+ spaces can be notoriously racist, evidenced by the phrase that has decorated gay bars and dating app profiles alike: “No fats, no femmes, no Asians, no blacks.”
I’m used to both rejection and fetishization. White queers have said everything to me from, “I’m not attracted to Black girls,” to “I just love Black skin, it makes you so attractive.” But there is also overt and systematic discrimination. Mainstream LGBTQ+ organizations have even advocated for policies that were ultimately harmful to QTPOCs. In that context, Pride feels more like a celebration of white queerness. When LGBTQ+ movements neglect to center or uplift Black and Brown people, they are centering white supremacy instead. Their silence creates some of the problems we see today, like the severe rates of poverty and homelessness amongst Black queer folks.
It’s also ironic that we neglect to center QTPOCs when the Stonewall riots were incited by Black and Brown drag queens and trans women as a reaction to police violence. Considering the particular way in which the police harass, assault, and re-victimize Black trans women, it is impossible to extract race from our conversations about Stonewall. But, somehow, we ended up with a historical Stonewall film that follows a white, cis gay man in their place.
Similarly, when we talk about slavery, it’s important to note the presence of Black queerness and its impact on perceptions of Black bodies. When the Portuguese arrived on the continent of Africa, representations of queerness and gender fluidity reified ideas that Black people were inferior and sexually indiscriminate. Slavery occurred at an intersection of racism, homophobia, and negative attitudes towards sexuality, largely influenced by Christian ideology. Juneteenth, therefore, celebrates the end of an inherently heteronormative, sexphobic system of racialized oppression. There are intersections here. And in not talking about them, homosexuality has been reframed as un-African and a “white disease,” even though there are countless examples of homosexuality across cultures.
When I hear people refer to the LGBTQ+ community and the Black community as two separate entities, black queer folks like me learn that we cannot belong in either camp. “Safe spaces” are never quite safe for us. We forfeit safety from homophobic violence in exchange for safety from racialized violence and vice versa. White LGBTQ+ people and cishet Black folks do not have to make the same critical decisions. And this complicates my celebrations of both.
The LGBTQ+ community and the Black community have intentionally been positioned as rivals, even though their liberation movements overlap. During the Bush administration, government funding was intentionally diverted to Black religious organizations that were most likely to vote against same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, in the 1960s, a lot of LGBTQ+ advocacy groups referred to gay as “the new black.” Gay right’s activist Frank Kameny even stated, “Now that it is becoming unfashionable to discriminate against Negros, discrimination against homosexuals will be on the increase.” He considered homosexuality to be the last major area where prejudice and discrimination were prevalent, minimizing the struggle for Black liberation in this country.
In the quest for stricter anti-discrimination laws, LGBTQ+ organizations failed to realize how the criminal justice system was harming the exact people they had set out to protect via mass incarceration. According to a 2012 study, half of all Black trans women had been to prison. And discriminatory policies, coupled with the threat of sexual assault, make this a uniquely dangerous experience for them.
Recognizing how Black issues in this country are often sidelined, celebrating our collective freedom on Independence Day—and not Juneteenth, when all ethnicities were freed—is off-putting. But to also share a month with LGBTQ+ Pride, which started a hundred years after Juneteenth, has drawn the ire of the Black community. By commemorating important days in our history, it keeps us educated about this country’s mistakes. Otherwise, those mistakes end up happening again. The fact that so many people are aware of Pride but don’t have the same energy for Juneteenth reflects the role of white supremacy in the structure of this country.
These are the issues that complicate my experience as a queer Black woman. I want to celebrate all of the facets of my identity. I want to recognize the struggles my many communities have had to overcome and not be forced to pick between marginalized communities. The quote “Until we are all free, we are none of us free” by poet Emma Lazarus rings true.
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