OPINION: Why Pride is different this year - a call for transformation and collective liberation

by Jude Wetherell | Intersections International
Wednesday, 1 July 2020 08:12 GMT

Alex Hamlin dances in front of the Minneapolis Police Department before marching to support the LGBTQ community and the Black Lives Matter movement in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., June 28, 2020. REUTERS/Nicole Neri

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

This year Pride events look more like the Stonewall riots than ever before

Jude Wetherell is the program and development coordinator/grant writer at Intersections International and its signature social justice program, Believe Out Loud, a global platform and community that focuses on reconciling LGBT+ life and identity with faith and religion.

"Stonewall was a riot."

Each year, this reminder echoes around Pride parades, through shopping malls emblazoned in multi-hued displays of “allyship”, and past police cars overseeing crowd control. Stonewall was the spark ignited by transgender women of colour, an embodied struggle for liberation, an affront to the status quo.

The 2019 Pride celebrations marked 50 years since that historic night with perhaps greater mainstream acceptance – and more corporate sponsorships – than ever.

Was this truly the spirit of Pride, the vision of that June night in 1969?

Pride 2020 – marking another 50 years since the first New York Pride March in 1970 – seemed poised to be more of the same. Then social distancing orders came into effect.

New York cancelled its landmark march. Celebrations around the country and world followed suit. The COVID-19 pandemic wore on, its impacts disproportionately suffered by Black, indigenous and other communities of people of colour (BIPOC), including the Latinx community.

And then, protests that began over the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, George Floyd and countless other African-Americans at the violent behest of vigilante or law enforcement action began to awaken a reckoning in our culture.

This June, Pride events are looking more like Stonewall than ever before. People around the country are marching for well-being, dignity and survival of BIPOC, for the dismantling of the deeply embedded structural racism propping up our institutions.

It is a bigger cause than LGBT+ liberation, yet these fights are entwined – an interdependent struggle for survival and dignity.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to workplace protections for LGBT+ people. With marches for Black lives continuing throughout the nation, the Supreme Court decision was a poignant reminder that the LGBT+ rights movement could not have happened without the paradigm established by the African-American leaders of the civil rights movement – including LGBT+ individuals like Bayard Rustin and Pauli Murray.

This year’s upswell of protests has also underscored the leadership of transgender women of colour throughout the movement for LGBT+ liberation, from Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to contemporary leaders such as Ceyenne Doroshow, who spoke before a crowd of 15,000 at a march uplifting Black trans lives earlier this month.

The movement we are seeing in 2020 is a call for transformation and collective liberation – a reckoning not only with American institutions but with the soul of this nation.

There is a deep spiritual dimension to the work that must be done. Religious doctrine has been used to uphold systems of oppression throughout U.S. history; yet liberation theology and spirituality have been central to the success of civil rights movements.

We are seeing that individuals are turning increasingly to progressive religious communities both for solace during this time and to help expedite societal transformation.

At the confluence of a global pandemic, a mental health crisis and a reckoning on systemic racism and excessive force by police, the radical possibility of reclaiming spirituality as a force of hope, reconciliation, justice and love can help people see a way forward.