“The intersection of this Pride Month with the Black Lives Matter movement must serve as a catalyst for long-term change within the LGBTQI community”
BY PRISHITA MAHESHWARI-APLIN
In all 50 states in the United States, and 18 countries across six continents, thousands have taken to the streets over the past week in what has been described as the largest civil rights movement. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade, by current and former police officers, alongside the disproportionate impact of COVID on Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPoCs), have sparked a charged uprising against white supremacy, police brutality and the systematic oppression of Black people, led by the grassroots movement Black Lives Matter.
51 years ago, multiple similarly community-led, violent rebellions took place in New York. LGBTQI people living in the West today would not have anywhere near the freedom they afford if it weren’t for the Black and Brown Trans+ people who stuck their middle finger up at society and said, “enough is enough”. If during the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, Stormé DeLarverie, a biracial butch lesbian, had not resisted arrest and shouted out to the others, “Why don’t you guys do something?”
Marsha P. Johnson, a Black Trans woman, and Sylvia Rivera, a Latin American Trans woman, were central to the Stonewall Uprising and founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a groundbreaking organisation in the queer liberation movement. STAR was also vehemently anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-ableist and anti-police. The first ever Pride, marking a year since Stonewall, was a march, not a parade; The Christopher Street Liberation March. And it was led by Trans+ People of Colour.
Yet, in 2019, pinkwashed and corporatized, Pride In London surrounded the Queer Liberation March, also led by Queer, Trans and Intersex Black Indigenous, and People of Colour (QTIBIPoCs), with police. And racism has been allowed to run rampant within a community that is supposed to be a safe space for all – regardless of the colour of their skin.
“I see racism in the space that is consistently taken away from me, and countless other Queer Women of Colour, as we navigate advocacy. I see it every time I have to defend my Blackness to someone who refuses to listen to Black voices. I see it every time a cis white gay man tells me they have a sassy Black woman inside of them” – Maiya McQueen, LA-based LGBTQI community organiser.
In 2018, Stonewall released the LGBT in Britain – Home and Communities Report, revealing that half (51%) of QTIBIPoCs have experienced discrimination from within the LGBTQI community. Two years later, these damning figures are still far too relevant. While some of this racism is overt – racial slurs, harassment etc. – the majority presents as covert racism; “othering” microaggressions, such as minimising behaviour, exclusionary dating “preferences” and fetishisation. All these behaviours stem from unconscious biases – deeply-ingrained automatic stereotypes.
“I have found dating in the LGBTIQA+ community to be rife with racism. People on dating apps will regularly list ‘no Blacks or Asians’ under the guise of individual sexual preference. I have also been called a terrorist or likened to Saddam Hussein numerous times after 9/11.” – Radam Ridwan, non-binary writer and model.
There is a common misconception that excluding people based solely on their ethnic background in the dating sphere is not racism, when it clearly would be so in any other context and these “preferences” stem from being socialised within a racist environment that centres Eurocentric beauty standards and portrays many features associated with Black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds as less attractive.
On the flipside is fetishisation, which can be just as damaging. An example of this is calling BIPoCs “exotic” – this is not a compliment, but rather makes the individual feel like an outsider.
“White gays have a lot to say on dating apps and really show their anti-Blackness. Common things would include stereotyping me as an aggressive over-sexual being with a massive penis.” – Ayanle, London-based producer and media executive.
Black people are often hypersexualised, which originates from slavery when they were labelled as “animalistic” and promiscuous, so that the concept of rape was never applied to Black women because they were assumed to have been willing, and Black men could be targeted through false rape accusations.
These socially acceptable manifestations of white supremacy are almost more damaging. It makes BIPoCs feel marginalised in an underhanded manner and enables racial gaslighting, a process where their lived experiences are disbelieved or dismissed as overreactions, leading them to question their own reality.
