Every single year, the Pride discourse begins. What is acceptable to wear at Pride? What is acceptable to do at Pride? Who is acceptable at Pride? (As a bisexual, my invitation is fair weather, so, as always, my solidarity is with the Ace community who have it even worse than us) And of course, the inevitable debate about what Pride should be.
Is it a protest? Is it a celebration? Should we allow corporations to be represented, if it means we get to see Ariana Grande? Should police be allowed to attend? What about tories? It’s contentious, as all family gatherings are, but we get through it every year. The one other thing that also makes it through the year and resurfaces around summer time is the story of Marsha P Johnson.
For those who don’t know, Marsha P Johnson was one of the key figures in the fight for LGBT rights. A founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, the co founder of S.T.A.R with Sylvia Rivera and a leading activist in AIDS awareness, Marsha P Johnson was a trailblazer for LGBT rights in the United States, and threw the brick heard around the world at the Stonewall Riots.
Marsha’s story has been passed down through many generations of the LGBT community, and deservedly so, but every year, it becomes clearer that while some in our community enjoy lionising Marsha P Johnson, they are not ready to have a conversation about why the expectation is still on black women to do the heavy lifting when it comes to activism.
While I’m sure many do not have that expectation, it’s clear that some do. As seen in a tweet from British political party “Northern Independence Party” where they finished a thread on boycotting corporate sponsored Pride events with “Important to note that this isn’t advocating for black transgender women to throw bricks at the police. …Unless?”
This party‘s online support is heavily made up of white left leaning people, and the tweet was engaged with and supported by many white left leaning people, but are any of them willing to discuss the fact that a black woman, especially a black woman, even looking at a brick in a police officer’s presence is likely to face police brutality? While this may seem like a joke to comfortable, very online leftists, the violence faced by black women, particularly black trans women is not a joke.
Black people receive harsher sentences when charged with crimes, if they even make it out of a confrontation with a police officer alive. If Marsha threw that brick now, today, at London Pride, she would likely end up in hospital, and when she got out, Prison. They would make an example of her, they would humiliate her, because she was black, trans, and inconveniencing them.
We see white activists doing the same things that Marsha did all the time for causes like Extinction Rebellion, but they aren’t treated in the same way as many black activists, as we saw during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Middle class, affluent white people within the movement openly admit that they can afford arrest, because they’re likely to get away with a fine. They can stomach an arrest because it won’t effect their future. They can handle an arrest because they won’t be manhandled.
That is privilege. Marsha did not have that privilege but she took a risk, and thankfully, she was fortunate enough to come away with her life. That isn’t always a sure thing, and anyone who paid attention to the Black Lives Matter protests would know that, wouldn’t they? The whole point was that black people are treated differently to white people when the police are involved.
It’s easy to tweet about what a black trans woman did, or post a cute webcomic about it on Instagram. It’s easy to invoke her name, but I think a lot in our community need to ask themselves “Would I use my privilege as a white person to throw a brick for her?” If the answer is no, stop expecting it to be done for you.
Black trans women in particular are some of the most vulnerable in our community. Facing daily violence, threats and discrimination, along with some of the highest rates of murder in our community. Black women already have to be everything to everyone, everywhere. Black women began the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. Black women have been key parts of the fight for LGBT liberation, risking their lives over and over again, so is it really right for anyone to be asking them to do more?
This Pride month, I would like for white people within our community to ask what they can do, to repay the black women who threw the bricks for all of us. I don’t just mean putting up a graphic on Instagram or signing a petition. I mean real, genuine action. Speak to a black woman within our community, hear their stories and really listen. Volunteer at hotlines for at risk LGBT people (many are staffed by and serving black members of our community). Offer a black woman in our community a platform, offer real solidarity that doesn’t wear off when you get uncomfortable hearing her talk about white privilege. Stop thinking that adding our skin colour to the Pride flag is enough to defeat anti blackness in the LGBT community.
The black women of the LGBT community have heavy shoulders, because they have always been there for us, so this June, it’s time to live up to the example set by the elders of our community, who have previously stood in solidarity with black women and stop expecting them to throw bricks for you.
It’s time for our generation to grow up and protect those who have spent their lifetimes fighting for us, before it’s too late.