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What it means to be proud in 2019


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50 years ago, on 28 June 1969, in the wake of a violent police raid on a popular gay bar in New York, drag queens and furious queers lead by trans women of colour gathered in their rage to rebel against the injustices they witnessed on a daily basis.

They had the courage and audacity to take up space, occupying the streets for nearly three days. They paved the way for an entire movement, forged out of the hope of living safely and happily.

In 1970 the first Pride parade took place, commemorating the rebellion. It took a certain type of bravery to march through Manhattan, declaring your identity with your head held high - affirming your existence at a time when everyone liked to deny it was truly revolutionary.

Image Credit: nasimasgary via Pixabay

As time went on white, cis gays became less scary, inspiring straight people to come along. The same group is also generally safer to celebrate their queerness than other groups, and tend to have more power and activist funding behind them, making it easier to claim Pride as their own. It appears that exactly that has occurred.

I went to my first Pride in New York in 2016, the same year Aiden Budd and Brooke Bukowski became the first out transgender officers to march in in full uniform. On one hand, it was a positive experience: little children had rainbows painted on their rosy cheeks and drag queens strutted in nine-inch platforms, using Fifth Avenue as their runway. I met some lovely people and left with glitter in my hair, sunburnt shoulders and rainbow stickers.

On the other hand, the police presence was heavy. It is scary to think that there were armed cops at every corner. They even had their own float. Patrol cars decorated in rainbow, escorted the Gay Officer Action League (GOAL), a group formed by LGBTQ+ officers of the NYPD.

I didn’t see many people of colour or proud transgender people standing in the streets with me. It was mostly white, cis people like myself. I presume many of them had money. Being proud is expensive these days. Manchester is charging upwards of £70 for a weekend pass and Brighton has at least three different types of VIP tickets costing as much as £195. All this has many queer people asking who Pride is truly for.

Perhaps that’s because everything is all good for gay people now? Wells Fargo is handing out temporary Pride tattoos, so is systemic discrimination even a thing anymore?

Yes, it is.

Image Credit: Jeremy Atkinson via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this monthThe Guardian reported that the play Rotterdam, about an LGBTQ+ couple, had been cancelled due to “a hate crime directed at two of our actors.” The actors told The Guardian: “The attack happened because we were embracing. There’s no mistake that this was a homophobic hate crime. It was a cowardly attack as it was a moving car. Our community shouldn’t have to tolerate this. This is why we have Pride.”

A few days before the cancellation of Rotterdam, a picture of two women with a headline reading “lesbians beaten for refusing to kiss” spread like wildfire across online platforms. Since then, one of the women wrote for The Guardian: "A refrain I’ve heard ad nauseum is “I can’t believe this happened – it’s 2019”. I disagree. This attack and the ensuing media circus are par for the course in 2019."

She continued: "In both my native United States and here in the United Kingdom, it always has been and still is open season on the bodies of (in no specific order) people of colour, indigenous people, transgender people, disabled people, queer people, poor people, women and migrants. I have evaded much of the violence and oppression imposed on so many others by our capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal system because of the privileges I enjoy by dint of my race, health, education, and conventional gender presentation. That has nothing to do with the merit of my character."

According to a Stonewall report on trans people in Britain, 41% suffered a hate crime or incident in 2018 and 12% of trans employees have been physically attacked by a colleague or customer in the same year. The trans community suffers from higher levels of depression and anxiety and is more likely to experience suicidal thoughts than any other.

The desire of anti-trans activists to drive trans people out of society and deny their existence shows in a recent successful campaign to force the NSPCC to drop the trans public figure Munroe Bergdorf as its first LGBTQ+ campaigner. This is reflected in US policy, as the Trump administration is trying to take away legal recognition of transgender people by narrowing the definition of gender to only male or female, and unchangeable once determined by the person’s genitals at birth, The Times reported. These injustices are usually worse for LGBTQ+ people of colour. A simple Wikipedia search shows that of the ten trans women listed as unlawfully killed in 2019 in the US, all ten are women of colour.

I heard the loud voices of self-described liberals and feminists who dull the meaning of Pride just last week, when a panel discussion was held at the University of Edinburgh, where I am a student, to discuss the future of “sex-based rights.” Students and community members, including myself, gathered outside in silent protest to show our opposition to the painting of trans women as aggressors trying to infiltrate women’s spaces and to the pitting of feminists and trans activists against each other. Feminism that excludes trans rights is certainly not my feminism. In fact, most feminists support trans rights no matter what the minority would have you believe.

This year I have heard many of my queer friends express that Pride is not for the oppressed. Too many people feel unsafe attending. Too many find it inaccessible. We have lost the heart of Pride in glitter sunscreen and under police floats. We must acknowledge that “rainbow capitalism” is no activism and your attendance may be a sign of privilege more than anything else. As much as we queers love a party, we cannot let it distract us from the discrimination still very much alive and well today. We must keep organising, keep educating, keep fundraising and keep lobbying our representatives until every one of us is safe and protected.

Lead image credit: naeimasgary via Pixabay

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