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We Have Always Belonged: Combatting the Erasure of Black Queer and Trans People in the Movement for LGBTQ+ Rights

Pride x BLM Photo
Montreal Pride Parade, 2019. Photo Credit: MilesAstray
July 15, 2020

The month of June this year marked the 50th anniversary of Pride. Typically during Pride Month, millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in cities around the world take to the streets and join lively parades celebrating their right to belong. However, this year things were different. Due to COVID-19, Pride marches worldwide were cancelled.  In their place, activists in North America and Europe organized and transformed Pride marches into protests against systemic racism in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Following the global eruption of Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, activists came together to elevate the voices of Black LGBTQ+ people and shed light on issues of discrimination, anti-Black racism, and police brutality. As a result, we witnessed  the most authentic Pride we have had in decades: Pride as protest. These rallies were reminiscent of the origins of Pride, which began a year after the 1969 Stonewall Riots– led by Black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson and others who resisted police bigotry and harassment. 

While the month of June allowed both civil rights movements to overlap, it also became an opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community to reckon with its history of excluding Black people. The Gay Liberation Movement in North America made strides in the 1960s with the decriminalization of homosexuality. However, decriminalization is only the first step and it has not led to inclusivity. Since Canada decriminalized homosexuality 51 years ago, Black voices have historically been left out of the LGBTQ+ community. 

A 2017 study that examined systemic racism in the Montreal LGBTQ+ community found that LGBTQ+ organizations in the city have done very little to include or retain racialized people in their teams and decision-making processes, leaving them to feel isolated from queer spaces. The study also found that Black communities lack trust in Montreal Pride and that the popular perception was that it is not equipped to welcome Black communities. In recent years, Montreal  Pride has had consistent issues with exclusion, lack of diversity, and police harassment.  

In Toronto, the same issues persist. A 2014 report on racism within LGBTQ+ communities in Toronto found that lesbian, bisexual, and queer women of colour felt invisible in both queer and racialized communities. Professor Beverly Bain, from the University of Toronto, asserts that this kind of exclusion is often based on the harmful assumption that racialized people can only belong to communities of colour rather than the LGBTQ+ community. This assumption is predicated on the normative idea of whiteness as central to LGBTQ+ identities and it further proves that there is a lot of work to be done by those with privilege in LGBTQ+ spaces to establish a relationship of trust within the community. This must begin with challenging the erasure of queer and trans Black people and ensuring that Pride is a safe space for folks with intersecting identities

Globally, the need for Pride to continue as a protest is imperative. While progress is being made in countries such as Gabon, which recently decriminalized homosexuality, and the United States where workplace discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees was recently made illegal, more must be done for LGBTQ+ rights. Police brutality and state criminalization still mark LGBTQ+ lives worldwide. More than 80 countries still criminalize the expression and existence of LGBTQ+ people with penalties of imprisonment and in the most severe cases, death. Homophobia and transphobia are entrenched in institutions and culture worldwide, much like systemic racism. 

At its roots, Pride is about resistance and belonging. Since its inception, this movement has pushed back against the status quo that normalized the ability of law enforcement to police gender and sexuality. Currently, ongoing Black Lives Matter protests include queer and trans Black people calling for systemic change. This is an opportune moment for the LGBTQ+ community to transform as well, and mandate centring the voices that are systemically pushed to the margins in the struggle to advance LGBTQ+ rights. This means that Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people must be uplifted, included, and supported. There is no place for anti-Black racism in Pride. 

This is also a moment to remember that the notion of a community based solely on shared identity is fickle– we are in community with the people who are in solidarity with us. They may share our identity, but not always. Therefore, the need to show solidarity across communities is crucial because once this is established, it will be harder for isolation to take root in queer spaces. Finally, in our assertion that Black Lives Matter, we must emphasize that all of them do. Black people have always belonged in the LGBTQ+ community and their lives will always matter.