LOUISVILLE — Pride isn't canceled. It's evolved.
The monthlong observation known for its colorful parades and seemingly endless parties that celebrate equality and LGBTQ life might look different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the spirit of Pride, with its focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, is similar to the first time it was recognized.
Many say Pride Month, celebrated each June, would not exist if it weren't for the efforts of Black LGBTQ activists — like Marsha P. Johnson, a drag queen and activist who was at Stonewall Inn in New York City the night of June 28, 1969 when police raided the bar and riots ensued. And some accounts say it was Stormé DeLarverie, a Black woman, who threw the first punch that night.
This year's Pride celebration has merged with the growing Black Lives Matter movement, as ongoing protests across the country are filled with people calling for justice after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor died at the hands of police.
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In Louisville, much of the movement for justice over the death of Louisville native Taylor has been led by Black LGBTQ people. Instead of celebrating equality with parades, parties and festivals, they are spending their days and nights in the streets of Louisville, advocating for equality, justice and peace.
We asked six Black LGBTQ individuals from Kentucky what Pride means to them in 2020. Here are their stories.
'Black Lives Matter has always been about queer people'
"Pride in 2020 means owning up to who you are and standing firm in that.
The Black Lives Matter movement has always been about queer people. What separates it from other movements such as the Civil Rights movement is that it centers the voices of Black women, Black queer women and Black trans folks. Sexism, homophobia and transphobia exist alongside racism. And for many of us who are both queer and Black and other identities, we don't get to just bring one of those pieces to the table. When I'm out there on the front lines fighting, I'm not just fighting for a part of myself. I'm fighting for all of myself.
I believe that it's important for us to continue to center those voices and to continue to fight for all people in understanding that there's so many things that fall under 'Black:' Black women, Black trans folks, Black artists, Black business owners. We need to make sure that we're being inclusive to all black bodies, and not just the ones that look like us, not just the ones that we're attracted to, not just the ones that we identify with." — Talesha Wilson, 27, activist & artist, she/her
'My blackness is still an issue'
"I forgot that it was even Pride month.
Being at the protests has been a surreal, almost out-of-body experience. When I'm on the front line, talking to police officers and getting shot at with tear gas and pepper bullets, I realize 'Wow, this is another struggle that I have to deal with.' As if being non-binary or queer isn't enough, my blackness is still an issue." — Weslie Rowan, 29, they/them
'I'm Black before anything'
"I'm an activist, but I'm Black before anything. For a long time, nobody knew I dated women. But they always knew I was Black. I can't hide that fact. But I believe as an activist, you don't get to pick and choose who you fight for.
Being LGBTQ and being Black are not the same at all. You can be LGBTQ and be racist. There's no get-out-of-racism-free card because you're gay. A lot of people try to put these two fights together. But it's OK to say they are different.
For my white LGBTQ brothers and sisters, what is your role in this moment in time? That's my question and challenge, how are you stepping up to be a part of this history?
Because surely, just like with the Civil Rights Act and Stonewall, you will benefit from the success. ... We stand on the shoulders of the Black queer people who came before us." — Hannah Drake, 43, poet, writer & activist, she/her
'Nobody knows oppression like Black, queer people'
"The Black Lives Matter movement has made me feel powerful, it's made me feel like I have a purpose, like I'm seen and heard. But it's also made me feel hurt that we have to go through this. It's exhausting to fight separately for my gay rights and my Black rights.
Someone made a comment to me recently that I'm Louisville's Marsha P. Johnson. But that's a big undertaking, and I'm not ready for that just yet.
(The Black queer leaders leading Black Lives Matter in Louisville) keep me inspired and knowing that we do have a voice and platform to push the narrative forward. Nobody knows oppression like Black people. Nobody knows oppression like queer people, so to have those two dynamics at the same time, it just makes sense that we would be on the forefront." — Prince Phelix Crittenden, 30, they/them
'My Black life matters'
"Usually during Pride, I'm ready to go and celebrate. And as a Black woman, I can usually compartmentalize, but this particular time in history is not allowing me to do that.
The broader white LGBTQ community does not recognize themselves in the larger movement for justice. I've faced racism inside of the LGBTQ community, and it was a hard thing to swallow because I just assumed when I was much younger, that queer people would also understand oppression and the denial of rights. But that's the cost of white supremacy — it fails us from being able to see one another and to see how these contributions to social justice movements are, in fact, intersectional.
The Black Lives Matter movement has made me very proud. I'm not a stranger to speaking truth to power. But the ways that this movement operates is beautiful to me.
Because I do not live in a society that would seek to affirm my existence, I find myself looking in my mirror sometimes saying it over and over again: Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. My Black life matters. It's a beautiful way for me to also become uncompromising in my humanity.
It gives me hope. It's what's propelling me to tell a deeper truth about my experience as a Black queer Kentuckian." — LeTonia Jones, 48, contract investigator, she/her
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'Black trans women have always been integral to our freedom'
"Pride 2020 means what it has always meant to me: Black queer and Black trans liberation, justice and freedom. Pride for me has always been a way to celebrate myself as well as other Black queer and Black trans folks who I am in community with.
It’s been absolutely wonderful to bear witness to all of the uprisings across the country. I have been especially impressed and extremely proud of Black queer and Black trans Kentuckians calls for justice, action, and reform when it comes to Black lives and Black freedom. For Black queer and Black trans folks, these struggles are joined, connected. They have always been.
Black trans women have always been integral to our freedom and to our liberation. There are definite parallels, to me, between what is happening now and what happened at the Stonewall Inn in 1969. The Stonewall uprisings were a direct response to the consistent police surveillance and brutality that many LGBTQ+ folks had been experiencing for years. Black and Latinx trans women were the first agitators and integral to that resistance. The moment we are currently in is a direct response to the consistent police surveillance and brutality that many Black communities have been experiencing for years, and Black trans women are at the helm of this current uprising as well.
There have been virtual Pride [events] all over the country and many protestors in the Black Lives Matter uprisings have been Black queer and Black trans folks. Pride festivals and celebrations and Black Lives Matter protests should always be joined. This idea that they are mutually exclusive is one of the main reasons why white LGBTQ+ folks and straight Black folks continue to erase the existence of Black LGBTQ+ struggles and resistance.
I think the beauty of this recent reverberation of Black freedom ... is that the founders of the Black Lives Matter hashtag and movement were ... intentional about creating a global movement for Black Lives that was intersectional in nature and intentional in practice.
My hope for the future is that these movements will continue to grow in size and commitment. They are both currently experiencing such wondrous momentum I only see them getting bigger and stronger." — Kaila Story, 40, host of Strange Fruit podcast and associate professor in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies studies and Pan African studies at University of Louisville, she/her
Follow Savannah Eadens on Twitter at @savannaheadens.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Pride Month 2020: Queer Kentuckians lead Black Lives Matter movement