The death of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of the police has reignited an inferno of rage that has been simmering for decades. With demonstrations happening across the nation amidst a global pandemic, the Black people of America are warring with two grave matters at this very moment; police brutality and systemic violence are dire matters that have been impeding the lives of Black people for decades.
With civil unrest remaining a defining trait in America, it is paramount to mention how the legacy of Pride came to fruition. Before Pride became an annual parade and a public exhibition of community and inclusivity, it was once a cluster of demonstrations helmed by Black and Latinx transgender women like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
The Stonewall Riots of 1969 were a direct response to the rampant police brutality that had plagued New York’s LGBTQ+ community and their bars for years. The lives of these people, which had already been compromised by close-minded sentiments of the time, were challenged constantly by police, who would frequently raid gay bars in the city. But they were ill-equipped for the opposition that was awaiting them at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. Revolution is a thread sewn directly into the fabric of the Black LGBTQ experience.
As Pride Month nears its end and we continue to observe the legacy that lives within and amongst us, it is imperative to maintain the juxtaposition of Blackness and Queerness whenever there’s a dialogue regarding police brutality, which has buried a myriad of people from our respective communities. On May 27, an African-American transgender man, Tony McDade, was shot and killed by a police officer in Tallahassee. Tony’s passing is no anomaly, and the media coverage still remains lacking. Homophobia and transphobia can’t persist in a movement that invokes the scriptures of inclusion and oneness.
Billboard spoke to 10 Black LGBTQ musicians to see how they’re showing up for themselves and the community, and to hear their requests from allies within and outside of the LGBTQ community at such a burdensome time.
“The oppression of Black people in the United States is sadly one of the core attributes of what makes up this country’s identity so to say that ‘police brutality’ is a compartmentalized issue would be wrong. We are talking about an institutionalized system of racism and the perpetual murders of black people either at hands of the police (the most publicized), through food apartheid, nutritional and environmental racism, or the mass incarceration pipeline. So one of the ways in which I am showing up for myself and my community is to begin learning as much as I can about food apartheid and environmental racism, how climate change and White supremacy are closely intertwined, and how you cannot have conversations around what we need to do to save the planet from pollutants without talking about racism.
“Before June 1, I personally made very clear statements on both my Twitter and Instagram accounts that we (we as in, ALL AMERICANS, and particularly the Queer community) were not going to allow the corporatizing of Pride to shift the focus away from protesting and seeking justice for the murders of Black people. Unfortunately, Pride has moved far away from its origins into a netherworld of rainbow marketing meant to celebrate the consumer escaping from reality and continuing to be just another holiday in which corporations can leach off of for capital. Pride has been eclipsed this year by something more important than a corporatized show of inclusion, an earnest show of solidarity against systemic injustice which are Pride’s true roots.
“The problem is in this very question itself — stop asking what ‘allies can do.’ You’re an ally because somehow you don’t experience the same oppression. You’re an ally because somehow you skirt the injustice. If you consider yourself an ‘ally’ of any oppressed group that means that you have a privilege of some kind so use your brain. Find out what you need to do yourself and then do it, stop asking questions like a toddler struggling to learn a sentence. Use your brain and get involved, the emotional labor olympics are over for the oppressed other halves. Be a good ally and find out what you can do to help your community all on your own and then share that with other allies!”
What Mykki is listening to this Pride Month: “On My Own” by Shamir, “Don Dada” by Cakes Da Killa, and “You Will Find It” by Mykki Blanco feat. Devendra Banhart
“I’ve spent my time supporting my community the best ways I can given the platforms and relationships I have. I’ve partnered with a few local organizations to make sure black women organizers have materials like megaphones and sign making materials, and ‘pro-kits’ with food, water, and portable phone chargers. I set up rideshare codes to provide safe rides home from protests and jail (if applicable). I’ve spent time in the streets marching and exercising my freedom of speech while expressing my anger and disappointment following the senseless killing of Rayshard Brooks less than a mile away from my home. Of course, I’ve been more vocal than normal on my social media.
