I first experienced the New York Pride March when I was 15 years old. Though I felt lucky to have support as an openly gay kid in high school, and to know other out kids, too, nothing could compare to the expansiveness I felt at the march.
On a clear June day, my girlfriends and I wore rainbow Mardi Gras beads, and I personally fashioned humongous sunglasses, my most ripped jeans, and a pink t-shirt with its sleeves rolled to high heaven. When we arrived and beheld the march’s explosion of color and wild joy, I cried. I actually, sincerely experienced its namesake: pride. I finally felt like one of the chosen people.
But over the years, I’ve become less and less comfortable with New York’s Pride festivities. I’m deeply troubled by big, commercial business involvement (Amazon, Uber, American Airlines, TD Northbank, Chase, and Wells Fargo are all guilty of #rainbowcapitalism), how expensive everything is (the cover charges, VIP passes, and overpriced event tickets that perpetuate class, gender, and racial divides), and how Pride has become straight folk’s second-coming of Santacon.
And yet all these years I have still attended the main event. Why would I partake in something which I so deeply contest? I guess because I thought… well… that’s all there was to do. As an artist, I am embarrassed by my lack of creativity.
My allowing only one possibility for Pride — a parade which laughably celebrates self-affirmation, dignity, equality, and increased visibility for some while so many others, especially Black trans people, continue to be silenced — is a reflection of the same lack of imagination I’ve used for my own life. I thought career competition, sexual assault, body dysmorphia, alcoholism, and drug abuse was just how it went for queers, and that Pride meant for one day, I could actively forget all that suffering to celebrate freedom that I don’t actually have. But cover shit in glitter… and it’s still shit.
As Blacks Lives Matter has filled our streets with visions of a future when Black people are fully liberated, I’ve had time to reflect on how my allowances are active embodiments of white supremacy. As Adrienne Maree Brown writes in Emergent Strategy, “What happens on the interpersonal level is a way to understand the whole of society.” The personal is the political.
As a Jew, it’s been so easy to play victim and remove myself from a history of colonialism, slavery, and violence. Being queer only lets me burrow deeper into that victimhood. But I am white and I am privileged. I have never been turned down for a housing opportunity. I have never experienced someone I’m attracted to saying, “You’re cute for a Black guy.” I have never feared for my life in front of the police. I have never experienced any of that and much more, but outside of consoling my friends who experience these gross indecencies, I have not taken responsibility for my privilege and those injustices. I have not fought hard enough for our true liberation.
This year, with the NYC Pride march canceled (in-person) due to COVID-19, and our collective energy very much focused on racial justice, I’m finally seeing what pride’s really about: a fight for liberation that we, as a community, don’t yet have. As many much smarter folks who came before me have said, we cannot celebrate liberation until we are all liberated. In the future, I don’t want to dance around at a parade, I want to march, to participate in a strategic, fabulous, and mass protest for all of our freedom.
Last year, The Reclaim Pride Coalition birthed The Queer Liberation March in New York City, a true march towards freedom not seen since the first Pride, Christopher Street Liberation Day, in 1970. They marched against police brutality, pinkwashing, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, racism, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry based on religious affiliation, classism, ableism, audism, ageism, and all other forms of oppression as well as for social and economic justice and for the future of liberation for all queer people. In its inaugural year, 45,000 people attended.
During that day, the recently deceased writer and AIDS activist ACT UP co-founder Larry Kramer was a keynote speaker. In his speech, he said, “I love being gay. I love my people… But I am finding that I am not so proud of being gay today as I was yesterday. As much as I love being gay and I love gay people, I’m not proud of us right now… Please, please give me something to be proud of again.” You can watch the speech here:
I’m not proud either. Yet.
This Sunday, June 28, I will be joining the Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality (with a face mask on, of course) in Foley Square. Black trans women were the first to put their bodies on the line for queer liberation. Us non-Black queer people need to keep making reparations for that sacrifice.
I know that marching in this one event is not a cure-all. There are so many other ways to support Black and Black trans lives, well after Pride month is over. Things I am personally moving through and recommend:
- Read anything by James Baldwin and watch I Am Not Your Negro
- Read anything by Audre Lorde
- Read Emergent Strategy (I’m currently falling in love with adrienne maree brown).
- Watch The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson and learn more about Sylvia Rivera
- Watch 13th
- Read “There Is No Queer Liberation Without Prison Abolition“
- Read “Pride Is and Always Was About Rebellion“
- Listen to the podcast 1619
- Donate to The Audre Lorde Project, L.I.T.S., The Okra Project, The Marsha P. Johnson Institute, or anywhere on this list
- Write to your council members about divesting from the police to INVEST in community (Defund12.org has everything you need to get started easily)
- Just type “How to help black (trans) lives” on Google and find your own way to support
Whether you march or not, I hope all my fellow white queer and queer-allied people take this moment for collective visioning of our liberated future. If you are not proud yet, pride will come with taking action towards getting there. May we all find the power to do the work.
Header image via FG Trade/Getty images.