OPINION: Police Brutality. Riots. Pride

by Jessica Stern | OutRight Action International
Wednesday, 3 June 2020 11:04 GMT

Protesters rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, at Foley Square in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., June 2, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Pride was a protest, so LGBT+ people should commit to fighting racism and police brutality

June 1 marks the beginning of Pride month, four weeks usually filled with parades, protest marches and a variety of other expressions for the dignity, equality and human rights of LGBT+ people. It is a month to collectively reject the shame society tells us to feel and radiate pride for being ourselves. What is clear after the brutally racist violence made visible yet again in the past month is that there can be no Pride without also fighting anti-blackness and recommitting the LGBT+ movement to the struggle against racism.

I live in the US, and as cities here erupt into sometimes violent protests against racism and police brutality against African-Americans, I cannot help but think back to the history of Pride. Pride also started as a protest, as a riot, also against police brutality.

June was picked as Pride Month because of the Stonewall riots that erupted in New York’s Greenwich Village in June 1969 after yet another police raid of the Stonewall Inn bar. These raids were not unusual. They were part of a culture of police harassment, extortion and brutality against LGBT+ people. But in June 1969, the patrons had had enough. They were sick of decades of abuse, violence, and yes, murder too, at the hands of homophobic and transphobic police officers. Peaceful efforts to be heard had not been successful; the Stonewall riots were violent.

Last week in the US began with the horrifying news that yet another African-American, George Floyd, died senselessly as the result of police brutality. The video of Floyd’s killing demonstrated yet again the ongoing violence against black Americans, including the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and racist threats against Chris Cooper.

It is incomprehensible that more than half a century after the civil rights movement the persistent targeting and police violence against black Americans is so overwhelming. And yet it is undeniable. President Trump’s threats to shoot people protesting Floyd’s killing is alone a reflection of the extent to which racism is institutionalized throughout this society, spanning through to the highest levels of government.

On the other hand, the experiences of Chris Cooper, who was birdwatching when a white woman called the police claiming he was threatening her life, or Ahmaud Arbery, who was jogging when two white men followed and shot him, reflect that anti-blackness permeates US society.

“A riot is the language of the unheard,” said Martin Luther King. It is no wonder then that after centuries of oppression and decades of little change, the U.S. today is erupting in violent protest.

As Pride month kicks off in the midst of riots against police brutality, echoing so strongly the roots of the LGBT+ movement, I am reminded how inextricably linked it is with other social justice movements, such as those demanding justice from discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, economic background, immigration status, and many others.

I hope this month especially that we honor the actions and leadership of queer black activists, artists and leaders in our movement for LGBT+ equality. At the heart of the Stonewall riots, a moment recognized as the birth of the modern LGBT+ liberation movement, were black trans women Marsha P Johnson, Zazu Nova, Miss Major and many others.

Due to COVID, this Pride month was already going to look different than any other. Let’s embrace that difference and fully commit to both calling for LGBT+ equality globally and also recommitting the LGBT+ movement to the fight against racism.

All month, OutRight will repeat our demands, calling for a thorough and independent investigation into the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many other Americans of color who have lost their lives to racist police or private actor violence.

We will be urging transformative action to prevent future victims of police brutality, including reducing funds for police departments. We will be supporting the movement for reparations for the decades of racism. And, we will be standing in solidarity with the struggle for full human rights for black people everywhere.

We hope that one day, we can safely and proudly be exactly who we are, without fear of social or systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, and any other fear of diversity. As James Baldwin wrote, “You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.”


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