“For myself, though, I’ve been meeting with my therapist twice a month and actively utilizing the tools she provides in my day-to-day which help to drive meaningful communication in my life. I’ve also spent a lot of time buying from black owned retailers because… retail therapy. I believe it’s important to remember that everyday I walk outside of my house as a black, gay woman that it is an act of protest and that’s the case for any BIPOC and/or any LGBTQIA+ person as long as there are still blatant attacks on our communities, our rights, and our peace of mind on this earth. Our existence is activism. I don’t think there could be a better moment for that reminder than during Pride month. Initially when news about COVID-19 began circulating and festivals announced cancellations, there was this notion that Pride had been cancelled, but the reality is that these current events are the most pure iterations of Pride: protests against systems that fail all of us when they only protect some of us; allies using their privilege to emphasize and protect black, trans, and POC voices; celebration of the heroes who’ve shown us how to show up; and remembrance of the individuals lost who remind us why we are still fighting.
“I love getting filthy, dancing and making out with random hotties just as much as the next girl, but we’ve gotta keep the momentum and spirit of Pride alive for all of our sake. There is still so much work to do and always time to dance in the street right after. It needs to be clear to allies that this is their fight just as much as it is ours. It might even be more of their fight because of their privilege and stamina. We’ve been at this forever– black, queer, brown, trans people. This isn’t new and we are tired! My grandma often says, ‘Ain’t nothing changed but the date,’ and it resonates with me because this s–t goes back so far for so long. And it is time for allies to boldly participate in the movement or admit that it’s performative cosplay at best. It’s a pleasure to march alongside you, rainbows adorned, and to yell at the establishment, but will you boycott? Will you stand up to your employers? To the militarization of the police while our schools go under-funded.
“My best friend lives in Chicago where, a couple weeks ago, the police antagonized a protest she attended. Amidst inciting chaos, officers began swinging their batons to break up the crowd. One of those officers chased my queer, black friend with his baton into a doorway where, then, a white couple stepped between them, hands locked and prepared to take on whatever was next. The cop walked away. When it comes down to your ally-ship, will you literally and metaphorically put your privileged body between that of the vulnerably disenfranchised and that of the oppressor? If not, why not?”
“I think rest has become important, especially unplugging. Especially because it feels like there’s bad news every 12 seconds. Allowing myself little pockets during the week to say, ‘I don’t have to be an activist right now.’ Even though Pride is at home this year and we can’t go out and dance, my partner and I went into a drive-in drag show, we’ve been playing games, just trying to enjoy this time even though it looks different from previous years. Inclusion, even though that seems silly because Pride is a rebellion by queer people not being included in society. We have people suffering under our LGBTQ+ umbrella like black trans people, and we need to remember their names. There are people within our own family that are underrepresented. Be inclusive. (laughs) It comes down to everybody has to make sure that no one is getting lost in the margins or lost in the fight. We have to be mindful. I ask myself, who are the underrepresented groups of people and how can I listen to their stories and help them out? I feel like sometimes people get lost in the fight. People like Marsha P. Johnson get lost in the fight – she started the reason why we celebrate Pride and we have to remember those people.
“In 1988, Tracy Chapman wrote ‘Across the Lines’ describing the world then and it’s the one we see now. This song reminds me to write what I see and feel in these times. It could help someone from the next generation cope.”
“I think it’s important to be present more than ever with everything going on. As a black gay man, Pride month happening simultaneously around the police brutality movement couldn’t be more ironic. As someone with a following, I’ve made sure any chance I get that I’m spreading awareness for both causes. At this point both my Twitter and Instagram have been an open transparent feed showcasing what’s really going on out here. I’ve also been making sure my black LGBT community is being heard online at this time, we kind of get forgotten about in both scenarios whether it’s Pride and race issues.
“The Black LGBT community must be genuinely heard, period. we contribute to so much culture not just in the LGBT community but in the world, Pride needs to include us. and not just in the token sense, like oh here’s our token black queer for Pride month. we need constant acknowledgement, constant opportunities to have our voices and stories heard. Inclusion needs to be something that comes naturally at this point, not just something that’s given here and there.
“Speak up. Often times our ‘allies’ claim to support us but support goes further than ‘my best friend is Black,’ etc. Being an ally means using whatever privilege you have to further the equality of those who don’t have it. An ally is someone willing to go out and protest. An ally is a writer pushing black queer stories. An ally is someone not afraid to acknowledge the elephants in a room. if you’re truly here for us then show us better than you can tell us.”
“I was born at the intersections highlighted by these conversations and questions. It’s impossible for me to separate myself from that so it feels like ‘existing’ rather than being ‘revolutionary.’ But beyond that, I’ve been marching, and trying to use my platform to affect change. I’m producing an event that kicks off this month called Black Queer Town Hall with Bob the Drag Queen that focuses on healing and uplifting black voices.
