“Every indifference to prejudice is suicide because, if I don’t fight all bigotry, bigotry itself will be strengthened and, sooner or later, it will return on me.” – Bayard Rustin
Although the experiences are different, the struggle for basic human rights for Blacks and the LGBTQIA+ community has always been interconnected – we are not indifferent to their stories and vice versa. In an August 1970 speech, Huey P. Newton stated his belief that the LGBTQIA+ community might be the most oppressed and potentially revolutionary group in society and that the black freedom struggle needed them as allies. As well, many of the actions taken on behalf of the movement for LGBTQIA+ rights were modeled from the pages of the Black civil rights activist’s playbook. And why not? So many of the asks run parallel: freedom from discrimination; the right to marry the person we choose; the ability to show up as we are/as our authentic selves; and, more imperatively, the right to simply exist.
Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865, two years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, that Blacks in Texas were finally informed of the abolition of slavery and their implied freedom. First celebrated on its anniversary on June 19, 1866, observances in the U.S. began to decline in the early days of the Civil Rights movement; however, its significance was acknowledged in a Juneteenth Solidarity Day during the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 (led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), and it continued to enjoy a resurgence in popularity in subsequent years.
We would see this concept of delayed humanity for Blacks repeated throughout history in the U.S. Jim Crow and Jane Crow laws, de facto segregation, voting rights act amendments, gerrymandering, vigilante violence/hate crimes, and the failure or refusal to pass punitive or protective legislation under the guise of avoiding governmental overreach – all actions designed by entrenched groups to retain power and delay or deny equal rights. Blacks learned early on and through daily enforcement that neither freedom, nor liberation, nor equality would be handed over easily; all had to be hard fought and won.
So, it’s not surprising that the incident that became the rallying cry of the emerging LGBTQIA+ liberation movement began at a bar frequented primarily by drag queens and gay men of color, and by the launch of a brick (or a shot glass depending upon whom you ask) by a black, transgender woman. She already knew what was needed and what was at stake – she lived at the intersection of multiple avenues of discrimination and hate, and a yearning to simply be.
This event, known as the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, started when people like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera stood up against a police raid of the Stonewall Inn and advocated for their freedom to gather and be open about their sexual orientation without fear of arrest. Though their contributions were largely dismissed until more recently, without the galvanizing efforts of trans people and people of color, the then-monikered gay rights movement might not have received this much-needed jumpstart.
Yet, even as Blacks’ contributions to the cause for LGBTQIA+ rights are frequently marginalized or relegated to footnotes, history shows that we were there with them from the beginning and will continue to show up, in solidarity, lending our voices, our presence, our time, our resources, and our talents to their causes. Because LGBTQIA+ rights, like all civil rights, are personal to us. We share in the setbacks as well as the successes and celebrations. It’s a matter of life, and death…and a matter of Pride.
In honor of Pride month, the Black Inclusion Group has donated $5,000 to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.