The Spirit of Pride: Why We Cannot Only Celebrate

This year’s Pride Month comes at the hallmark 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of 1969. And along with this, countless celebrations, events, parades and marches will take place all over the country in the name of celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.

And yes, there is definitely reason to celebrate: from recent marriage equality victories in the countries of Taiwan and Ecuador; to the World Health Organization (WHO) removing the classification of transgender as a “mental disorder;” and to the state of Colorado joining as the latest of 39 states introducing or passing legislation banning conversion therapy for minors. These are but a few recent victories in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

However, many Pride celebrations – especially those awash in rainbow-doused corporate sponsors, ornate floats and headliner pop artists – do not always encapsulate the true spirit of Pride and what we as an LGBTQ+ community should be recognizing during this month.

The true legacy of Pride – which harkens back to the era of the Stonewall Riots – is built upon the activism and grassroots advocacy sparked by transgender women of color.

Our LGBTQ+ community owes much of our liberation and freedoms to activists like Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender woman, and Sylvia Rivera, a Latina transgender woman, who had the courage and bravery to stand up, speak out and act against the injustices faced by our community. The LGBTQ+ individuals who joined in the Stonewall Riots put their identities and bodies on the line for the greater good of society.

In spite of being at the forefront of such a transformational part of LGBTQ+ liberation, transgender women of color remain as one of the most marginalized groups in the LGBTQ+ community.

2019 has already lost at least 11 transgender people to violence, with five of such deaths happening during Pride month – all of them transgender women of color. Most recently, Zoe Spears, a Black transgender women, was killed outside of Washington, D.C. in a suspected homicide.

An alarming number of transgender women of color are killed violently every year, often because of their identities and due to the intersectionality of systemic racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, making them vulnerable to violence. Often, many of these cases go unresolved or the perpetrators are not held accountable for their heinous actions. As of today, there are currently 44 U.S. states where gay and trans “panic defenses” are still codified into the law. This legal strategy helps mitigate violent crimes, including murder, by blaming the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity for inducing the violence in question.

Transgender women of color are also disproportionately affected by various other issues such as access to health care, discrimination in housing and employment and face an increased likelihood of experiencing hate crimes.

For those of us within the LGBTQ+ community, including myself, who have benefitted from the leadership demonstrated by transgender women of color, we owe it to them and ourselves to honor the most marginalized members of our own community – not only by remembering and commemorating them, but also with action.

At Fenton, we have been deeply engaged in this work. Our recent support for the PrEP for All campaign has helped to make preventative HIV/AIDS drugs more widely available; through some of our work with Color of Change, we have helped to address police brutality against the transgender community. And our work with Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, GSA Network and others has pushed back against the Trump Administration’s assault on the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community at large.

Personally, I have had the honor of working at Bienestar Human Services, a leading LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS organization in Los Angeles, where I supported transgender women of color in their advocacy work and helped elevate their voices and stories in the face of federal rollbacks on transgender health care rights.

And yet – there is still so much more work to be done.

If we all matched the same amount of energy that we invested in celebrating Pride toward our efforts for advocacy and action to center and uplift the issues that disproportionately affect transgender people, we could have many more reasons to celebrate this time next year.

Until we see change in the unjust killing and systematic issues facing transgender women of color, I believe we cannot truly and fully celebrate true liberation and equality among the entire LGBTQ+ community.

Until then.