Pride Without Intersectional Racial Justice Is No Pride at All

Prior to the pandemic, I was looking forward to a summer filled with lively brunches, sunny beach days, concerts and my favorite events: Pride parades.

Like many of us, I couldn’t imagine back in January that this year’s Pride would look very different. However, in the face of police brutality and systemic racism, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement blossomed in June, and continues into the month of July—rife with important conversations of abolitionism, critical race theory, intersectional activism and allyship.

Any civil rights movement inevitably faces criticism and backlash from various perspectives. Among the most shocking I’ve heard comes from non-Black LGBTQ+ people, claiming BLM is stealing Pride’s spotlight.

I can’t help but to reflect on the irony of these claims, as I recall the vital activism of Black and Brown queer and trans people who stood against police violence that led to the Stonewall Riots—which the Pride parades commemorate.

I wonder what Storme DeLarverie, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera—who led the Stonewall riots—would say if given the ultimatum: racial justice or LGBTQ+ rights.

Would they not have looked puzzled by the question, as they explain how their experiences of racism and transphobia/homophobia are intersectional?  

When first reflecting on the roots of the LGBTQ+ movements, we see that Black and Brown queer and trans people have always been on the forefront of pushing for freedom. The earliest advocate of marriage equality was a Black trans woman Lucy Hicks Anderson in 1944.  The vital community work of the Combahee River Collective—the catalyst of change in the Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall Riot—were all led by Black and Brown people. The now iconic culture of vogueing and drag performances also has roots in the NYC Ballroom scene.

It is important to remember that, similar to the riots we have seen in the last months, the Stonewall Riots fought against police brutality and injustice. 

Race was also a key factor in the catalyst of the Stonewall Riots. Similar to the BLM movement, the Stonewall Riots took a stand against police brutality and injustice. It makes sense that the first outburst against the police were not by white middle-class queer people, but poor Black and Brown queer and trans folks who experienced an intersectional threat from police violence. 

Storme DeLarverie—credited with the first act of defiance against the police that started the riots—was known to protect her especially vulnerable community against the threats they faced—namely: racism, sexism and homophobia.

As Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera organized during the days of the uprising, their experiences with racism, misogyny and transphobia, gave urgency to their work as organizers and founders of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR.


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In short, queer and trans Black and Brown activists had to be at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots, as their experiences made them the most vulnerable. As we celebrate their work, it is disingenuous to erase the way that racial identity, class and gender played a pivotal role in the work of leading activists.

We must note the amazing work of Queer and Trans Black people in creating the modern-day BLM movement. 

In its contemporary form, conversations about abolitionism are based on the works of Angela Davis, a Black lesbian. And it is Audre Lorde—a self-proclaimed “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” whose work focused on developing truly intersectional activism—that inspires many organizers. The many writings of James Baldwin, a queer Black man, continues to breathe life into the fight against systemic racism. Even as we continue to challenge racism, we do so based on the work of Black LGBTQ+ activists.

I believe this Pride, even without the parades and floats, is one to remember. It is the Pride that reminds us where it all started, with people who demand freedom from oppression.

I had the opportunity to march this June, in a ‘Black Trans Lives Matter’ rally (with social distancing precautions of course).

In this rally is where I felt the most proud—prouder than any Pride parade has ever made me feel. I walked the streets of Brooklyn, not too far from where the Stonewall Riots took place, with a vision of intersectionality.

I remembered that Pride has never been about the floats, the flags or the rainbows. Pride has always been about finding solidarity in community. It is about fighting for one another in the face of various oppressions, some that may not directly affect you, but realizing that your liberation is tied to one another.

I realized a Pride without racial justice, a Pride without intersectional feminism, is no Pride at all. It is simply a mockery of the work of the trailblazers that came before us.


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About

Born in Haiti, and raised in Miami Florida, Kwolanne Felix is a rising junior at Columbia College studying the History of the African Diaspora. Kwolanne's passion for international politics, social justice, and gender equality has led her to work with organizations such as NOW and the Council of Foreign Relations; as well as to start Inclusion and Diversity Task Force to address inequities on her college campus. In her free time, she writes a column for the Columbia Spectator reflecting on nuanced intersectional issues of her community.