We're Doing Pride All Wrong
Editorial Note: This post is part of our blog series about diversity, equity, and inclusion. These posts are written by staff on our Equity Committee and originally shared internally. We're sharing them publicly to be transparent about our internal dialogue, reflections and learning process as we work on being an anti-racist organization.
In the 29 years I’ve been around, I have witnessed a seismic shift in attitudes toward gay people. Where I’m from, there were no rainbow flags or Pride parades. Just 30 miles north of New York City, my suburb felt isolated. When I was growing up, it was still exciting to see gay television characters receive even just one minute of airtime. I didn’t learn about gay culture from the people around me – but I’m young enough that I did have the internet. The internet taught me to be gay the only way that it was possible to be gay at the time. When I was 13, I memorized the catalogues of classic divas like Janet Jackson. I studied (questionable) shows like Queer as Folk and learned about the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. I wore rainbow chokers and tight pink shirts. I didn’t necessarily connect with the queer culture I read about, but it was all I knew.
My high school years were hard. I lost every one of my friends when I came out. My high school psychologist falsely accused me of sexually assaulting her son and called my parents to tell them so. I had a strained relationship with my parents until I was about 23.
When I would walk around town holding hands with my high school boyfriend, people would yell homophobic insults at us. Sometimes objects were thrown. Some drivers would intentionally swerve their cars toward us as they passed by, steering away at the last second so as not to strike us dead. It was just enough to provoke a reaction. To instill fear in us. The police refused to help us, so I sometimes took it upon myself to ambush the drivers when they got caught at red lights. These drivers were not just peers at school but also their parents. The hate was a value parents taught. My high school boyfriend’s father would sometimes beat him and then call me in the middle of the night to tell me that I was ruining his son’s life. A few times, his dad would find me walking alone at night, make an abrupt U-turn, and follow me slowly. I would hide behind trees and wait until the headlights disappeared, afraid he would get out of the car.
This was growing up gay in the ‘00s. There were probably 3 other “out” gay men in my high school at the time and we all had our stories. But I pushed hard. I wanted to challenge others to accept me. I started my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. I finagled my way into being the “guest speaker” at Senior Senate on the days that same-sex marriage was being debated. I filed police reports constantly, even if some police suggested that I was being targeted because my clothes were “too flamboyant”. So I wore the loudest, weirdest outfits I could find. If people were going to stare, I’d give them something to look at. I let my boyfriend take shelter at my house so he’d be safe. I infiltrated enough friend groups at school to eventually make my bullies the losers.
What I couldn’t have known was that life would soon become a walk in the park for gay men like me, at least living in big cities like New York and Seattle. I don’t fear for my livelihood anymore. I feel supported and even encouraged by my peers (and even my family). Today, being “queer” is trendy and sought after in many social circles. I revel in the complaints by my gay friends that believe that queerness is being coopted and gentrified by straight people… 😊 What a problem to have!
From where I stand, this country has come a long way. Gay men that are white and cisgender like me are increasingly embraced, adored, and confirmed to presidential cabinets. I share my story this month to direct attention elsewhere; however, where stories like this persist and are far worse. It has become abundantly clear to me what a comfortable ride I’ve had compared to less coddled and protected queer folks.
The problem with the “LGBT” initialism is that it misleads you to believe that all lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and Trans people are 1) a big happy family that are united by our queerness, and 2) equal in the eye of society and the law. When same-sex marriage was made the law of the land in 2015 – here is a fantastic podcast episode to remind you of how that happened - was this a meaningful triumph for Trans people?
For Trans people, marriage is a frivolous legal right that means very little when you are a teenager living on the street. Or a sex worker because you can’t find safer work. Or developing a substance addiction to cope with it all. Trans people, especially Trans people of color, are misunderstood at best, often made into a punchline, and more often vilified. There is a huge disparity in how members of the “LGBT” community are treated.
This is why the focus of Pride needs to advance. Trans people continue to experience social isolation, exclusion, homelessness, barriers to employment, workplace discrimination, inadequate healthcare, and violence. Anti-Trans violence comes from both the general public as well as police officers, which is one reason why uniformed police have been banned from some Pride marches this year.
I wish that the focus of my passage could only be to recognize and celebrate the contributions and achievements of Trans people. I want to remind you all about how unbelievable it was when Danica Roem became the first transgender person to be elected and serve openly in any U.S. state legislature in 2017. But it’s important to share the harrowing truths about the mental health and status of Trans people today. Some notable figures mostly copied from a recent Trevor Project survey of 40,000 queer youth:
1 in 3 queer youth reported that they had been physically threatened or harmed in their lifetime due to their queer identity.
29% of queer youth have experienced homelessness, been kicked out, or run away.
61% of Trans youth reported being prevented or discouraged from using a bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
60% of Trans and nonbinary young Americans engaged in self-harm in the last year.
