The First Pride Was a Riot
We have made it to Pride Month, but this year it feels different. There is less of a scramble for companies to put rainbows on their logos as a financially driven solidarity gesture. Instead, companies have their hands full trying to explain why they have suddenly come to the realization that Black Lives Matter. We cannot be pacified with a statement or two. A rainbow flag simply won’t cut it when we are losing Black trans women to violence in this country every day. We must never forget the Pride was born out of the same raw frustration at the inhumanity of policing that we see in the streets today. The rights of Black people and LGBTQ+ rights are inextricable. You cannot be in support of Black lives while ignoring the experiences of Black members of the LGBTQ+ community. We cannot be free as a Black Community until we are ALL free of the systems that seek to extinguish our light.
The spirit of Pride was born when two Trans women, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera along with many other Queer bar patrons stood up against police at Stonewall Inn. Police raided the Stonewall Inn, which was a frequent target of the law due to its primarily LGBTQ+ patrons. The specific history of this event is muddled, but it has been said that when police demanded sex verification checks on trans women, Marsha and Sylvia fought back and kicked off a violent clash between police and bar goers. The bold actions of a Latinx and Black trans woman played a major role in starting conversations about rights for folx in the LGBTQ+ community. Radical change happens when people take radical action. Marsha and Sylvia did just that. In the days following the uprising, Marsha and Sylvia led protests and subjected their bodies to police violence for the cause. Though trans women were integral to the fight for gay rights, trans folx are often forgotten in the mainstream movement. Two Black trans women were killed in the past week. Their names are Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem'Mie” Fells. These murders were just a few weeks after the police murder of Tony McDade, a trans man. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2020 has already seen at least 14 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. Too often these stories go unreported -- or misreported. Sadly, the majority of these deaths have been Black women and other women of color.
Violence against trans women is not a new issue. I recently watched The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson on Netflix and her story brought me to tears. Marsha was a revolutionary, a mother of the Gay rights movement and even she was the victim of an unsolved murder. There was a point in the movie where one of the women investigating Marsha’s murder asks something like, “If they cannot solve the murder of this icon, what hope do all these other girls have? The girls whose names we don’t know, whose stories are never told.”
The violence against trans folx must be stopped. In order to address this violence we must also address the factors that make trans people vulnerable. Trans people in the US can be denied housing, employment, and social services. When folx end up on the street to survive, they can be sent to the wrong prisons where they are more likely to be assaulted. To add insult to injury, Trump tried to make it legal to deny any trans person healthcare; in the middle of a global pandemic. Thankfully, the landmark Supreme court ruling prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity may make these hateful healthcare decisions indefensible in court.
However, there is still so much work to be done. The assault on trans people must end. Honor the mothers of the movement and pay homage to the true spirit of Pride this month. Demand justice for the countless lives we have lost to this system. Protect trans women, just like trans women have protected LGBTQ+ rights for decades. What do we do when trans lives are under attack? Stand up fight back!