Pride started as a riot. It was necessary; in those days, police delighted in terrorizing queer people in our own spaces. After Stonewall, a raid on a nearby gay bar led to Diego Viñales falling and impaling himself on a fence, fearing deportation if the police arrested him and discovered he had overstayed his visa. One of the witnesses then heard a cop say, “You don’t have to hurry, he’s dead, and if he’s not, he’s not going to live long.”
Yet today, we see police (who for their part assaulted Peter Murphy during the first Mardi Gras) and the Liberal Party marching in Mardi Gras, while all sorts of corporations eagerly co-opt the rainbow as a veneer for advertisements. After marriage equality, many allies and even some in the community will cease advocating for LGBT rights. This does a great disservice to the queer people of color and transgender women in particular who have fought for decades. Even now, their own struggles are still kept silent, in favor of a narrative appealing to the sensibilities of cisgender, heterosexual people.
Before Stonewall there was Compton’s Cafeteria. The 24-hour cafeteria was one of the few places transgender women could meet publicly, as gay bars were hostile towards them, and homeless, black, and Latine queer youth often gathered there. As police and management attempted to arrest a trans woman, she threw coffee into an officer’s face and others – including a local lesbian street gang – erupted in support. This opened the road to the movement; the first transgender support groups and healthcare services formed over the next two years, and police became wary of openly perpetuating harassment after the two-day riot.
It’s hard to place the people of the earliest riots, beyond the fact that trans women headed the rescue from the police van outside Stonewall Inn. Of course, their priorities were the right to survive, and they found no allies in the media. Stonewall’s first reporter stood next to the police as they dragged a protester through the door and punched him repeatedly in the face. In the years since, increasingly conservative elements of the gay rights movement sidelined trans women in front of the press, while profiting from their action. Stonewall fell victim to anti-homeless efforts from real estate developers and the New York government, gradually edging out queer youth and sex workers of color. This was explained as a result of increased tourism.
Without critical examination, mainstream media often slips into the dichotomy of pitting an image of (white) gayness against non-white cultures and religions. This also plays into the cynical strategy of right-wing politicians wielding xenophobia and threatening queer people simultaneously. Queer refugees around the world are caught in the crossfire, left in inhumane and unsafe conditions with no end in sight, and carefully ignored. Meanwhile, the governments displacing their people claim to champion freedom. Few are willing to take on the intersection of racism and homophobia, especially against the state and corporate newspapers doing their best to keep it quiet – at least, when they’re not saying that their human rights abuses and warmongering is justified by the backwards, barbaric culture of the foreigner, and can’t you see that by the brave gay soldiers defending the country that gave them their rights?
The goal is not to assimilate blindly. Most of us aren’t allowed to, anyway. Life is not a series of hoops to jump through, to prove you pose no threat to the white cisgender majority and their beliefs. They may express a grudging acceptance that we’re “not that different” where it is politically useful to themselves, and then drop it as the tides change. This was just one of the reasons why last year’s postal vote was so distressing to queer Australians, being surrendered to the public microscope such that the Liberal Party can claim victory.
Other LGBT people also perpetuate racism within their community. In London, bouncers at gay clubs have demanded that South Asian men “prove” themselves as a method of racist degradation. This mirrors the same attitudes that write off all black, Asian, or Middle Eastern LGBT people as a homogeneous, one-dimensional type that just happens to be sexually undesirable or a punchline.
While transgender women and queer people of colour face the most violence, there is no longer the brave defiance of the community fighting back and forging networks of support; organizers of a Pride march named after Stonewall can jeer as police arrest queer black protesters and testify against them, while walking alongside banks making money off oil pipelines on stolen land.
Are we at the end of history? Judging by the ongoing battle for transgender rights, against a backdrop of corporate subterfuge and shifting political manipulations, the world may yet see a few storms. Once again, we will find ourselves in confrontation – except this time the LGBT community may have to face its own cracks first, and accept the reality that an ad campaign cannot buy our freedom and a corporation won’t.
This article appeared in the autonomous queer edition, Queer Honi 2018.