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Pride: The Once and Future Riot

Editorial | July 16th, 2023

By Janessa Jaye Champagne (Chris M. Stoner)

ChrisMStoner@hotmail.com

Photo by Studio 208

Guest editorial: The homophobes and transphobes forget that queer folk have been through this before.

I’m not going to lie. Celebrating Pride this year felt…different.

Obviously, last year was difficult, what with the death threats and the doxing and constant online harassment from a small group of religious fundamentalists organizing through a Facebook group.

There was less of that this year as the attacks moved out of the online space and into the legislature. North Dakota wasn’t the only state to see these anti-trans and anti-queer initiatives, but to see this barrage of ignorance and hatefulness play out on the national news as well as in our own backyards gave this year’s Pride celebrations a new feeling of urgency.

There were still rainbow banners and an explosion of colorful flags representing every delightful nuance of human sexuality and gender expression to be seen.

There were booths of vendors and corporate sponsors (though I tend to stick to the smaller Pride celebrations, so it’s not quite the orgy of rainbow capitalism that you see in bigger cities), artists and allies selling their handmade wares, and the usual collection of “open and affirming” religious groups smiling and offering their free hugs.

A lot of the sights and sounds were familiar, but there was a tension in the air that could be heard in the words of the speakers, in the conversations between community members at the various events. There was celebration, to be sure, but there was also worry and sadness, and even a touch of rage.

I’m glad to see some of that rage returning to Pride.

I’ve seen lots of people posting memes about how “The first Pride was a riot!” And it absolutely was. Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Storme DeLarverie, and other gender non-conforming queers, many of them people of color, started a riot against police brutality in 1969 that ushered in an era of Pride parades that grew and evolved over the years away from that revolutionary spirit and into more of a celebration of rainbow consumption and corporate showmanship. “The first Pride was a riot!” but put it on some merch, and sell it.

But now that the cultural landscape is changing, as some of the hard-fought victories of the generations before us are unraveling, people are starting to feel that revolutionary spark being rekindled.

The homophobes and the transphobes are emboldened by their recent steps forward, but they forget that queer folk have been through this before. We know how to bring our communities together and provide support and assistance for each other when needed. We survived police raids, being called perverts and degenerates, being fired from jobs and chased from our homes after being outed. We survived being labeled the Lavender Menace, got through the McCarthy witch hunts, through the AIDS epidemic, through Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

When we’ve been pushed beyond the breaking point, we’ve picked up the bricks and insisted on our right to exist, to live and love freely, and we can do it again.

We’re going to continue celebrating and having a good time. Queer and trans joy is more important than ever. Emma Goldmann said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” We need the fighting, we need the organizing, but we also need the celebration, so don’t expect the party to stop anytime soon.

Just don’t be surprised if the messages at Pride get a little bit sharper, the tone a little more pointed. The world is very challenging for queer and trans folks right now, and what’s going to get us through it is a return to that revolutionary spark that ignited this modern movement in the streets outside the Stonewall Inn.

I can’t tell you what’s going to happen as these ridiculous “culture wars” continue to rage, but I can tell you that queer and trans people are resilient and will persevere. And that’s something to be proud of.

Now: may I offer you a brick in these trying times?

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