Advertisement

Drawing of black woman with black tape over her mouth with white hands and arms grabbing her from behind

It's 2018 and Columbus is gearing up for another year's Pride Celebration... But the question beckons even after last year's demonstration.

“Why do We need our own Pride?”

“Why can’t they compromise with Stonewall?”

“What could they possibly be mad about?”

And my all-time favorite: “Does anybody know who Marsha P. Johnson is?”

We all revere the Stonewall riots as one of the most popular and powerful demonstrations/riots that kicked off the "Gay Liberation" movement for the LGBTQIA community.

However, in all that glory and all that accomplishment, throughout all of these years, that's led us to where we are today. There still seems to be a misconception among the white gay community and a few folks of color (due to purposeful mis-education and whitewashing of our history) about who actually started the Stonewall riots – the very riots that the "Gay rights" movement for the LGBTQIA community is built on.

When I was younger, I was taught a whitewashed history. I was taught that white gay men and white lesbian women started the Stonewall riots as depicted in the retelling of history. This is even immortalized in a memorial statue that stands in Christopher Park. That strong people like Harvey Milk stood tall amongst regular (LGBTQIA) folk and shouted that they "wanted their gay rights now."

Even at a young age, I had felt detached from that history. It’s as if it wasn't me that Harvey Milk was fighting for, that it wasn't me that all those other white gays and lesbians were fighting for. I could see it in the ways that our community treated each other, that racism is still very much alive within the LGBTQIA community and the ways that we are excluded from spaces, jobs and resources.

Though, as strong as the separation was back then, it's even more all encompassing in our society today.

Organizations are filled with white gay men and women, cisgender folk, and very few white trans people. These are the ones making decisions for everyone else, who live in a tax bracket and could never even imagine living in (with their estimated gross salary of $85,000.00 a year) and having to deal with racism/inequality at every turn.

Yet these organizations are meant to serve everyone in the LGBTQIA community, especially Black Folk (which is how they get most of their grant funding),but refuse to put the most marginalized in positions of power.

The truth is bars and clubs are unwelcoming to Black LGBTQIA Folk. We don't have a consistent space of our own as our white counterparts do and every time we get something, it is shut down or co-opted.

How many people have been to or heard of "Hip-Hop night" at any of the LGBTQIA (Gay) spots here in the city? The few spaces for folks of color there are, exist purely on the margins and have the possibility of shut down constantly looming over them.

About this time last year the BlackPride4 took to the streets to demonstrate the ways in which the organizations have let down and left behind the black queer and trans communities here in the city.

Myself and three others were arrested.

I can't help but see the parallels in our actions and what our history actually looks like. The fact of the matter is that in New York in the late 1960s before the Stonewall riots, Marsha P. Johnson and her associate/sister in arms Sylvia Rivera, co-founder of S.T.A.R (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) took the first action for the community. They took to the streets and demonstrated about the lack of resources for the community.

They brought to light the ways the community has been beaten, abused, jailed and just all around brutalized by the police and demonized by their statesman.

People would "come out" to join the demonstrators as they marched through the streets with signs and MEGA PHONES, shouting to the bystanders and buildings filled with corporate Americans protesting the inequality the community faced at large.

Most white folk who worked in offices would wear masks to cover their faces, so as to not be photographed and publicly outed in the newspaper and then lose their jobs or face possible jail time. Being gay or trans or any of the variation of LGBTQIA in those days was illegal.

Many folk who marched in the streets faced major backlash in their communities and from the state. Even more so IF YOU WERE BLACK AND BROWN.

That much hasn't changed.

But on the morning of June 28, 1969, a local bar called the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street (known to frequent sex workers, queers, trans folk, black and brown folk, gays, lesbians and the trade) was pounced upon by NYPD. This wasn't uncommon for the bar and its patrons, as the police would regularly bust up the bar scene and arrest a lot of folks. But this morning was different. Our ancestors all looked at each other and everyone knew IT WASNT GOING TO HAPPEN!

When the police busted in this day, a thick silence fell over the entire bar. The NYPD told folks to move but no one moved. And out of that silence came a shot glass thrown into a mirror by the hands of Marsha P. Johnson! She let out a rally cry echoed through the bar "I WANT MY GAY RIGHTS AND I WANT THEM NOW!!”

With that moment broken, all of the patrons started fighting back against the police, forcing them from the establishment and winning the night.

Oh, they tried to come back another but everyone fought back once again. Eventually, white gays started seeing what kind of tangible results this could have for the "Gay Rights Liberation movement" following the Stonewall riots.

And with that, a few community members went to the state to put on the first pride parade that very same summer. However, they tried to exclude Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and the rest of the "Riff Raff" who marched through the streets previously that given them this footing...from the parade/actions they started.

But we won't go quietly!

So Marsha and Sylvia organized their folks and marched out in front of the "corporate Pride" so it looked to the world like they were leading it...LOL...back then when the police who were once called to imprison and brutalize us, were now tasked with our protection – it seemed like victory.Look "how far" we've come.

I know my history, and it took me a lifetime to find it for myself.

And this year we will not just stand by and feel unwelcome in these spaces "Stonewall Pride" create for "us." This year We will have our own space.

BQIC has been working this whole year to take care of this community, and build this space, free from corporate sponsors who don't support us. And protected by police officers who would rather see us in chains or dead (hints the growing body count of unarmed nonviolent black bodies on the Columbus Police Department/Chief Jacob's hands).

If we aren't welcome then, we'll create our own.

Community pride is by the community, for the community.

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will not continue to be excluded from their legacy.

We continue their work.

Appears in Issue: 

Free Press History: