As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, it is imperative that we not only reflect on just how far removed today’s Pride celebrations are from the origins of “Pride” month.
In the 1960’s bars and clubs were thought to be places of refuge for LGBTQ+ people who would otherwise be mocked, scoffed at, beaten, and brutalized. Unfortunately, these places of refuge were no safe haven from police raids as queerness was heavily criminalized during those times, much like it is today. Serving as both a bar and a dance club, the Stonewall Inn was the biggest hub for the LGBTQ+ community in New York. However, in the dark of the night on June 27, 1969, plainclothes police officers raided the club and arrested countless individuals—forever changing the course of history.
At 3am on June 28, the start of what we now know as the Stonewall Riots commenced. People like Stormé DeLarverie, who is said to have been the “cross-dressing lesbian” to throw the first punch, and Marsha P. Johnson, who is said to have thrown the first brick, were amongst others like Sylvia Rivera, Martin Boyce, Raymond Castro, Electra O'Mara, Terri Van Dyke and would lead what would become six days of unrest, protest, and righteous rage. This is the birth of Pride Month.
At its core, Pride is intended to disrupt cisheteronormativity; it is a response to police violence and an intentional act of rebellion. Yet every year in June, major corporations paint their products in rainbow colors while Pride event coordinators book celebrity entertainers and invite politicians to partake in the festivities. Around the world, cities paint their towns with the colors of the rainbow to celebrate the occasion, often ignoring the ancestors who set the stage. Worse still, police are now hired as security for events. Each of these acts as the antithesis to what the month is supposed to commemorate.
In 2017, I wrote about rainbow capitalism and how detrimental it is to LGBTQ+ people. In that article, I write:
“‘Rainbow Capitalism,’ also referred to as pink capitalism, is a term used to detail the allusion to incorporation of LGBTQIA+ rights into corporations with profit-incentives … Solidarity from these corporations has extended to gay marriage, but not abolition of the police; corporations like Nike, Walmart, and Jack Daniels announce countless rainbow-colored products every year while investing in private prisons, slave labor, and ignoring the higher rate at which LGBTQIA+ people suffer from substance abuse.”
What is most evident through these actions is that Pride, as we know it, is not intended to honor the “foremuvas” and “foreparents” who placed their bodies in harm’s way, catapulting gay rights to a different trajectory. Instead, it is a fest meant to center, cater, and in many ways pander to cisgender, thin white gay men; people who have always been most protected in our community. Black LGBTQ+ people, who are oftentimes beaten, raped, and brutalized by police, do not benefit from having them at Pride—especially since Pride was a response to these same violences afflicted upon our bodies.
Incorporating major corporations who benefit from and/or use prison labor when Black and brown trans women, intersex folks, and gender nonconforming people are incarcerated at disproportionate rates is a blatant act of violence. Inviting U.S. politicians like Kamala Harris or Bill de Blasio to Pride when policies throughout their careers have antagonized and harmed Black (LGBTQ+) people is, too, an act of violence.
Many of those same politicians use this as an opportunity to propagandize folks via pinkwashing—the presenting of a state as queer-friendly in order to dismiss its violent reputation. Worst yet, the very symbol used to represent the LGBTQ+ community, waved high and with much pride the entire month of June, is a flag which was created by Gilbert Baker, a U.S. Army veteran—inarguably part of the world’s largest police force.
The Stonewall Inn was largely occupied by Black people and other people of color, and on the morning of the riots, that is who fought back. When Stormé, Marsha, Sylvia, and countless others decided in that moment, 50 years ago, on that summer morning, that they could no longer stand witness to and be victims of the violence they continually experienced, I do not imagine that they envisioned a corporatized “liberation.”
I imagine that, 50 years later, they would not think that the brave, honest, and righteous decision they made would still be whitewashed by the very types of people who fought against their work. Nevertheless, this is exactly the case. Pride Month and all the celebrations and parades therein do not commemorate the people who led the riots but rather continually pushes them further on the margins. And that must change.
Da'Shaun Harrison is a nonbinary abolitionist and organizer in Atlanta, GA. He writes and speaks publicly on race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, disabilities, fatness, and the intersection at which they all meet.