Unconscious biases are shaped by the societal influences that we are exposed to. This includes mainstream gay media, where the diverse queer experience is presented in a palatable, homonormative package – white; cis; male; conventionally attractive. There is a severe lack of representation of identities on more marginalised intersections of sexuality, gender identity and race; far too often, QTIBIPoCs are tokenized at awards ceremonies or photographed in a way that plays into racial stereotypes.
“This blatant exclusion causes many to experience dysphoria, non-belonging, and unhealthy levels of loneliness. I fear that mainstream media can never truly grasp the complex nuances of queer identities, especially through cultural filters. For it to truly reflect us, we need to be the ones telling our own stories.” – Shiva Raichandani, creator of film Queer Parivaar, which explores a South Asian interfaith queer relationship.
The queer clubbing scene is no less guilty of upholding racist ideology. In 2016, Jeremy Joseph, owner of the famous London-based club, G-A-Y, posted on Facebook about two stabbings in central London, saying, “one was fatal, the scum bags, Somalians, drug dealers are on the increase”, and that his New Year’s resolution was to “claim Soho back”. This was met with numerous supportive comments from his followers.
“What did this mean for me as someone who is both Somali and Gay? It erased the idea that the Somali community would have queer members who frequent at LGBT clubs in Soho. I knew then that these predominately white queer spaces were not inclusive, and I had to look elsewhere.” – Ayanle.
As a Queer Woman of Colour, some of my most disappointing experiences of racial microaggressions have been within spaces of community organising; spaces that supposedly exist for the purpose of amplifying marginalised voices. I’ve been labelled “intimidating” and “condescending” in situations where white men would be called “confident” and “a competent leader”.
However, racism isn’t something that impacts every BIPoC in the same way. As George Floyd was murdered, three other police officers stood by, one of whom was of East Asian heritage.
Non-Black PoCs must also recognise the role we play in the marginalisation of Black people. For example, South Asian culture contains deep-rooted colourism and anti-blackness, conceived by 200 years of colonialism and a history of casteism. It still perpetuates the idea that dark skin is less desirable and that proximity to whiteness is the goal. This coupled with the “model minority” myth, where Asians, especially in the U.S., are promoted as productive, law-abiding citizens in direct contrast with Black people, who are portrayed as “lazy” and prone to crime, establishes a racial hierarchy, with Black people bearing the most severe burden.
As a community that has faced such oppression, it’s a disgrace that discrimination against our own is allowed to continue. It’s imperative that this Pride Month, we remember that Stonewall was a rebellious uprising in the face of police brutality and that our movement was started by Black Trans+ people; people who still experience some of the greatest levels of exploitation and violence.
In 2020 so far, in the U.S., at least 12 Trans or Gender Non-Conforming people have been killed, most recently Tony McDade. Since then, he has been regularly misgendered in the press. In four weeks, five Black Trans women were murdered in the U.S., including Nina Pop. It was announced two days before the anniversary of Layleen Polanco’s death that no criminal charges will be pressed, even though she died of complications from epilepsy after not being checked on in solitary confinement for 47 minutes.
The non-Black LGBTQI community has benefited and co-opted so much from Black people. Their passion, labour, sweat and tears. Ballroom and drag culture, high-femme mannerisms, African-American Vernacular English. We owe a lot to Black people. But, honestly, that should not be a prerequisite for us to act in the face of injustice.
The intersection of this Pride Month with the Black Lives Matter movement must serve as a catalyst for long-term change within the LGBTQI community. White queers must recognise that their own marginalisation does not absolve them of their racism. And all non-Black members of the community must de-centre ourselves to provide platforms and support to our Black siblings and counteract the little value that is currently placed on Black Trans+ lives, even after the social media buzz dies down. We can only feel Proud this month if we are active allies to Black people, as we hope for others to be our allies in the fight for LGBTQI rights.
So before you wait for the “appropriate amount of time” to pass before deleting the black square on your Instagram, and return to your scheduled programme of shouting “yaas kween” at Black women and taking photos with police officers at Pride parades, remember what Marsha P. Johnson said: “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”