Going Back to the Roots of Pride
The Stonewall Rebellion started with transgender women and gender nonconforming butches, especially transgender folks of color and homeless youth who were fed up with police harassment. They risked arrest and violence to fight back. In the process, they sparked a movement that led to legal and civil protections for LGBTQ people in jobs, housing, safety, recognition of our relationships and raising a family.
These days, pride often evokes the images of parades, dance parties and Absolut Vodka sponsorship, rather than civil disobedience. The mainstream image is a group of shirtless, sweaty, beautiful, young, mostly white men with money to spend on gay-friendly products. This image belies a number of realities: continued job discrimination for transgender folks, especially those who don't "pass" well; assumptions by the police that being a transgender woman walking down the street means you are a sex worker; LGBTQ folks living in our shelter system in NYC and trying to stay safe; and the reality, in the wake of a gentrified West Village, of LGBTQ youth pushed out of the very neighborhood where it all started at the Stonewall Inn.
But transgender folks of color and homeless youth are still leading the LGBTQ movement in the spirit of Stonewall. This pride month, LGBTQ organizations are coming together with other marginalized communities around the city to end the city's discriminatory "Stop and Frisk" practices. "Stop and Frisk" is a New York City Police Department (NYPD) practice that aggressively targets low-income communities of color, young people, homeless people, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, immigrants, and women for random stops and searches. The result of these wrongful stops are often arrests for minor violations, which lead to a lifetime of discrimination in housing, jobs, social services, and social stigma, and can even lead to deportation.
The coalition confronting this unfair policy is called Communities United for Police Reform (CPR for short, which mirrors the initials of the NYPD's slogan). Many North Star Fund grantees are leading this charge, including Picture the Homeless, Justice Committee, Make the Road NY, and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, along with allies in the legal, research and policy arenas. But significantly, leadership is also coming from NYC's LGBTQ organizations, including North Star grantees like Streetwise and Safe, FIERCE, Make the Road's Globe project and the Audre Lorde Project. These groups are led by LGBTQ youth, women of color, immigrants and transgender people, who often face police harassment in their everyday lives. And they are making the connections to the police harassment faced by other targeted communities in NYC.
In my work for LGBTQ rights, I have sometimes heard white LGBTQ people like me or mainstream LGBTQ organizations say that our struggles are "just like" the civil rights struggles ofAfrican Americans, as a way to take advantage of the fact that in most people's minds, civil rights for African Americans are deserved and have been won. In many cases, these individuals or organizations have not been involved in past struggles for justice for Black communities and or combating the continued racism faced by folks of African descent, straight and gay. This has always struck me as a little like showing up to the cook out right when the barbeque's ready and wanting to be first in line for the juiciest burger, without having done any of the work to cook the food, set up the blankets or fill the coolers with ice. As an LGBTQ movement, we can do better, and many leaders in our communities are showing us the way.
Recently, I was in a meeting where I heard a straight person from a Latino immigrant and workers' rights group say that we have to end "Stop and Frisk" because it targets young African American and Latino men and transgender people. I was incredibly moved to hear straight allies including LGBTQ people up front. I know that it's a result of the leadership shown by LGBTQ organizations involved in this campaign, both pushing for our inclusion, and showing up for our allies in a meaningful way.
LGBTQ communities cannot win our fight for justice alone. And that means we have to be right there in the fight for justice for our allies as well: immigrants, excluded workers, women, unions among them. North Star Fund is a place where NYC communities come together from all walks of life - with the multiple ways we are privileged and marginalized. North Star is proud to serve as the fiscal sponsor for the CPR campaign. And as a white queer person, I've learned so much from, and am excited to follow the leadership of trans folks, LGBTQ youth and adults of color and support this amazing work. This June, let's join together and fight for justice for all New Yorkers in the spirit of pride.
For more information on the activities of the CPR Campaign, click here. To donate to North Star and support this and other important efforts, click here.