Did you know that trans women – particularly those of colour – were front and centre of the famous 1969 Stonewall riots that kick-started the LGBTQ+ liberation movement, in the United States and then internationally?
Have you heard of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera? If you haven’t, don’t feel bad. It’s probably because the narrative of what happened at Stonewall has been whitewashed and cis-washed, over and over again, throughout the last fifty years – not least with that terrible film that came out in 2015, which seemed determined to recentre everything around its cis male gay protagonist. And it’s unfortunately easy to understand how and why this happened…
In the early days, the LGBTQ+ liberation movement (now more commonly referred to by the simple misnomer “gay rights”) leaned heavily on, what I call, the ’just like you’ narrative. It appealed to the widely popular picture of the perfect nuclear family – parents, 2.4 kids, a dog and a white picket fence. Queer liberation was built out of convincing people living in a heteronormative society that, really, gay men and lesbians were just like them – they wanted long-term, monogamous partnerships; marriage, children and a home in the suburbs. Unfortunately, the success of ’just like you’ came at a price, and that price was paid by everyone who didn’t fit the new, narrow, definition of ‘socially acceptable queer’. This meant that the bisexual and pansexuals, transgender, genderqueer and non-binary folks were suddenly sidelined; people of colour, sex workers, asexual people…we were the forgotten voices of the queer liberation movement, and today we are still the forgotten voices of Pride.
“[Pride is] being able to express myself freely when for years I couldn’t be out.”
– W, bisexual and polyamorous woman.
I went to my first Pride in Birmingham, UK, in 2009. I was nineteen years old, attending with my fiancé, my girlfriend and her fiancée. It was my first time being out in public as openly polyamorous and bisexual. Kissing my girlfriend in the street surrounded by fellow queer people, and later dancing to our song (‘Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny)’ by A. R. Rahman and the Pussycat Dolls, if you really want to know) was the first time I felt proud. The first time I truly felt that my love for this man and this woman was not wrong – it was actually the most right thing in the world.
“[Pride is] a protest. Always has been, always will be.”
– P, genderqueer.
Later on that day, we were browsing the stalls and I squealed upon finding a rare item in the signature blue-purple-pink stripes of the bisexual pride flag.
“Ugh, filthy bisexuals,” the woman running the stall muttered. “Pick a fucking side.” (Don’t ask me why she was selling bi pride merch if she was so opposed to us, or why she thought making her prejudice known would make us want to buy from her.)
Years later, at a different Pride festival, I listened as the headline performer did a shout out in turn to gay men, lesbians, trans people… and straight allies. And then went on to say that bisexual people were disgusting, and spread diseases. I was saddened but unsurprised when the few complaints were dismissed by the festival organisers.
“[Pride is] about showing the world I’m not ashamed of who I am and who I love.”
– S, bisexual man.
Remember, both of these stories are from the last ten years, and they are just a couple of many examples that I could have cited. More often than not, bi people and trans people barely get a mention at Pride – and if we do, it’s often considered completely okay to deride us or make fun of us. As recently as last year, an acquaintance of mine had to fight tooth and nail to get a bi pride float to be permitted in a Pride parade. As a bisexual woman, I often find myself questioning if I am really queer enough to claim space in Pride, and some members of the community seem all too eager to tell me I am not. Genderqueer, intersex and asexual folks are even more roundly ignored, or – worse – subject to endless debates over whether or not they belong at Pride or even really exist. (Spoiler: they do, they do, and they always have.)
“[Pride is] a big FUCK YOU to the people who still hate us.”
– L, trans woman.
Look, I love Pride! It’s wonderful and important in a lot of ways. I will never turn down the opportunity to paint glitter all over my face and run around a city with fellow queers in ostentatious slogan t-shirts – or very little clothing at all. But it’s not enough. I want to see bisexuals, trans people and asexual people welcomed with open arms. I want to see more people of colour. I want to welcome poorer people (when tickets to get into festival grounds can be £20+ and drinks and food are exorbitantly overpriced, Pride is simply inaccessible to many people). I want to see more disabled folks. I’m sick of seeing such a narrow subsection of our community being represented. What about the rest of us?
“[Pride is] a party. Perhaps once it was something more, but not any longer.”
– T, asexual.
I fear that Pride, as a cultural phenomenon, has now moved too far away from its roots. Pride was a protest and now it’s a party. I’m in favour of partying and plastering rainbows on everything, of course, but in celebrating how far we’ve come we also need to remember how far we still have to go. Same sex marriage was a triumphant chapter in our story, but it was not the end. Pride was once a loud, public symbol of a revolution, and the revolution was not corporate sponsored. We’ve not finished our work just because banks, drinks companies and fast food chains now consider us a viable market to sell to.
Despite attempts to rewrite it, our history was diverse and our future will be the same. We’re here, we’re many different shades of queer, and we’re going to stick around until the world gets used to it.