“We are in a new age where so much is possible if we all commit to holding each other accountable and interrogating ourselves around the systems of oppression that have held us back. We all have a stake in this. And we all can reap the rewards. Allies can do one thing…. MORE. March more, Support more, donate more, use your privilege more and have MORE uncomfortable conversations with MORE people.”
“Something that I’ve been trying to do often is make sure I’m still consistently donating to bail funds and queer black people affected by the pandemic. I’ve also made it a priority to advocate online for the importance of nurturing your mental health at a time like this.
“The voices of Black trans women should be amplified more during Pride month and our community speaking more openly about the trauma that they go through in this country is a shift that I would like to see. Donate to them. Protect them. Amplify their voices for more than a month. I feel as if allies should look within themselves to find the courage to check their counterparts when they hear/see ignorance. there is no room for silence. Speaking specifically to the black community, love your brothers and sisters regardless of who they love. We are all in this fight together. As a black queer man in America right now it is inevitable for me to experience hatred from both sides and that should not be happening, so we have to wake up. Let’s vibrate higher.”
“I think one of the main ways I’ve been showing up for me has been self-care. It’s been a crazy time and I think it’s most important for especially black people right now to find a moment of solace in all the craziness and remember the joy and happiness that life has to offer, but also not stopping and knowing that the fight is still very much ongoing and needs to be fought. I’ve been going to protest and trying to make my voice heard and donating and making sure that I am doing as much as I can to make some kind of change happen. I will say I am glad to see that I’m not the only one out there doing it, and it’s great to know that it’s a movement in my friend group as well.
“I think all this should remind us of what Pride is truly about and how it began and what we had to go through to get it. I think that the approach should be celebrating the lives of the real warriors that made change happen and those that were taken from us. I think it’s should be more of a celebration of their lives first and then a celebration of our new ‘freedoms.’
“The biggest thing allies can do is remember that Pride isn’t only in June, that it doesn’t end when the month is up — that it’s a year-long, every day, lifelong event. We need support all year long. We need them to be there the way we are there for them.”
“When I think of music that matters in this climate, it’s the artists that make us aware of the atrocities we will face and have faced. We are easily distracted, and it is the responsibility of the artist to amplify the voices of our people through the music they release to a world that needs to be constantly reminded of the silent wars we face, to build up, inspire and inform:
“On his cover of ‘For What It’s Worth,’ Billy Porter is asking us to stop and listen to everything that’s going down. I’m reminded of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many more black bodies being murdered, mentioning the guns in the streets, bringing attention to the battle lines being drawn between the people and the police. He highlights the Karen’s of the world and the affects their paranoia, reminding us not to be afraid. This song has for me is a call to action, demanding change.”
What else Shea is listening to this Pride Month: Quarantine Queen by Todrick Hall and “Waiting for Me” by Madame Gandhi
“With everything going on with police brutality and a shift within society due to the pandemic, I’ve made sure to show up for Black people and LGBTQ people like me worldwide by sharing petitions with my followers, donating, and using my platform to raise awareness and speak out on the topic of police brutality and hate crimes, as well as getting justice for the victims who were hospitalized or lost their lives to senseless violence.
“Pride is a celebration of LGBTQ+ people worldwide, and with everything going on it’s important to continue to celebrate existence and overcoming all the things we have as a community but entering a new dawn let’s also highlight, love and appreciate black LGBTQ people as they may feel especially down during these times. Inclusion of all kinds of LGBT people not just the ones that fit your mold because we are all valid.”
“Allies and their support definitely mean a lot to the community. Make sure you are listening to the people you ally for, amplify their voices and speak out during and against any form of homophobia transphobia racism or any hatred in general. Silence is betrayal. The more people advocate and educate about the community the quicker we can see change.”
Cakes da Killa
“One way that I’ve been showing up for myself is taking the time to be still. The climate can be really overwhelming so I like to take a minute to remind myself to just breathe. I will always represent black liberation and excellence. Those things are not trendy instances to me they are a lifestyle.
“I do hope the gays take the time to put the gay dollar into LGBTQ+ talent. I’m sick of seeing the same lineups, I’m sick of all the shady antics; It’s time we really look inward, support each other and not be so quick to praise everyone else for doing the things we’ve created. Venmo a homosexual to make sure they have the funds to actually enjoy Pride. Start with me, @cakesdakilla.”