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Opinion: LGBTQ rights wouldn’t exist without the violent, bloody and righteous riots of the past

Scenes at Christopher St. and 7th Ave. South with police trying to clear crowds at Stonewall Inn,  raided 51 years ago.
Scenes at Christopher Street and 7th Avenue South with police trying to clear crowds at New York’s Stonewall Inn.
(The New York Times / Redux)

I’ve spent the past few months waking up every Monday and most Thursdays with a pit in my stomach, waiting for the decision of two Supreme Court cases that would decide the legality of workplace discrimination against LGBTQ employees.

This morning, that pit went away. And so did my fears of swallowing a predictable but still bitter defeat.

With a 6-3 majority opinion penned by Neil Gorsuch (yes, Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch), SCOTUS delivered an emphatic victory for the LGBTQ community. It’s a joyous occasion right smack-dab in the middle of the most important, most fraught (and, yes, most sober) Pride month in years.

Queue up “Chromatica.” Pour yourself that vodka soda you haven’t been able to order at the bars all month. Go ahead and celebrate, if only for a moment.

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Then remind yourself why we have Pride in the first place: the multiracial queer patrons at the Stonewall Inn 51 years ago who rioted in the streets after refusing to accept police harassment and brutality. Two years before Stonewall, there were the Black Cat riots, the nation’s very first organized LGBTQ demonstration, held in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood. And, even before that, the downtown L.A. Cooper’s Donuts riots in 1959.

These conflicts sparked a movement leading to where queer people in this country are today. Our modern victories are nonexistent without the brave riots— yes, bloody, violent, righteous riots— of the past.

As we, the LGBTQ community, inch ever further away from second-class citizenry, it is imperative to look both within and outside our own ranks to find continued injustice and fight for the equal rights of all people, queer or not. Of course, Black queer folks don’t need this reminder. While we celebrate affirmation of our fundamental right to employment regardless of who we are and whom we love, it’s impossible not to fight as well for those whose lives are at risk just because of the color of their skin. Cisgender, white, gay men (which, to be clear, is a perfect description of myself), especially have a responsibility to lend their immense privilege to the cause.

With the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor igniting the largest civil rights movement in generations, our community has a moral imperative to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement on all fronts.

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If you can reasonably risk the current public health crisis to join protests in the streets, grab your signs and march. If you can’t? Donate, educate (both yourself and others) and advocate. Keep attention on a movement that, a little over two weeks in, risks losing its grip on the fickle, fast-moving consciousness of most Americans.

The queer community loves to talk about allyship. We know from personal experience what a good ally looks like, and what a bad ally looks like. It is long past time to be no less than perfect allies, both for our Black queer community members and for the Black community writ large.

The sting of rights questioned and rights stripped is all too familiar. Just last week, the Trump administration rolled back nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in healthcare and health insurance — a searing reminder that for every landmark win, there are countless losses imposed with little fanfare or attention. And, like most attacks on the queer community, the policy decision will almost assuredly disproportionately harm Black trans women.

But being a good ally does indeed take hard work and commitment. It’s a journey I remind myself to pay attention to every day. Fortunately, now more than ever, there are excellent resources to connect allies with just causes, and guidance on how to provide much needed support and help. A recent favorite discovery of mine: the Okra Project, which focuses its efforts on providing meals and mental health aid to Black trans women. As with all forms of allyship, education and awareness is key.

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Exactly halfway through the month of June, it is clear that this year’s Pride is entirely different than those in recent past. But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe slamming mixed drink after mixed drink on Santa Monica Boulevard shouldn’t be the defining show of celebration. Maybe using the month to rally our voice as a collective community to stand with all civil rights movements and to fight against all forms of injustice is what Pride month should’ve been about all along.

By this time, next year, I hope we’re not returning to normal. I hope we keep up the fight, and remember those who brought us to this moment in the first place.

In the meantime, Rain on Me, Neil Gorsuch. Rain on me.


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