June is Pride Month for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities across the country—and parades abound.
While we all rev up each June for Pride so, too, do the fault lines of race and class in the LGBTQ community.
With advances such as hate crime laws, legalization of same-sex marriage across the country, and with homophobia viewed as a national concern, the LGBTQ movement has come a long way since the first Pride March in 1969. Many laud the distance the LGBTQ community has traveled in such a short time from a disenfranchised group on the fringe of America’s mainstream to a community now embraced.
But not all members of our community have crossed the finish line. Some are waving the cautionary finger that within our community not all are equal. And Pride events can be public displays of those disparities.
Cultural acceptance is just one of a few things LGBTQ people of color do not experience from larger Pride events. Many Pride celebrations are predominately white, and many LGBTQ of color revelers experience social exclusion and invisibility within these spaces. After decades of Pride events where many LGBTQ people of color tried to be included and weren’t, black, Asian and Latino Pride events were born.
For example, Sunday gospel brunches, Saturday night poetry slams, Friday evening fashion shows, bid whist tournaments, house parties, the smell of soul food and Caribbean cuisine, and the beautiful display of African art and clothing are just a few of the cultural markers that make Black Pride distinct from the dominant queer culture. LGBTQ people of African descent have focused not only on HIV/AIDS but also unemployment, housing, gang violence, and LGBTQ youth homelessness.
Again this year, large communities of LGBTQ people of color will be absent from mainstream Pride events.
Boston Black Pride 2017 took place in February, offering hip-hop yoga, commemorating Black History Month and National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness, and a Mix and Mingle Drag Paint Party, to name a few.
Sadly, the growing distance between our larger white LGBTQ community and LGBTQ communities of color is shown by how, for example, a health issue like HIV/AIDS, which was once an entire LGBTQ community problem, is now predominately impacting communities of color.
In December 2014, The New York Times front-page article on HIV/AIDS was both shocking and unsparing—stating, “The AIDS epidemic in America is rapidly becoming concentrated among poor, young black and Hispanic men who have sex with men.”
The news that is often not reported or stays under the radar is the proactive steps this demographic group is taking to stem its spread—not only among themselves, but the entire community, too. And one of the reasons for not knowing what these men are doing to stem the epidemic is because their ways of reaching out to their brothers and sisters are both culturally creative and unconventional.
For example, in 2015 the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition kick-off event in Boston was the health expo “Our Health Matters, Too!”
The expo was held at the gymnasium of the Epiphany School in Dorchester that was filled with health booths, workshops, exhibits and screenings. There were workshops on sex positivity, prostate health, trans health, domestic violence, and LGBTQ depression, to name just a few. And there were screenings for the following: STDs, vision, hypertension, and HIV/AIDS. And the community came out.
While it might seem odd that LGBTQ people of color would prefer going to a school gym or a Pride picnic for health check-ups and information than to a hospital, the reasons are unfortunately rooted in the systemic health care disparities due not only to race discrimination, but also to gender identity and sexual orientation as well.
Massachusetts is known as queer-friendly, and it is known nationwide for its outstanding hospitals. People travel from other states and even other countries to be cared for. But adequate, culturally competent, and compassionate healthcare for LGBTQ people is still gravely lacking, especially when it comes to communities of color.
Since the revolutionary decade of the 1960s, a time when the air bred dissent, our LGBTQ agenda has moved from a state of, “Why we can’t wait!” to a lull of, “Where do we go from here?”
In my opinion, the answer lies in recognizing the need to network and build coalitions beyond one’s immediate communities.
In the process, we create an intersectional social justice activism throughout our Commonwealth to foster healthy and wholesome communities.
While Pride events are still fraught with divisions, at their core, they are an invitation for our community to connect political activism with celebratory acts like song and dance in our continued fight for justice. These events should highlight the multicultural aspect of joy and celebration that symbolizes not only our uniqueness as individuals and communities, but also affirms our varied expressions of LGBTQ life in America.
But, as long as LGBTQ communities of color continue to be absent each June, Pride Month is an event to take pride in.
Photo by Hilde Skjølberg