“Will you be going to Pride this year?”
A question that folks often ask me every time we get halfway through the month of May. When I first came out, going to a Pride celebrating was the highlight of my year. I found myself enjoying the ambience of each celebration, reveling in the idea that Pride celebrations provided space for queer people to live, love and be free to do what they wanted. From kink tents to the assortment of queer vendors that frequent each event, Pride is provided me the day to be in community with those who lived and loved the same way I did. Even more, it was marketed as being a “safe space” for those in the LGBTQ community. After each year of going to countless Pride celebrations and feeling more and more isolated, I began to wonder if Pride events were truly a safe space for queer people of color.
Since the inception of pride, the message has been the same. Celebrate life, fight for your rights.
Folks would wake up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning ready to take to the streets to march for the one thing that mattered most: equality. Several of these messages being taken from concepts tied to both the civil rights and stonewall movement, where what mattered most was centering the struggles that queer people had. As noted by Craig Rodwell and those who helped him with putting together the first gay Pride parade held in New York City back in 1969, each parade was to be an annual reminder that the larger struggle that LGBTQ people had in respects to fundamental human rights. While Pride does highlight some of the struggles that several members in our community face, the issues with Pride events begin to deepen when we examine topics related to the history of these celebrations and what safe space truly means for those in attendance.
Safe space is defined as being a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they, or others, will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment or emotional harm. This becomes even more important for queer people of color considering the attacks that the community often face in public venues, specifically trans women of color. Being that 9 trans women of color have been murdered since January of 2017, safe space is something that is essential to folks with intersectional experiences because their day-to-day lives are not viewed as safe. This topic of safe space becomes important when we begin to discuss Pride celebrations because much of the fight between 1969-1970 centered on the treatment of Black and Brown people in places they deemed safe, specifically Stone Wall Inn. Understanding that a queer Trans woman of color began the fight for civil liberties, safe spaces are not just about comfort, but about livelihood.
As time has progressed, several organizers and people who regularly attended Pride celebrations have begun asking if these celebrations are missing the mark on inclusivity and safe space considering the different issues that have come to surface since the Pulse shootings. Beyond heightened security at L.A. Pride last year after a man with weapons was found headed to the event, a chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement demanded that Pride organizers in Toronto remove police force from the parade after stating that officers did not add to the event, but rather make queer people of color feel vulnerable to police brutality.
One of the greatest issues that folks have taken with Pride celebrations is the lack of acknowledgement it provides to the intersectional experiences of those who often frequent the event. Beyond issues related to police force, other Pride events have been criticized for the lack of resources and space provided for queer people of color, stating that Pride has become overly straight, white and corporate. From the marketing of alcohol to product pushing, many would say that queer Pride celebrations have become nothing more than an opportunity for companies to cash in on the LGBTQ community, specifically cisgender, white men. This was also evident at last years L.A. Pride when protesters derided the event, calling it a “gay Coachella” after organizers were accused of commercializing the event at the expense of Black and Brown lives.
So why is examining safe space so important when discussing Pride season?
As Audre Lorde once said, “The personal is always political”. Pride events began on the wave of politics and have always been about that, justice. If we are going to utilize Pride celebrations to call for justice, civility and human rights, we have to make sure that those who are in attendance feel safe to be there. We have to recognize that queer people cannot keep each other safe alone, knowing and understanding that we do not have the access to resources that can keep us safe. Knowing this, we cannot keep calling these events safe spaces if the experiences of folks who are most at risk for violence and victimization are not centered.
Yes, Pride should stand for equality, but if we are stating that these events are rooted in social justice we must make these event equitable to all who attend. Being surrounded by other queer trans folk is more than just a dollar, but about survival. Lets begin to have conversations about what Pride should be for all those who are looking forward to the safe space, specifically those who may only get the one weekend a year to live and love without fear.
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