June 30, 2020 | by Zoe Collins
CW: murder, Black death, Black Lives Matter, Pride Month, Marsha P. Johnson
Uplifting Black Lives in Pride
June 30th, 2020
By Zoe Collins
Pride Month seems to have snuck up on us this year. With so much going on in our world over the last few months, including the Coronavirus pandemic, and the historic Movement for Black Lives erupting in love, solidarity, rage, and action, Pride Month is rightfully looking different than it has in the past. Black and queer activists are re-imagining what Pride Month should represent and how to combine these two monumental movements. Now is the time to recognize and honor the rich histories and combinations of the queer liberation movement and Black history. We must also not forget the contributions and leadership of Black, disabled, queer activists.
Pride Month owes its origins to the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. The next year, Brenda Howard, a bisexual woman, began planning the first Pride march in the U.S. as a commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising. The Stonewall Uprising was a response to police violence and brutality that was disproportionalty impacting Black queer and trans people and the particular police raid on the Stonewall Inn on June 28th, 1969. Many people believe that Marsha P. Johnson threw the first brick or bottle at the Stonewall Uprising, and while she has since denied this, Johnson has taken on the image of a movement leader. Even though Johnson’s name is now widely recognized, some aspects of her identity are rarely discussed. Johnson was a Black, trans, drag queen, and she was also disabled, homeless, a survivor of sexual assault, and a sex worker. Johnson was involved in many queer rights demonstrations and was involved in multiple police altercations. Tragically, her partner was killed by the police. While Johnson’s death in 1992 was initially ruled a suicide, many people believe that she was murdered, and the police eventually reclassified her cause of death from suicide to “undetermined.”
We take a moment to recognize and celebrate Johnson's disabilities, borrowing Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's words: "What would it mean to examine neurodiversity/suicidality, sadness, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) in Johnson and other Stonewall warriors’ lives as not just tragic disability and struggle, but also as the source of some of their gifts?" - Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha Copyright © 2019 Michigan State University. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, “Disability Justice/Stonewall’s Legacy, or: Love Mad Trans Black Women When They Are Alive and Dead, Let Their Revolutions Teach Your Resistance All the Time,” QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking 6.2 (2019): 54–62. ISSN 2327-1574. All rights reserved.
There are echoes of Johnson’s activism in the Black Lives Matter movement today, with pushes to center the lives and murders of Black trans folks, particularly those killed by police. We want to honor the Black, trans lives that have been taken across the United States by police, including; Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Monika Diamond, Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, Muhlaysia Booker, Bee Love Slater, Ashanti Carmon, Bailey Reeves, and many more.
While Marsha P. Johnson's name often comes to mind when we think of Pride, we want to highlight a few other important Black movement leaders. Stormé DeLarverie (1920-2014) was a biracial, butch Lesbian who lived in New York City. DeLarverie was involved in the Stonewall Rebellion, and she continued to be a part of New York Queer life until her death at 93 years old. DeLarverie was one of the first Drag Kings, and performed with the Jewel Box Revue, one of the first integrated drag shows in North America. She influenced modern fashion, and is often considered one of the first women to popularize gender non-conforming fashion. She was heavily involved with her community, and supported domestic violence causes, saying “If people didn't care about me when I was growing up, with my mother being black, raised in the south, I wouldn't be here.” DeLarverie’s life is an incredible example of the many identities that people can simultaneously hold, and her activism centered Black, queer, survivors of violence, and police brutality. We want to take this time to remember her and the long lasting impacts she made on Black, queer, history.
James Baldwin (1924-1987) was an activist, novelist, and playwright who is known for exploring themes of sexuality, race, class, and masculinity in the context of the Civil Rights Movement as well as the Queer Liberation Movement. He grew up in Harlem, but spent most of his adult life in France. Baldwin was heavily involved in social movements, writing often about his personal friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. Baldwin rejected the title of "Civil Rights Movement," referring to it instead, as "the latest slave rebellion," echoing similar assertions of Malcolm X, who argued that citizens wouldn't have to fight for civil rights. In 2019 Baldwin was added to the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall Inn on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. Baldwin's dear friend, Toni Morrison wrote the following about him in his New York Times eulogy: "You knew, didn't you, how I needed your language and the mind that formed it? How I relied on your fierce courage to tame wildernesses for me? How strengthened I was by the certainty that came from knowing you would never hurt me? You knew, didn't you, how I loved your love? You knew. This then is no calamity. No. This is jubilee. 'Our crown,' you said, 'has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do,' you said, 'is wear it." To get started with James Baldwin, we recommend The Fire Next Time (1963), Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), and Notes of a Native Son (1955).
While we are fighting for Black lives, and queer liberation, we must also remember to amplify Black and Queer expressions of joy and life. We cannot fall into the trap of believing that Black, queer, and trans lives are defined by opression or pain. Below you will find links to some of our favorite queer, Black artists, as well as links to some resources for further learning, and places to donate for queer, Black liberation.
Happy Pride, and Black Lives Matter!
You can find The Initiative on the Denver Pride Virtual Marketplace at https://denverpride.org/marketplace-exhibitors/the-initiative/
Where to Donate:
6825 E. Tennessee Ave. Ste. #475
Denver, CO 80224
Call: (303) 839-5510