Re-Imagining Pride in the Midst of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter Movement
by Erica Gehringer
June is “Pride” month in the United States, and when “Gay Pride” comes to mind, many of us may think: Rainbows! Parades! Celebrations! However, it’s important to remember that Pride started as a riot led by transwomen of color like Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major, and Sylvia Rivera in June 1969. In fact, the very reason we have Pride in June is to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. Therefore, the heavily-commercialized (and white-washed) version of Pride that we have today would not exist without the resistance, fight, and action of queer and trans people of color. This is a part of history that many of us unfortunately were not taught.
The heavily-commercialized (and white-washed) version of Pride that we have today would not exist without the resistance, fight, and action of queer and trans people of color. This is a part of history that many of us unfortunately were not taught.
This June 2020, we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, which has cancelled most public Pride events. We are also in the midst of an uprising for the Black Lives Matter movement. As a queer person myself, I admit that I was originally saddened by the inability to go outside and celebrate with my friends, but I quickly shifted my perspective as I remembered our history. “Pride wasn't cancelled. The opposite; we took it back. Companies didn't use it as a [...] promotion. Capitalism was kicked out. It's - once again - a riot,” the twitter @Ita_mang states. This reframe allowed me to re-envision the idea of what “Pride” actually means to me and our community, and again, I am humbly reminded that without black and brown folks, change cannot happen.
Of course, I believe that queerness should always be celebrated and uplifted. At the same time, it’s hard to feel “Prideful” when so many queer and trans folks, most often black and brown, are disproportionately and violently targeted still in 2020. The Human Rights Campaign reports, “2020 has already seen at least 15 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. We say at least because too often these stories go unreported — or misreported.” Time reports, “Two Black trans women — Riah Milton in Ohio and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells in Pennsylvania — were killed earlier this week, amid an increasing outcry from activists to protect Black trans people.” In May, a black transgender man named Tony McDade was shot and killed by the police. And yet, we very often do not hear about, nor properly honor, these acts of violence. Moments like this remind us that we cannot reach a truly equitable and just way of life unless all queer and trans people are freed from discrimination and violence.
Moments like this remind us that we cannot reach a truly equitable and just way of life unless all queer and trans people are freed from discrimination and violence.
I know this blog’s largest audience is Korean American adoptees and their loved ones, so some may ask why I am choosing to center other black and brown queer and trans people in this post. My answer is that for us who are non-black Korean Americans (and adoptive family members), we need to examine our views of anti-blackness, homophobia, and transphobia in our community. We need to be able to educate each other about issues that may not directly affect us as individuals, but rather as a larger community and society.
Many of us grew up in straight, white families and communities, and with this, we have been socialized to follow and normalize both heteronormative and white standards and ideals. As Asian Americans, it is sometimes complicated for us to understand where we “fit in” as people of color due to the history of the Model Minority Myth. However, the model minority myth is a deliberate racialized tool that uses Asian Americans as a mechanism to validate white supremacy and anti-blackness, stating that Asians are inherently more “hard working” and “high achieving” than other people of color.
The model minority myth is a deliberate racialized tool that uses Asian Americans as a mechanism to validate white supremacy and anti-blackness, stating that Asians are inherently more “hard working” and “high achieving” than other people of color.
Harlow’s Monkey writes about Anti-Blackness and adoption, stating, “Asian [...] adoptees are treated as model minorities by whites, positioned as less angry and less confrontative as Blacks. This exactly mimics larger societal framing of Asians as honorary whites because it allows whites to discriminate against Blacks using the ‘why can’t they be like Asians’ argument. Of course, we know that honorary whiteness is only used when it is convenient to those in power and as the COVID-19 pandemic reveals, any supposed privilege of honorary whiteness can be quickly taken away.”
This is not to discount the fact that as Asian Americans, we have faced discrimination and racism, especially in the midst of COVID-19. However, while we fight against anti-Asian racism, we need to also fight against anti-blackness. Otherwise, we are not working towards racial justice, but a newly structured racial hierarchy of power. Therefore, as non-black folks, we cannot overlook our own social positionings and privileges or what is happening around us. We must support our fellow communities of color and their struggles, as well as triumphs.
As June comes to a close, we need to honor our histories while moving forward. We need to uplift, center, and care for black and brown queer and trans lives. We need to find ways for Pride to exist without simultaneous police and community violence, exploitation, and discrimination against black and brown queer and trans people. We need to be able to live authentically for who we are without fearing for our safety on a daily basis. We need to openly and intentionally celebrate and embrace queerness all year around—not just for one month. That, to me, is what Pride should look like because, again, we cannot reach a truly equitable and just way of life unless all queer and trans people are freed from discrimination and violence.
As June comes to a close, we need to honor our histories while moving forward. We need to uplift, center, and care for black and brown queer and trans lives.
I understand that not all of us have the ability to attend protests at this time, but there are certainly other ways we can contribute to the movement. This includes—but is not limited to—sharing resources with friends and family; donating our time, labor, or money to black and brown-led organizations; learning our own histories and social positionings (and not relying on our black and brown friends to educate us about racism); utilizing the internet, books, and social media to educate ourselves; crediting (and compensating!) the black and brown leaders and artists who have taught us new ideas and skills; shopping at black-owned businesses; divesting from exploitative and racist companies; listening to when our black and brown friends, colleagues, and loved ones correct us; and demanding action from our elected officials. The instagram @aidanwharton has also posted a non-exhaustive list of black queer and trans organizations we can support. This Pride month (and beyond), I am making a commitment to invest in the queer black and brown community, and I hope you are able to join me too.
Erica Gehringer is a queer Korean American adoptee who lives in Seattle, WA with her wife, Tynishia (a queer, black adoptee). She previously served on the KAAN Advisory Council and currently helps manage and edit the KAAN Blog. Erica is a social worker who works with and advocates for parents involved in the child welfare system in Washington State.