The history of accomplicehood that is Pride Month

Daniel Quasar’s reimagined rainbow flag.
delfin bautista

Saludos!  I was recently invited to preach at the UU Fellowship of Athens in celebration fo Pride Month.  Below is an excerpt of my sermon exploring the history of Pride Month and the calling of accomplicehood.  

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change?  The courage to change the things I can. And the goddamned foolhardy stubbornness to resist the premise that there is brokenness in the world that cannot be changed and must be accepted.  Grant me the patience to endlessly explain obvious things to oblivious people.  The vision to see a path through the darkness when a better world seems impossible.  And the wisdom not to give up before the job is done. Or how about just this instead:  Grant me the strength to change the things I cannot accept.  —the Activist’s Prayer by Mirah Curzer

The event many consider the first pride was a riot.  In late June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, a group of drag queens, trans folks, people of color, homeless youth, people on the fringes of white gay culture and of society as a whole were led by Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P Johnson, Miss Major among others, in fighting back against police brutality and harassment … they threw bricks, punches, and even high heal shoes…over several nights of riots and protests they broke the silence that marginalized the LGBT community.  They proclaimed a message that we refuse to be threatened, we refuse to be bullied, we refuse to be brutalized by police. They embodied that we are here, we are queer, and we are not going anywhere. To quote Sylvia Rivera…”I was a radical, a revolutionist. I am still a revolutionist…I am glad I was in the Stonewall riot. I remember when someone threw a Molotov cocktail, I thought, “My god, the revolution is here. The revolution is finally here!

On June 28, 1970, the first pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago to honor the riots at the Stonewall Inn.  

This was 1969 and 1970 … however, Stonewall continued a legacy of other uprisings where LGBT and queer people embodied that enough is enough, we will not be silenced, we will not be mistreated, and we will not go away.   We are here, we have always been here, we will always be here.  

In May 1959, Transgender women, drag queens, lesbians, and gay men clashed with police at Cooper Donuts in San Francisco calling out police harassment and mistreatment.

In April 1965, an estimated 150 people participated in a sit-in at Dewey’s Restaurant in Philadelphia where the manager “refused service to several people he thought looked gay.”  

In July and August 1966, several demonstrations and riots took place at the Compton Café in San Francisco where trans and other LGB individuals were victims of police harassment, violence, and brutality.   A trans woman said “hell no” to the violence and threw a cup of coffee which led to rioting. 

In the 80s and 90s groups like ACTUp and the Lesbian Avengers took it to the streets demanding that we “speak up, stop hate, and fight AIDS.”  

In the late 90s and early 2000s, Trans Day of Remembrance started to honor trans lives silenced by violence.  We “mourned the dead and committed to fighting like hell for the living.” 

Over the years Pride evolved into community celebrations involving everything from dance parties to parades to prayer services to drag queens reading children’s stories…pride became and continues to be the creation of spaces big and small where LGBTQ people can be out and proud.  

What Stonewall, Compton, Dewey, and other uprisings have in common is a group of folks living out and living into a call of accomplicehood; folks who were and are willing to put their lives on the line; folks willing to get down and dirty and do the work, be the work, live the work.  In many radical social justice circles, especially those grounded in the realities and experiences of Indigenous communities, the calling given is not to be an ally but to be an accomplice.  

To quote Indigenous Australian activist and artist Lilla Watson:  “If you come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. If you come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” 

I’ve met many people throughout my time here in Athens who are lovely and nice; they share their support for queer folks but when asked what they are doing, they often become silent.  Solidarity is not just using the rainbow filters and stickers on social media, it is not a hashtag, it is not passive. It is active, it is vibrant, it is messy. Tamara Winfrey Harris writes that individuals and groups cannot self-proclaim their allyship; it is a title or honorific that those we are in solidarity with, bestow.  The hashtags and likes on facebook and having a “gay best friend” are great and a place to start, but we are called to do more … we are called to do more regardless of whether we will receive the label ally, for it is not about the label but about ensuring that all are equal truly mean all are equal.  

