Monday, May 20, 2024

Boston Pride’s turned 50. Covid-19 and social distancing guidelines have forced Pride to go virtual. Instead of a Pride parade, the Trans Resistance Vigil and March stood in its place.

With the eruption of protests across America because, once again, an unarmed black man was killed at the hands of police brutality. With George Floyd’s death, a cisgendered male symbolizes the new face of anti-black violence, as Matthew Shepard’s face came to symbolize homophobic violence after his murder in 1998. But black trans death – two occurring since Floyd’s death – is disproportionately higher than any marginalized group.

LGBTQ+ civil rights and black civil rights histories intersect on many issues, with violence and police brutality among them. But black trans death continue to go unnoticed.

In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, I hope the entire LGBTQ+ community better embraces intersectional concerns and goals to address systemic racism and police violence, which both of my communities – African American and LGBTQ+ – share.

Floyd’s death appears to be an inflection point and wakeup call for white America. For the first time ever, this Pride month, LGBTQ+ communities and organizations across the country are elevating the voices and faces of its black communities.

For some LGBTQ+ people of African descent, however, the gesture is at best too late, and at worst, a clear sign of tokenism – seizing the moment to be politically correct. Pride events have always mirrored the fissures in society with segments of its community such as women, transgender people and people of color.

“We’re reminding people that you have the power that you have when it comes to pride because of black trans and nonbinary individuals who decided to start a riot against police brutality,” Athena Vaughn, a lead organizer of the trans march, told The Boston Globe. “That power was given to you by trans people of color. Now is the time we’re taking our power back and steering it in the direction it should go, because the people in power have not done what they were supposed to do with that power.”

Boston Pride’s has had a profound impact on LGBTQ+ politics, here in the Bay State and across the country. Yet with these advances come disadvantages. For some in the LGBTQ+ community, Boston Pride has become too corporate. Many see the company floats and paraphernalia as selling the soul of the movement’s grassroots message for entry into the mainstream. Others in the community welcome corporate sponsors, viewing it as vital for the financial cost and continuation of Boston Pride and affirming of LGBTQ+ issues and their employees.

But as Boston Pride becomes more corporate, marginal groups within the LGBTQ+ movement have become more invisible. After decades of Pride events, where many LGBTQ+ of African descent have tried to be included and were rejected, Black Pride was born. Boston Black Pride, for example, focuses on its community needs, such as HIV/AIDS, unemployment, housing, police brutality and now Covid-19. Sunday gospel brunches, Saturday night poetry slams, Friday evening fashion shows, bid whist tournaments, house parties, the smell of soul food and Caribbean cuisine and the beautiful display of African art and clothing are just a few of the cultural markers that make Black Pride distinct from the dominant queer culture.

The continued distance between the white LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ communities of color has a historical antecedent. Many LGBTQ+ people of African descent and Latinos argue that the gulf between them and white people is also about how the dominant queer community rewrote and continues to control the history of Stonewall.

The Stonewall Riots of June 27-29, 1969, started on the backs of working-class African-American and Latino queers who patronized that New York City bar. Those brown and black LGBTQ+ people are not only absent from the photos of that night, but bleached from its written history. That’s why the beginning of the LGBTQ+ movement post-Stonewall is an appropriation of a black, brown, trans and queer liberation narrative. It is the deliberate absence of these African-American, Latino and Asian and Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ people that makes it harder, if not nearly impossible, for LGBTQ+ communities to build trusted coalitions with white LGBTQ+ communities.

For example, in 2017, Philadelphia had a controversy over its new Pride flag. Black and brown stripes were added to the rainbow flag as part of the city’s “More Color More Pride” campaign as a way to visibly include people of color in the celebrations.

Boston Pride included two programs aimed at LGBTQ people of color – Black Pride and Latinx Pride. But more must be done. These communities will not hold their breath, though, especially the black trans community.

The Rev. Irene Monroe is a speaker, theologian and syndicated columnist. She does a segment called “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM) on Boston Public Radio and a segment called “What’s Up?” Fridays on New England Channel News.