Editor’s note: For Pride Month, The Root and Jezebel are teaming up once again for JezeRoot, with content by writers of color around everyday life for LGBTQ individuals.
You remember, back in the day, when your mama would tell you some crucial information in order for you to live your best life, but you thought you were a whole-ass adult? So you smiled and nodded when she spoke those hard truths, but let the words go in one ear and out the other? That was me, reading the words of Laverne Cox back in 2017. She was the mama serving some sorely needed tea to the LGBTQ community, and I was the whole-ass adult who smiled and pretended to absorb her words:
As a black transgender woman, I have not always felt included in Pride, to be honest with you. I haven’t. The LGBTQ community has not always been the most welcoming to trans people and people of color.
I knew she was right, but I had this knee-jerk reaction to deny it or, at the very least, separate myself from it, ’cause “That’s those other queer white folks, but my queer white folks know better.”
I should preface this by saying that I live in the Twin Cities; in fact, Officer Jeronimo Yanez killed Castile about 10 minutes away from my home. I know where that spot is. I’ve driven down that street before. If I still worked my retail job, I’d be driving down that street every day.
The ruling was on June 16, 2017—one week before Pride.
On June 20, Twin Cities’ Pride organizers decided that cops couldn’t walk in the parade as a sign of respect—because, you know, black folks go to Pride, and a cop just got away with killing one of their own. They, of course, could still come to Pride; they just had to be in plain clothes. Two days later, Cox came out and said what she said about racism (and transphobia, to be honest) in the community. I was kinda feelin’ my city for its stance, though, so I mentally did that #NotAll thing.
It was not a good look for me. I can freely admit that now. Because on June 23, two days before my partner and I were planning to walk in the parade, a local paper announced that Twin Cities Pride organizers had decided to back down on their stance.
Hindsight is a bitch. I should’ve seen this coming—Laverne Cox warned me, y’all.
Beyond the exhaustive lesson of there being absolutely no comparison between a chosen occupation (e.g., law enforcement) and the skin one was born in, I thought there’d be a bit of empathy because Castile was killed in our city—especially at Pride, an event that celebrates a movement that began with queer folks rioting against the police, a movement where queer people of color were front and center.
You wanna know the truly masochistic part? I still went to Pride! I was convinced that the group my partner and I were walking with would understand my feelings. I was convinced that there’d be enough people in the parade who’d get it. Denial is a hell of a drug, able to push aside your black-woman senses in favor of wearing a giant rainbow dress for a few hours.
So there we were, on our float for the parade, waiting for things to kick off, when ... Black Lives Matter showed up. A handful of us expected this and supported them being there, while others, well, let’s just say Cox’s words smacked me upside the head that day.
“Black Lives Matter halts parade indefinitely!”
“Ugh, do they have to do this?”
“The sky is falling!”
Of course, the whole thing was blown out of proportion, as usual. It was a peacefully planned protest that, at most, inconvenienced some folks who were dying to see the Wells Fargo float but weren’t patient enough to wait. By the time news reached our float—which was toward the back—the protest was over.
But the damage had been done, and I’d heard damn near everyone within earshot bash a movement that was vital to my well-being—all while waiting to walk in a parade about the movements that’d gotten us here. Ain’t that some shit? Even the white folks I’d sworn would understand were spreading the “Parade has been shut down” rumors.
Oh, and the icing on the cake was the white woman who, to my face, called Black Lives Matter a bunch of assholes—while complimenting my dress, because, yeah, they’re that bold these days. The cherry on top? The July cover for our city’s LGBTQ+ magazine, Lavender.
Though, who should I really be mad at here?
All the signs were in front of me, but I was too concerned about the feelings of queer white folks instead of my own. I was unwilling to admit that my LGBTQ+ community was—and still is—problematic when it comes to race. I chose to overlook the words of another queer black woman in favor of placating queer white folks.
I doubt that I’m the only who’s ever done this.
When the queer community is being showcased, whether it’s in media or real life, it’s generally shown as being predominantly white. So some of us think we have to appease them. We think we have to separate our identities—no talking about your black life when interacting with your queer life.
This year, I made the decision to skip out on my city’s Pride festival. It ended up being one of the best self-care moves I’ve made this year, because fellow queer women who are writers, like Dionne Sims (also known as “ohdionne”), have been confirming the worst: Pride organizers keep using the word “intersectionality,” yet seem to have no idea what it really means. As she writes:
[T]here’s nothing surprising about this to people of color, because it’s what we’ve always known: Queerness has never stopped white people from perpetuating white supremacy. There are queer racists. And because of this, our queer experiences have never been the same, and queer spaces have never felt truly safe.
The night before this year’s Pride parade, another Twin Cities black man, Thurman Blevins Jr., was shot and killed by cops. Once again, Pride attendees were acting as if protesters had no reason to be angry; that if black folks didn’t like it, they could “go back to where they came from.” Even better? According to at least one witness, some white folks started chanting, “Let us have our parade” and “All lives matter.”
Well. Ain’t that swell.
What I’d love to see from my supposedly inclusive queer community is a willingness to get out of its feelings and into some empathy; to realize that its irritation at a parade’s delay means so much more to someone like me.
I don’t want to write a piece like this again. I don’t want women like Dionne Sims to have to write a piece like this again. More importantly, I don’t want our solution to be to exclude ourselves from Pride.
Folks act like we enjoy having these “gotcha” moments when we end up being right about racist-ass behavior, but what we really want is for people to do better. I’m tired of this conversation, and frankly, it’s up to the LGBTQ+ community to learn something from this. Otherwise, they’ll keep being just as toxic as the oppressors they claim to be fighting against.