After only a few years of being open about his sexuality, Dom Johnson wanted this summer to be a blowout celebration. For Pride, he fully expected to be part of the rainbow-splattered crowd.
Johnson envisioned himself sitting on the grass with his friends, getting sunburned, going to his favorite gay bar and spending the day “being super gay and celebrating the fact that I’m super gay.”
Instead, he’ll sit at home with a rainbow flag pinned to his shirt and tune in to Dallas Pride’s virtual celebration on his laptop. The event, initially planned for the site of the State Fair of Texas, was moved online because of the new coronavirus, which has infected and hospitalized record-high numbers of Texans this month.
“This is a tragic and traumatic time, and I never want to be the person who tries to create silver linings out of nothing, but things are so dark that the only things I can do at this moment are celebrate the small victories,” Johnson said.
One of those victories, Johnson said, is that the festival will be more accessible to people who are differently abled and to those who may not feel safe or comfortable attending Pride in person.
But this year’s Pride has also taken on another layer as the marches for LGBTQ equality overlap with the ongoing protests of police brutality against Black people. Finally, Johnson said, he’s hearing folks talk about intersectionality and lifting up the voices of queer and trans people of color.
“Everyone is talking about social unrest, racial justice and police brutality. I feel like I woke up in the Twilight Zone. Let’s stay here and let’s keep everyone talking about it,” he said.
“Everyone is talking about social unrest, racial justice and police brutality. I feel like I woke up in the Twilight Zone. Let’s stay here and let’s keep everyone talking about it.”— Dom Johnson
Pride month in recent years has often been associated with celebrating LGBTQ identity and community with rainbows, partying, corporate solidarity and parades. But its history is rooted in resistance, protest and demands for equal rights. And Black and Latina trans women were leading figures in the early days of the LGBTQ rights movement, most notably Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
This year, Pride marches are getting back to those roots as participants stand alongside Black and brown queer and trans people, who are still fighting for equality on two fronts.
Lo Roberts, president and CEO of Pride Houston, mourned with the rest of the nation after learning that George Floyd took his last breath while a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck. Two days later, Tony McDade, a Black trans man, was shot and killed by police in Tallahassee, Florida.
“We need to do something,” Roberts, who is Black, said in a flurry of calls and messages with her staff and board of directors. Pride, this year, would have to change.
In place of the traditional parade, Pride Houston was set to hold a march and rally Saturday in support of its Black LGBTQ community and the Black Lives Matter movement. But on Friday evening, it moved the demonstration to an online rally as the number of people affected by the coronavirus swells.
In June 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular LGBTQ bar in New York. Police sexually assaulted trans women and lesbians and beat patrons. The raid, in combination with a history of police brutality against the LGBTQ community — especially Black and brown people — set off six days of protesting on Christopher Street in New York City.
“It started with those individuals having a riot, having a rally, having a march to demand equality. So that's where we're taking it back to,” Roberts said. “A lot of times, I get asked, 'Why do we still do Pride?' And this is exactly why, because we are not all equal in 2020.”
This year, Texas LGBTQ leaders are using pride to reconcile years of excluding people of color and trans people.
Equality Texas, an LGBTQ rights nonprofit, urged people in a written statement Monday to march for Black and brown trans people and admitted that it made concessions when pushing legislation, like the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, that excluded trans people from protection as victims of hate crimes. In the past five years, Texas had the most murders of trans people in the nation, The Dallas Morning News reported.
For years, many Texas LGBTQ organizations have been mostly led by white people and lacked meaningful outreach, programming and resources for people of color, advocates said. Organizations including Dallas Southern Pride and Austin Black Pride formed to create a space for the Black LGBTQ community.
“There was not a lot of inclusion when it came to including some of the Black establishments and some of the Black people in some of the different Pride activities,” said Naomi Green, a representative for Dallas Southern Pride, which hosts events for the city's Black LGBTQ community.
“It wasn't always as inclusive with Black people, and so we started our own so that we could celebrate being Black and being proud.”
Pride can get to a point where it's inclusive and representative of the community’s racial diversity, “but we're not there. That's why you have Dallas Southern Pride,” Green said.
Some organizations are taking the initial steps to more intentionally center Black LGBTQ Texans in, and outside of, upcoming Pride commemorations.
This Saturday, Pride San Antonio will host a live virtual celebration on Facebook and YouTube. The event will still have hallmark traditions, including performances by local drag artists and a wedding ceremony, but it will also have a talk about this month's Supreme Court ruling on LTBGQ Americans' employment rights and a panel with a local Black Lives Matter activist, said James Poindexter, secretary of Pride San Antonio.
“Our emcees are going to chat with her about the connection between race and ethnicity and Pride and the importance of … people being educated and being involved and being engaged,” Poindexter said.
Advocates said it’ll take active financial investment in the community, diversified programming, and representation of Black, brown, Indigenous and other people of color in leadership for concrete change.
The influx of support is “nice, but it's just part of the battle,” Green said. “Just having attention is nothing without the work that comes behind it.”