I am a bisexual, black woman. I have been out for over 3 years, but had yet to attend a Pride parade, so I wanted today to be my first. I hold issue with a lot of aspects of Pride festivals, including its insidious corporate stronghold and inclusion of uniformed police in the parades. But like so many people, I thought I could shelve the voice in my head in favor of queers in tutus, party floats, and rainbow confetti.
After the experience I had, I will never attend another Pride parade, and if you have any sense of allyship, you will examine the ways you celebrate Pride, too.
Today I stood in the crowd on Hennepin Ave and 12th Street, waiting for the parade to start with my friends. An hour rolled past. I started to wonder what was going on when a group protesting police involvement in Pride walked down the route and stopped at our intersection. Anyone who knows me knows that I am pro-community, anti-police, and anti-white-supremacy. So naturally, I threw a fist up in solidarity and loudly screamed along with them: “No cops! No KKK! No racist USA!“
No one else around me joined in: I looked around and saw that I was the only black person within the 50 or so uncomfortable white people at this intersection. Unfazed, I continued to loudly cheer and support the protesters’ chants for the remainder of their time at our intersection. It was disheartening to me that this crowd was so resistant to the activists’ message considering Minneapolis police had just murdered yet another civilian just the night before. There could not have been a better time to talk about the issue of policing in Minneapolis, and using Pride no less: a platform that originally began in direct opposition of the police. I have no doubt that corporations turning Pride into a bubbly, love-fest (only now that queerness is cool and profitable, cough cough) is a big reason why the people who attend it now would rather cheer for police than ever pick up a rock at the sight of them. Despite the fact that police are still overwhelmingly discriminatory against the LGBTQ+ community.
As the activists moved away, two white men behind me started to complain about the protest. Two of my friends had left to use the bathroom, leaving me and one of my other friends (who is white) alone. It was as the two of us were waiting that I overheard one of the men say the protest was “unnecessary.” Annoyed, I turned around and said, “Dude, the fact that you’re saying all this shit means it definitely was necessary.”
Without looking me in the eyes, he replied, “I mean, I get it, but it’s a parade.”
At this point, my friend spoke up saying, “Bringing awareness to people’s lives is more important than a parade.”
I agreed. “Also, if you actually got why this is happening, you wouldn’t be complaining, you’d be supporting it. But I can see from your Target rainbow glasses that you probably don’t see an issue with Pride being run by corps and cops.”
Did I get an attitude with this man? 100%. I don’t regret it either. I’m absolutely tired of white people rolling their eyes at protests and putting their desire to be comfortable over the human rights violations happening to their neighbors of color. I’m tired of having to listen to white people throw their uneducated opinions into the wind, not caring who gets hurt when it’s inevitably carried to their ears.
The white man’s friend decided that this is when he would join in the conversation. He was wearing shades so I couldn’t see his eyes, but I definitely saw his creepy smile as he said, “Oh she doesn’t like capitalism or cops. If you don’t like it here then you should leave and go back to where you came from.”
In the words of one of my favorite queers, Jonathan Van Ness:
Let’s unpack that.
A white man…presumably queer, if not queer-adjacent…at a pride parade…a supposedly inclusive event…told the only black person there that they should go back to where they came from. He said nothing to my white friend standing right next to me who clearly also felt the same way as me. It was me he singled out to leave the country.
I’ve got a couple ideas as to why. It could have been because I’m loud. Perhaps my sports bra and shorts combo offended him. Maybe it was because I was black, and a woman, and had the audacity to step out of my place on the hierarchal ladder and speak against him. Maybe it was because my strong Minnesotan accent mistakenly screamed “foreigner” to him.
I’m bisexual, so I like to consider more than one option, but one of these feels more likely than the others.
Have you ever had a moment where things seem to slow down? Where your head goes from being slightly tilted in confusion, to looking at someone dead in the eyes, your back straightening out, feet planted, no waver in your voice?
That was me when I looked at this smiling white man, pointed at him, and said, “Fuck. You. I was born here, asshole. And even if I wasn’t…fuck you!” [Side bar y’all, I knew the moment would come when a white person would step outta line with me and I’d have to scream in their face, and it finally happened, and I did not disappoint myself.]
He smirked, “Well this is a capitalist country. If you don’t like it, leave. We don’t want you here.
My friend is backing me up (bless him, an actual ally) but I’m not listening because at this point, an older white man in front of me turns around to me and says, “You need to be quiet. There are kids around.”
“THE KIDS?” I laughed in disbelief. “This man is literally spouting racist bullshit to me but what you’re advocating for right now are the kids?? You’re not going to tell HIM to shut up?”
Everyone is watching us at this point. I know this because, 1) I’m absolutely screaming and, 2) I took a moment to look directly in the eyes of every white person standing around us, and said, “Every single one of you listening to this man say racist things to me? All of you not speaking up? You are part of the problem.”
I still can’t believe I said all the things I did. My hands were shaking and my head was pounding as if I’d gone days without water, and that crowd of white people was the Sahara, offering me no relief.
Finally, a man goes, “Hey dude, even if you disagree with her, you’re out of line.” Other people start to speak up too, while the racist men just shake their heads and try to defend themselves as if their amused by it all. I’m speechless when a young woman steps up to me and goes, “Would you like to move over here? Away from them?” I let her pull me and my friend aside, and I watch as a few people — just a few — attempt to tell the racist man off.
One man comes up to me and goes, “I’m sorry that happened, but I just want you to know that more of us stand with you than there are those that think like him.” And I looked at him, voice shaking as I tried my hardest not to cry, and said,
“If that was the truth, then you should have stood up sooner and drowned him out.”
Then my friend and I left.
This is not the Pride that should be, but it’s the Pride that is. One where queer people of color do not find solidarity with their white counterparts. Where we do not feel safe.
Every white person that I told about this incident acted shocked. But there’s nothing suprising about this to people of color, because it’s what we’ve always known: queerness has never stopped white people from perpetuating white supremacy. There are queer racists. And because of this, our queer experiences have never been the same, and queer spaces have never felt truly safe.
You may be thinking, “this was just one incident, how can you generalize,” but what you need and absolutely must understand is that for every one incident that you hear about, 100, 200, 500, are happening that you don’t. Either because it’s happening outside your circle of friends, or to someone who doesn’t feel comfortable with talking about it, or to someone who’s plain scared to talk about it. My black, queer experience at Pride is not an anomaly. You just aren’t listening.
And if you are listening, if you’ve made it this far into this essay, this is your call to action: stop supporting corporate Pride. Stop supporting police at Pride (or anywhere else for that matter, but we can start there I guess). Start listening to and supporting the queer people of color who would also rather be celebrating and not using their time to bring attention to injustices. And for the love of god – if you consider yourself an ally to people of color, you need to use your voice and your body and your privilege to protect them from those who would fight to see them gone. We’ve come too far to allow racists, and those who would allow them to speak, a place in our community.
And if you’re reading this and you were there, and you remember a 5’4″ black woman staring down a racist white man at the parade today, and you didn’t say anything? I do not forgive you. You must do better next time.
There is no Pride in silence.
Shut it down.