Indigenous Media Action, an organization that focuses on immigrant and indigenous rights, writes:  “Ally has also become an identity, disembodied from any real mutual understanding of support.” We are witnessing the formation of an ally industrial complex that needs to be taken apart as it is doing more harm than good for minoritized communities. 

Some are uncomfortable with the term accomplice because of its legal or criminal implications.  I say enjoy the discomfort; safer and braver spaces are not always comfortable. I also say that sometimes solidarity requires us to break the law, to shatter the rules.  Historically and even currently, being an LGBTQ person or being supportive of a LGBTQ person is considered a punishable offense unofficially as we’ve seen in media reports and legally due to tragic changes in law.  We are living at a time of political turmoil where progress made is being unraveled…

  • taking someone to a health center for an abortion is illegal … 
  • there are proposals to allow shelters to ban trans people from seeking refuge making solidarity with trans people and just being trans illegal … 
  • our relationships and physical acts of passion were illegal until Lawrence vs. Texas in 2002/2003.  
  • We can still be fired and kicked out of housing in 30 states
  • supporting marginalized groups and simply asking questions at certain local institutions of higher education can get you fired and pushed out.  

Solidarity is messy, accomplicehood is messy.  It changes the narrative of “I support you” to “I am with you” … “I am willing and I will get my hands dirty with you and for you when you can’t.” 

Accomplicehood is about transforming dynamics of privilege to opportunities of solidarity that affirm the actual realities, experiences, and lives of others.   We need, no, we must recognize how our privileges allow us to take up space … and through this mindfulness, ensure that we are making and creating space for others.  It is a widening of the circle where we are not the center.  

It is straight, cisgender people not getting upset that they are not the center of attention for a weekend in the month of June. 

It is white folks recognizing that we as people of color do not have to answer your questions and be your token everything.  

It is not just posting to a facebook page that another trans person was murdered this year … it is showing up at the vigils to be present and not speak, it is asking trans people if they want company not only when going to the bathroom, but also going to the grocery store, doctor, to the movies.  

What are we doing?  What are you doing? What am I doing?  Are we just chatting about anti-oppression?  Or we actually hammering and shattering systems of oppression?  

Pride is not just a gimmick or something trendy.  It is prophetic witness of solidarity and accomplicehood…Pride is about believing whole heartedly that… 

  • Black and brown lives matter
  • No human is illegal 
  • Women’s rights are human rights
  • Pronouns are not preferences but who we are 
  • Water is life in North Dakota and in Torch Ohio (and everywhere)
  • Inclusive quality healthcare and education, liveable wages, and access to healthy food is not optional, they are a must, period. 
  • The T in LGBT is not silent
  • Children and young people are not just the future, they are the NOW
  • We each have agency over our bodies and have the right to reproductive healthcare and to make decisions about what happens to and in and with our bodies.
  • Self-care is a real thing
  • build bridges not walls
  • Our pride and our solidarity must be intersectional if not it just BS
  • As represent Maxine Waters says … Be controversial, period.  
  • All are equal means ALL are equal, exclamation point, smiley face emoji

I close with a benediction by Jim Magaw (GO IN PEACE, SEEKING JUSTICE)

When I say go in peace, I don’t mean “go in mindless oblivion.” When I say go in peace, I don’t mean “go without challenging yourself or others.” When I say go in peace, I don’t mean “go in utter ease and comfort.” When I say go in peace, I mean “go in peace, seeking justice.” I mean, “go in peace, committed to equal rights and opportunities for all.” When I say, go in peace, I mean “Go in the peace that is created when, together, We build communities of true solidarity, deep compassion, and fierce, unrelenting love.” Go in peace.

Pride is accomplicehood and accomplicehood is pride.

Muchas gracias …  si se puede.  Happy pride!

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