Pride Month began Monday. Many in the LGBTQ community, however, were unsure how to celebrate without overshadowing the ongoing nationwide protests over racial injustice spurred by the death of George Floyd.
But activist Jay W. Walker told USA TODAY that the struggle against oppression is inseparable from the LGBTQ rights movement.
“The truth is that the movement for black civil rights and the LGBTQ+ movement — the Pride movement — have always exhibited a certain level of intersectionality,” said Walker, the co-founder of Reclaim Pride Coalition, a group that created the Queer Liberation March, first staged last year in New York.
That's one reason why Reclaim Pride will march again this year, in person — not only for the rights of the LGBTQ community but to elevate and protect black lives.
Many LGBTQ organizations sent out statements in support of protests following the killing of Floyd, a black man who died under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis, pointing out the radical origins of the LGBTQ rights movement.
One such organization, Christopher Street West, the organizers of L.A. Pride, announced Wednesday that it would also hold a solidarity march in response to racial injustice and systemic racism.
Estevan Montemayor, president of CSW Board of Directors, told USA TODAY that it is "our moral imperative ... to stand in solidarity with the black community."
While this year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march in Los Angeles, this cannot be a festive occasion, Montemayor said.
The entire LGBTQ community needs to "reflect and think about how we can be educated, good listeners, how we can be good allies, be observant, to be sure that the black community does not have to face the racial injustice, oppression and police brutality that we're seeing today," he said.
Montemayor pointed to the Stonewall riots, a rallying cry for the gay rights movement, as an example of the impact of people of color on the LGBTQ rights movement. The riots were a series of demonstrations that followed a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York, in June 1969.
Black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson is hailed as one of the leaders of the riots. Many in the LGBT community cite Johnson as the thrower of the first brick or shot glass that started the uprising, though Johnson had said she didn't arrive at the bar until rioting was underway.
Earl Fowlkes, president of the Center For Black Equity, a coalition of black gay pride organizers, said the core of Pride's purpose is the recognition of these riots, and that participants can observe both.
"I think what the situation [with the protests] has done is that we're looking at what it means to be prideful as a queer community at this time," Fowlkes said. "We have to examine our own community and the racism that lurks in the LGBTQ community."
He added, "Racism is a daily occurrence in the LGBTQ community, because it's reflective of what's going on in the general community. There's no difference."
The idea that Pride Month can't be observed at the same time as protests for racial equality, Walker said, is part of the "notion that black people aren't gay, and gay people aren't black."
In fact, 39% of LGBTQ adults in the U.S. identify as people of color, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA.
"It ignores the fact that black trans women are among the most vulnerable people in our society as a whole — the average life expectancy of a trans woman of color is 35 years," he added.
At least 12 transgender people — among them at least three black people — have been killed by violent means in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Most recently, Tony McDade was shot and killed May 27 by the Tallahassee Police Department in Florida. Just Monday, Iyanna Dior, a black transgender woman, was beaten inside a store in Minneapolis.
“I’m afraid that one day there could be a victim and that victim could be me," transgender activist Karleigh Chardonnay Merlot told USA TODAY in 2019.
Cathy Renna, interim communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, urged the LGBTQ community to use this Pride Month to reflect on their own feelings and educate others on the racial injustices "within the LGBT community" and outside.
"Increasingly, Pride is not a one-day affair. It is not a one-month affair," Renna said. "And part of that is very intentionally lifting up the issues and voices and stories of those of us in the community who are not more privileged."