Half of Trans youth reported having seriously considered attempting suicide during the last year.
Appearing authentically matters: Trans youth with access to binders, shapewear, and gender-affirming clothing reported lower rates of attempting suicide.
Almost half said they did not receive the mental health care they wanted because their providers weren’t experienced or familiar with the needs of Trans patients.
It is time to usher in the movement to protect and celebrate Trans family members, friends, coworkers, entertainers, and leaders. I hardly need to inform you that there is also abundant racism within the queer community and, of course, our culture at large. It is essential that Pride puts Trans people first this year, and every year. Please dedicate some time to learning about Trans people. Learn about their history and their struggles. Extend compassion to Trans individuals.
For those of you that organize or participate in Pride events, open your hearts to Trans people and make room for them at events and gatherings. Trans people are often barred from employment opportunities. Thus, many Trans people are poor, and Pride parties are becoming increasingly expensive to attend – so we ought to discount any entry fees or, better yet, make entry free for Trans individuals.
It is also time to think about making a home for Trans people, especially those of color, as employees on the Bellwether Housing staff as well as in our buildings. Decisions as small as including Gender Neutral Bathrooms in our buildings and respecting everyone’s Gender Pronouns can make meaningful differences.
Here is a list of recommended resources centered on Trans culture, history, and issues. Below is a limited list of recommended Trans-focused media that I invite you to learn from, enjoy, and share:
Veneno (HBO)is a 2020 Spanish biographical television limited series, which tells the life and death of Spanish transgender singer and television personality Cristina Ortiz Rodríguez, better known by the nickname "La Veneno".
Pose (Netflix) is an American drama television series about New York City's African-American and Latino LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming drag ball culture scene in the 1980s, early 1990s in the second season, and the mid-to-late 1990s in the third season. Featured characters are dancers and models who compete for trophies and recognition in this underground culture, and who support one another in a network of “chosen families” known as Houses.
Euphoria (HBO) is an American teen drama television series. It follows a group of high school students through their experiences of sex, drugs, friendships, love, identity, and trauma.
Disclosure (Netflix) is a 2020 American documentary film. The film follows an in-depth look at Hollywood's depiction of transgender people and the impact of their stories on transgender lives and American culture.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (YouTube) is a 1994 Australian road comedy film. The plot follows two drag queens and a transgender woman as they journey across the Australian Outback in a tour bus that they have named "Priscilla", along the way encountering various groups and individuals. The film's title references the slang term "queen" for a drag queen or female impersonator.
Transhood (HBO) is a 2020 American documentary film. The film follows 4 children, beginning at ages four, seven, twelve, and fifteen, as they "redefine coming-of-age".
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (Netflix) is a 2017 American documentary film. It chronicles Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, prominent figures in gay liberation and transgender rights movement in New York City from the 1960s to the 1990s and co-founders of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. The film centers on activist Victoria Cruz's investigation into Johnson's death in 1992, which was initially ruled a suicide by police, despite suspicious circumstances.
Tangerine (YouTube) is a 2015 American comedy-drama film. The story follows a transgender sex worker who discovers her boyfriend and pimp has been cheating on her. The film was shot with three iPhone 5S smartphones.
Paris is Burning (Amazon) is a 1990 American documentary film. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities involved in it. Critics consider the film to be an invaluable documentary of the end of the "Golden Age" of New York City drag balls, and a thoughtful exploration of race, class, gender, and sexuality in America
Trans Questioning Podcast
Queer the Land is a collaborative project grounded in the self-determination of queer, Trans, etc.
WA Black Trans Task Force(part of the Lavender Rights Project) is an intersectional, multi-generational project of community building, research, and political action addressing the crisis of violence against Black Trans people.
Center for Transgender Equality advocates to change policies and society to increase understanding and acceptance of transgender people. In the nation’s capital and throughout the country, NCTE works to replace disrespect, discrimination, and violence with empathy, opportunity, and justice.
The Trevor Project Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.
Human Rights Campaign strives to end discrimination against LGBTQ people and realize a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all. HRC envisions a world where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people are ensured equality and embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.
ContraPoints (Natalie Wynn) @contrapoints
Danny Wakefield @danythetransdad
MUSICIANS OF NOTE
Ezra Furman (alt pop)
SOPHIE (electronic hyperpop)
Mykki Blanco (rap)
Kim Petras (pop)
100 Gecs (hyperpop)
Dorian Electra (pop)
Honey Dijon (dj)
ContraPoints (Natalie Wynn) youtube account
Jammidodger youtube account
Kat Blaque youtube account
We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
13 Books to Better Understand Trans and Nonbinary Lives, Recommended by Activists and Authors
10 Books by Trans Authors That Will Change Your Life
Heartspark Press: Literature by and for Transgender Women