Pride in time of tragedy

A letter from Florida

On June 11, I attended the annual LGBTQ Pride event held in Pensacola, Fla., my girlfriend and I arriving at about 1:30 in the afternoon. We toured some of the booths celebrating queer and transgender lives and art, listened to some great live music, made connections. Some of us more radical queers discussed where we hoped the future of the LGBTQ community would be by next year. It was a great time and a great space to occupy.

Less than 12 hours later, I was sitting at my desk, staring in horror at my phone where a headline said at least 20 people had been shot in an Orlando gay night club. As the day went on, the death toll of our mostly Latino/a queer and transgender comrades, as well as allies who had supported us, rose to 49, casting a somber shadow over our community, as well as our Pride month.

The next week on June 26, Pride went on in St. Petersburg, Fla., despite this tragedy. Though emotions were high, there was still Pride. The parade was filled with music and dancing, but there was also remembrance. Parade-goers marched with signs containing the names of each person killed in the Pulse nightclub, as well as their ages.

Also at the parade was an increase in police presence — in surveillance, undercover police, the FBI, Homeland Security and a wave of other surveillance forces. Many have praised these groups for their service, but since when is Pride supposed to be on government lockdown? Since when do we accept celebrating ourselves, our lives and the fight for LGBTQ liberation under the eyes of a violent police state that continues to be a large part of violence against queer and transgender people, especially queer and transgender people of color?

Mainstream LGBTQ organizers say that times have changed and Stonewall was 50 years ago. But when you really think about it, Stonewall was only 50 years ago, and police violence did not end on the final night of the Stonewall uprising. Police violence was present in the 1980s and 1990s when AIDS activists demanded the government acknowledge them and their lives, and police violence was present at a Pulse vigil in New York City just weeks ago. The very idea that we are protected by the police is a result of homonationalism and, often, one’s own privilege — especially considering Pride events now are largely dominated by upper-class, white, cisgender, gay white men and women.

The police who march beside us in Pride parades and put “We Are Orlando” decals on their cruisers are the same police who harass transgender women, particularly transgender women of color, and bust up camps for homeless queer youth. They are the same cops who shoot queer people and arrest undocumented trans people and allow them to be sent to abusive detention centers.

We cannot celebrate ourselves under the spotlight of state-sanctioned surveillance, which inevitably leads to more violence against queer and transgender people. We must not run into the cold arms of a homonationalism that embraces us in tragedy, erases our identities as queer and transgender people, calls us “Americans” instead and then spends every other day of the year actively campaigning against our lives. In the wake of this tragedy, we must now more than ever bring Pride back to what it was supposed to be: a celebration of all of our unique and intersecting identities, free from fear of violence.