Earlier this week Philly Pride announced their #MoreColorMorePride campaign, along with a fancy new Pride flag.. wait, what’s that? A Black and Brown stripe! NOT ON MY FLAG! WHERE’S THE WHITE STRIPE!? THIS IS RACIST! THE FLAG ALWAYS REPRESENTED EVERYONE!
That’s exactly how it went down on our Facebook page when we posed a question to QPOC (Queer People of Color) about how they felt about the new flag. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many answers from POC because white folks jumped on the thread and effectively drowned them out. That first paragraph wasn’t a joke. Those are actual comments made on our post about the new Philly Pride flag. Not surprising, but definitely disheartening.
Every single time I posted the article and question, whether on my profile, in a group or on our Facebook I got unsolicited comments from white gays, white trans folks, and even white heterosexual people, everyone except the QPOC I addressed in the post. They all came to explain why including POC on the Pride flag was racist, divisive and unnecessary. They ignored the fact that Pride events all over country are overwhelmingly white. They ignored POC who bravely commented on the post despite the hatred towards the idea. They ignored the struggles of QPOC all together and instead began to cry “But what about ME?”
What about the white people?
I mean, they struggle too. I’m white. I’m poor. I’m queer and gender nonconforming. I struggle because of all those things. So, where’s my stripe? Except…. I don’t feel the need to drown out a success of a group I recognize is being marginalized daily in order to meet my own needs. I don’t feel so comfortable in my position that I would go into a space specifically for POC and rage about how racist it is for them to want to have a safe space from the white gaze. I’ve stepped back, listened to POC and realized that everyone struggles differently.
We cannot treat everyone the same and believe being “colorblind” will fix the issues others deal with. It can’t, it won’t. Because the solutions that work for you, won’t work for me. Just like you can’t tell a poor person to invest more money to solve their troubles, you can’t tell a POC to just be more comfortable in a space that forgets they exist.
Your Pride Parade was an Act of Queer Preservation
Back when the Stonewall Inn, a bar in Manhattan, opened in 1967 it was illegal to be publicly gay or to serve liquor to gay folks. So when the police stormed the bar on the morning of June 28th, 1969, they didn’t do so because they were being too loud, they did it specifically because they patrons weren’t straight. This was violence aimed directly at the queer people who found sanctuary in this bar.
They invaded a safe space with the intent of making known “Being gay is not okay”. They wanted people to see, so the police gathered patrons outside and then hit a handcuffed Stormé DeLarverie, a butch crossdressing lesbian of color, over the head. She pleaded with the crowd that had gathered to do something.. and they did. Marsha P Johnson, a gay drag queen of color celebrating her birthday, and Sylvia Rivera, a Hispanic Bi trans advocate and drag queen, were some of the first to pick up arms. They threw anything they could get their hands on and eventually the police took cover inside the bar itself, creating a barricade that was set on fire. The police were rescued and the demonstrations continued outside the Stonewall Inn for several days.
A year after the Stonewall Riots, cities around the country organized marches, gay-ins and in New York what was originally called Christopher Street Liberation Day (CSLD), a homage to Stonewall which still stands on Christopher Street. Christopher Street Liberation Day was the child of the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations but it was a white bisexual woman named Brenda Howard, a notoriously feisty woman and campaigner, who is credited with organizing the march.
Pride is for the White Gays
It’s with this planning, by mostly white folks who were able to travel and put in time, that Pride began and also immediately lost its roots. Although CSLD was never intended to be a parade, there was a sense of celebration. But that sense of celebration didn’t last long for some of the Stonewall Riot’s most famous pioneers.
As David W. Dunlap wrote after Sylvia’s death in 2002, when the Gay Activist Alliance removed trans folks from their agenda just a few years after Stonewall, she stopped supporting them, making her famous quote “Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.”
Marsha also supported a more revolutionary approach to many activist issues, telling Bob Kohler in an interview titled “RAPPING WITH A STREET TRANSVESTITE REVOLUTIONARY”:
“STAR [Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries] is a very revolutionary group. We believe in picking up the gun, starting a revolution if necessary.”
It was white folks who decided that in order to march, in order to pay homage to gay liberation, they had to do it by the books. They gained a permit, fought the city and eventually even had the forced protection of the NYPD for CSLD. Although most would consider all of this a good thing, the trans and queer women of color whose life-long struggle with the police and homophobia/transphobia suddenly were absorbed as not even being a part of what eventually became “Gay Pride”.
More Color, More Pride
And all of this comes around to what Philly has chosen to do this year by adding unnecessarily controversial brown and black stripes to their Pride flag. These two stripes were added to represent the QTPOC who are extremely underrepresented at Pride events, despite them literally being the reason Pride exists at all.
Unfortunately, Philly’s Pride plans don’t seem to back up what they claim to support and I’m not the only one who has noticed. Ernest Owens, a gay man of color, writes for PhillyMag.com:
“..apart from making the theme of the event “Viva La Vida,” you offer nothing — the Grand Marshals, Friend of Pride, and performers featured aren’t from a Latinx-based constituency or group. It seems as though the theme tokenizes a culture rather instead of celebrating it by joining with leaders, organizers, and talent from that culture to help commemorate a significant moment in our history.
“As a black gay man in this community, I refuse to attend a “Pride” that doesn’t embrace individuals who look like me and that continues to tolerate advisors who support leaders who oppress us all. Diversity should not be just a theme, but an actual mandate.”
Not to mention the More Color, More Pride website includes nothing about Philly Pride’s inclusive agenda. Instead you can purchase items featuring the new flag or make your own items with their downloadable templates. Oh, and there’s a video about the history of the flag and why they chose to change it, but nothing about what events at Philly Pride feature QPOC or what Philly Pride’s plans for the future are.
The Philly Pride website doesn’t even include a decent list of events, but notably there is no mention of their plan to focus on QPOC. If you search for “More Color More Pride” on their website, it brings up nothing. It’s unclear if the flag change was purely a collaboration with the city or if Philly Pride had anything to do with it. If not, then how can they work to put the needs of QPOC at the forefront? All of this is severely disappointing.
After the rash of comments on the page regarding Philly’s Pride flag I reached out to activists, queer folks and people of color to get their take on the new flag. I got a variety of responses:
“It feels like rather than address the issue at hand, we’re going to add stripes to a flag that has nothing to do with race to assuage our guilt over race.”- Jada Murray
Eloise Nicholson identified the new stripes as “Performative allyship” saying “There are a lot of other easily recognisable symbols of antiracism that work much better superimposed over the already existing pride flags, tbh.”
Rohan Prasad said “There is huge divide in the LGBT community when it comes to POC and it will take more than a token gesture to fix.”
While others saw it as a ray of hope, “It shows that there’s some sort of support and that they’re aware of the racism that occurs in the Community, but there should be action involved in order to consider this a win.“- Nikyra Howard
Some white allies saw the new flag as a way to show support and start much needed conversations about the prevalent racism in queer spaces and we saw in the first paragraph what other white folks thought. While all of these opinions are an important part of the discussion, even the less than productive ones, it’s QPOC we should be listening to about issues that effect QPOC.
So What Now?
What is very clear is that the queer community has a racism problem and adding a few stripes to their flag isn’t going to fix that. What we need is communication with members of the queer community who are POC. We need them to be part of the group that plans, organizes and makes decisions so that their interests, needs and safety are taken into account.
I want to end this by making a statement to white folks. Pride was born out of Queer Liberation ignited by POC and their fight against police oppression. Be humble and set aside your egos. Remember that the struggles of queer, butch, trans people of color made your gay liberation possible and that is a beautiful thing.