Kathy Willens / AP
This year marks the 53rd anniversary of the modern U.S. LGBTQ+ Pride movement. Gains from the movement have made it possible for many of us to celebrate our queer identity and to enjoy rights that we have been historically denied.
But what does it mean to celebrate Pride at a time when many of these gains seem to be threatened? Physical gatherings have become commonplace again, and the feeling of making up for time lost is palpable.
In what ways can we honor those who lost their lives and continue to—to the virus, illness, and to all of the life-threatening issues that didn’t go away as the pandemic raged on? How can we support those who have been left behind by a government that time and time again has prioritized capital over the wellbeing of its people?
Now that vaccines have become available—how universally is debatable—we’ve each come to terms with the levels of risk vs. reward that we feel comfortable with as we engage in social activities.
As I cautiously re-establish the physical connections that have facilitated my own expression of queer joy, I realize that the world has changed in many and big ways. I can’t shake a new feeling of deep mourning and dread. It bubbles up when I’m listening to records with friends, dancing over a sticky floor, or pulling in someone close for a kiss. And how can I shake this feeling when so much life has been lost, stolen, and when queer people, specifically trans people, are increasingly disrespected, injured, and murdered? Black trans women struggle the most to remain housed and are often the target of horrific violence. Queer people are called predators.
The ultra-right, once hidden in dark corners, has stepped into mainstream media, poisoning our friends, families, co-workers, and neighbors. I realize that I can’t let this dread steal more of my time that could be spent enjoying beautiful moments with my community. I can’t let the ugliness of this world continue to claim so many of my trans and queer siblings’ lives.
The rise of fascism in this country and the utter failure of our government to really protect us in a time of crisis pose an existential threat not only to queer people but to all Black, Indigenous, and people of color. The only way to protect our communities is to fight fascism and its root causes head-on.
My queer joy does not feel genuine if I’m not contributing to the liberation of all of my comrades because our collective liberation is inseparable from queerness. It’s the foundation of Pride.
It’s impossible to ignore the anti-establishment roots of LGBTQ+ Pride. Modern Pride marches—later parades—evolved directly from anti-police and anti-establishment demonstrations. This history has resurfaced in mainstream media in recent years, thanks to the fallout of 2020’s national uprising against racist police violence and to the consistent advocacy of queer Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
The first big, popular Pride demonstrations can be traced back to the Stonewall Uprising, which erupted in response to police brutality in the summer of 1969. The modern U.S. Gay Liberation movement came about directly from this collective show of force in New York and other major cities after decades of harassment and violence by police. Any gains made from the Gay Rights Movement are due to the collective and consistent organizing of activists, most notably Black trans women.
Colleen Walsh summarizes, in her 2019 piece for the Harvard Gazette, the McCarthyist policies of the 1950s that targeted, threatened, and terrorized not only Communists but anyone who deviated from white American patriarchal and puritanical culture, including anyone engaged in “deviant sexual behavior.”
Walsh refers to the Vietnam War, the women’s equality movement, and the Black Panther Party as cultural elements of the 1960s that contributed to the conditions that led to the Stonewall Uprising. However, the revolt eventually transformed into a primarily white, cis, gay-led movement for marriage and legal equality. While these gains are crucial for liberation, the systemic oppressive forces of the 1960s have not evaporated. While McCarthyism is no longer a blatant focus of congressional hearings and American society, many of its sentiments have resurfaced as anti-trans and anti-leftist “culture wars.”
Significant gains in trans, gay, and women’s rights made in recent years have emboldened the ultra-right. The modern rise of fascism threatens the legal and cultural gains of the queer liberation movement, as well as our lives.
A crucial part of celebrating Pride is continuing to chip away at the oppressive systems that activists have been fighting. Queer Black, Indigenous, and people of color have often faced the ugliest and most intense manifestations of this country’s systemic oppression of poor people.
Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera formed the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in 1971, which provided housing and other basic resources to trans people disproportionately denied the gains of the civil and gay rights movements. Trans people, especially trans women of color, have always been at the forefront of Pride. They’ve asked for the bare minimum of this country, to be treated with respect and to have basic needs met, and have instead been met with a lack of resources and support, and with violence.
The foundation of Pride lies in the protection and solidarity with trans and genderqueer siblings of color, and the dismantling of the oppressive systems that have created the perfect conditions for the rise of fascism.
This country has seen a concerted move by the right to curtail the bodily autonomy of trans people. Fringe opinions in fascist spaces have spread so far and wide that trans youth’s participation in sports has become a national debate. Providing minors with gender-affirming care has become a crime in several states.
Anti-transgender bills currently exist in Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, South and North Carolina, and New Hampshire. Manufactured bathroom panic has turned into calling queer people predators outright, and punishing by law any mention of LGBTQ+ subjects in schools. The imminent repeal of Roe v. Wade and all the new anti-abortion bills throughout the country demonstrate this highly organized effort by conservatives and the ultra-right to deny women and queer people their bodily autonomy.
So what has and can be done to counteract this wave of conservative legislation and a concurrent rise of fascism? A widespread collective shift onto movement-building is essential at this crucial point in history. Conservative efforts to codify anti-women, anti-queer, and racist bigotry must be stamped out at the source. Oppressive imperialist systems rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy have led to the rise of fascism in this country by design. It’s crucial to understand that there is a key intersection between limits on reproductive rights, anti-trans legislation and violence, worker exploitation, racially motivated violence, and an urgent shortage of housing for working people.
We can’t work toward liberation in silos. Housing, healthcare, worker protections, and bodily autonomy are queer issues. Our collective actions to combat state-sponsored violence and our government’s ever-growing alignment with capital over people are essential.
As we celebrate Pride this year, let’s learn, remember, and honor the roots of Pride. Let’s continue our struggle for liberation by supporting our comrades of every stripe in our collective actions to build power, whether at a localized, communal scale or in statewide and national campaigns and movements. Let’s find comfort and energy in engaging with our communities’ struggles.
Much work is to be done at the local and state level. Tenant rights organizing, local budget reallocation efforts, union organizing, labor strikes and boycotts, socialist political campaigns, reproductive rights campaigns, community safety initiatives, localized food production, are just a few of the many radical community-building efforts that grow stronger every day.
And in this election year, it behooves us all to fully engage with the process, as voters, volunteers, and contributors. I urge you to celebrate your queer joy by continuing to practice love and empathy through liberation.
V. Ruvalcaba is a writer and activist based in the San Diego-Tijuana region. Areas of focus include affordable housing, transportation justice, urban planning, political education, and building community power.
People’s World, June 6, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/