It’s June again. My first Pride was here, now years ago, in the Bay. The person I was dating at the time, I wasn’t really dating: a relationship status almost as cliche as traveling hundreds of miles to spend Pride in San Francisco. What can I say, I try to check all the boxes. But I was really in love then — with her, and with the idea of Pride. An implication, I suppose, of being young and optimistic about queer futures. And of having sex for the first time, of course. Which felt, maybe stupidly, revolutionary to me.
That June, my now ex and I watched the crowds go by from Yerba Buena Gardens, as thousands of people pushed their way a few blocks in either direction (to Market on one side, Folsom on the other) to Snapchat the floats rolling by. And among them, cops. Cops on motorcycles, cops on foot. Cops in cars, flying rainbow flags out their bulletproof windows. Paradegoers, too, posing with cops: a police state selfie fest.
I found myself remembering this, recently, while reading. In truth, I don’t often think about Pride anymore. At least not the parade. I’ve tried my best to find other places where queer gathering can occur without the capital and so-called “crowd control.” But nevertheless, Pride returned to my consciousness by way of Los Angeles.
LA Pride has made headlines this week. Though the parade was initially canceled in light of the coronavirus, the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and subsequent worldwide outcry prompted Pride organizers to reinstate and rebrand the event as a Black Lives Matter solidarity protest in the spirit of Stonewall, the now-canonical riot led by trans women of color interested in not only a queer politic, but also an anti-racist one. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are among the best known of this moment-turned-movement, one that first and foremost condemned police violence. Which is a phrase we might think twice about: There is no police without violence. Together, the words are redundant.
Unsurprisingly, the spirit of the march was quickly negated by news that LA Pride coordinated the event (as usual) with the Los Angeles Police Department — those same cops who have spent the past week tear-gassing protesters, shooting into crowds and defending the gentrified storefronts of Downtown LA at the expense of Black lives. The directors have since stepped down and turned over the event to a Black advisory board, though not before a well-deserved public shaming on Twitter.
The movement to “keep cops out of Pride” has been around for years, but only now does it seem near sticking. And while I’m glad that — in the case of LA — it has stuck, the amount of time it has taken to mainstream the notion that cops can’t party alongside the community they oppress represents another yet unsolved problem. The issue of queer sympathy with cops and nationalist homonormativity is messy and many-sided, but one part stays the same: white people, white supremacy and how white people talk (or don’t talk) about our queer history. When I say “how we talk,” I really mean “the words we use” — I want to get into diction, and I don’t really care if you find it sexy or not. Just bear with me.
Pride, at its origin, sought to commemorate LGBTQ resilience in the face of harm. But honestly, I hate both of those words, “resilience” and “harm.” Equally, they universalize individual, racialized experience. Queer people, most especially Black trans women, have spent lifetimes fighting against the carceral state, resisting actively toward transformative ends. By definition, to be resilient is to bounce back, to be flexible, to steady after chaos. Resilience is necessary — returning to fight — but the privileging of the term over all others comes at a cost. It instills a kind of cultural forgetfulness, as if protesting aims to reinstate a stable status quo, rather than to realize a new world.
The term “harm,” too, generalizes a specific kind of violence. What cops do is terrorism. And they are all exactors of terror. The examples of this are so blatant and resounding that to list them feels reductive. I could, if only to make the point that this terrorism was built to surveil, repress and murder Black people. Black people who have also, always, led the fight against that terror.
It is true that queer people of many backgrounds have been subject to pathologization and violence at the hands of the state. But it’s worth noting that those oppressive tools were invented and implemented, in a U.S. context, with domination over Black people in mind. When white queers side with cops, or tolerate them, we are neglecting this entangled history. Or, forgetting it altogether: a chosen ignorance, born from a lack of listening. And racism.
The way white people talk about Pride, and its history, matters. Neoliberalism lurks in our language, and language directs our actions. Over time, whitewashed memory allows it: At the hands of corporate interest, Pride morphs from a celebration of messy queer affection and necessary queer militancy to a profitable display of assimilation. Most genuine gay spaces are not like this — homogenous and trying to sell you something — but the trademarked celebration known as “PRIDE” is a lesson in selling out. A sale both made and capitalized on by white people.
I remember my first Pride, and what it meant to me. But I am not nostalgic for it. I don’t want it again. I don’t have anything to mourn with its loss. The cancellation of Pride parades around the country (and the other kind of “canceling” we must now do to LA Pride) is long overdue. When queer white people find themselves missing Pride, or regretting its cancellation, we reminisce an invented fantasy of a movement that, in truth, has little to do with us at all.
And if it does involve us, it must be because there is a need for white accountability, for making good on the queer of color resistance that has brought us this far. When I say we, or us, I mean white people. I know where I’m speaking from and, ultimately, to. There is no true universal plural pronoun, except maybe in the form of a wish: that this — a non-negotiable, worldwide call for police abolition — is a Pride we can get behind, and in front of.
The abolition needed for a truly queer future, of course, extends far beyond the elimination of cops. Prisons and property, the national form. Capitalism. These things, too, must go. What I have to say is not unique: All of these ideas and impulses come from Black activists and writers and artists. Listening is necessary, as is turning to other white people to talk critically about whiteness. This is a very small thing, one that alone could never fully address anti-Blackness, but is work that still must be done.
For the purposes of this sex column, reading about, thinking about and working to dismantle structures of imperial oppression is the only “How to get better in bed” advice you need. And an easy step we can take right now to improve both our sexual and political lives is letting the parade go, and instead taking to the streets (if able) at the instruction of the queer Black communities that made Pride manifest in the first place.
Scout Turkel writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected]