Gabrielle Alexa Noel: What Pride Means to Me
Posted on June 29 2020
For me, Pride is about taking up space. It’s about witnessing others who love like I do and honoring the self that I spent a long time hiding.
At the same time, Pride also pays tribute to the queer and trans elders who came before us. Without them, I wouldn’t have the privilege to be as loudly bisexual as I am today. On June 28th 1969, the NYPD raided the iconic Stonewall Inn. They humiliated people. They roughed up employees and patrons, arresting them for ‘sexual deviancy’ and not wearing gender-appropriate clothing. The bar crowd spilled out onto the street, joined by neighbors and onlookers, a riot erupted. The police barricaded themselves inside of the bar, which the mob set on fire. And while a riot squad appeared to disperse the crowd and save the police officers who were inside of Stonewall, people remained angry. They were frustrated at the daily violence they were experiencing at the hands of the police. There were protests for five days after, followed by an uptick in LGBTQ+ activism. And exactly one year later, the U.S. saw its first Pride parade.
There are a lot of parallels between the Stonewall Uprising and the recent protests for Black lives. The Black Lives Matter movement is about countering the everyday violences that Black people face, particularly violence at the hands of the state. And this week, with BLM protests overlapping with the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, Pride has returned to its roots. Instead of participating in a corporatized, watered-down version of Pride, I attended the Queer Liberation March for Black Lives. There were no bedazzled floats or after parties. In fact, it was better this way — the corporatization of Pride and its transformation into a day of praying has allowed straight, cis people to profit from queerness without making any tangible contributions towards queer liberation. Instead, we marched from Foley Square into the Village, carrying our signs and shouting, “What do we want? JUSTICE! When do we want it? Now.”
People gave out water bottles, hand sanitizer, and PPE. There were trucks with speakers, playing mixes from live DJs, and people were dancing. My god, it felt good to be with my community again. Social distancing, of course, has forced queer communities to retreat into digital spaces. While that has been essential for public health, it means that so many people have been cut off from spaces in which they are able to feel seen and free. Today, looking around, I realized how much I had missed occupying queer spaces. And while those spaces have primarily centered white, cis gays, today’s focus on Black queer and trans folks was so refreshing. There was an added layer of joy to be celebrating Pride without feeling that my Blackness had to remain out of focus. In fact, there were moments where Blackness felt protected and precious amidst the protestors. For example, a white photographer pushed a Black person aside in pursuit of the perfect picture and immediately, the consumptive nature of his presence was called out. That’s what it means to create safe spaces for Black people. It goes beyond chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ and requires people to behave in ways that align with that mantra.
Later, the NYPD ambushed the march with pepper spray. They brutalized people who were protesting police brutality. A witness reports that she was shoved and held down by police officers while picking up food and water supplies. Another reported that the NYPD pushed bikes into protesters. Someone else was dragged by their arms. On the 51st anniversary of Pride, a commemoration of a riot against police brutality, this is particularly sickening. It’s a gross reminder that we still have a long way to go before we can claim that liberation has been achieved. And in that context, it shows us why the growing calls to defund/abolish the police are so necessary.
When I think further on what Pride means to me, it’s imagining a world without cop violence. It’s enjoying queer space without invasion. It’s having allies who help make those things achievable. I can’t wait for Pride next year, and hope that it’s one free of social distancing guidelines and police aggression. We have 364 days to move meaningfully towards that vision. I hope we succeed.
Written by Gabrielle Alexa Noel