By the Queer & Feminist Caucus of the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America
This year, in the midst of a Black-led uprising against police violence and systemic racism, Pride looks and feels different. We have been fighting against corporate, white-washed Pride events for a while now, but this year is the final straw. It is past time to look and learn from our queer and trans elders and ancestors, and to honor their struggle by continuing the fight against police violence, racism, and capitalism.
The Stonewall uprising in New York City was a turning point in the struggle for LGBTQ liberation. On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in the West Village, prompting a six-day rebellion in which protesters and police clashed night after night. The uprising was first and foremost an outpouring of anger at police harassment and violence. Police had raided Stonewall just four days before, arresting employees and confiscating liquor. Police raids at gay bars were a common occurance, as was constant police harassment and violence against queer and trans people, particularly those of color. People had enough.
Not only was the uprising focused against police brutality, but it was multiracial and led in particular by Black and Latina trans women and lesbians. We know the names of many of these inspiring, brave, and badass fighters: Stormé DeLarverie, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, among so many others.
What were the people at Stonewall—the beautiful queens who took the train in from Jersey, the neighborhood kids with nowhere else to go, the butches leaning on the bar—fighting for that night? To be left the hell alone, first of all—to be able to go to the local watering hole, knock back a terrible gin and tonic, and work up the nerve to talk to the gorgeous femme across the room for a good two or three hours hours, just like any of us. To bat eyes and stumble into bed without the threat of violence breathing down our necks.
That threat of violence came from all over, but always from the police. Our elders at Stonewall were fighting to be free from a racist, brutal police force that constantly harassed and terrorized their communities—just like the Black youth in the movement for Black lives today.
Violence against the queer and trans community came in many forms, as it still does today. Violence from racist, transphobic individuals was a constant threat. So was the economic violence of a capitalist society that sees no value in our lives besides the profit we can make for the elite, that leaves so many of us unhoused.
Our elders fought—and some are still fighting—against all this violence. After Stonewall, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson formed STAR, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, to house, support, and organize sex workers and homeless queer youth in the neighborhood. Johnson and Rivera were seasoned activists and revolutionaries, and they saw their first duty to the queer community to be one of radical care. These women, who were often homeless themselves, were fiercely protective of who they called “their kids”, “their sisters”—sneaking other unhoused people into their hotel rooms when they could get them, before eventually organizing a whole house for them. Gay and trans prisoners wrote to them for help, feeling abandoned by the part of the gay liberation movement that would have preferred not to acknowledge them.
STAR’s manifesto, calling for the end of violence against LGBT people, and for free education, healthcare, and food, was a socialist call to action. It didn’t view personal freedom of expression as something that could fully exist within a system that killed and oppressed their kids, their sisters, their brothers—no, in order for real freedom to ring out, there would need to be a full liberation, a society-wide liberation, from the cradle to the grave, not just in the bar or the courthouse.
The uprising for Black lives today demands not only that the police be defunded, but that those funds get reallocated to communities of color who need it most: that the city of Seattle funds affordable housing, healthcare, childcare, and free transit. This Black-led movement, in other words, is not simply fighting to defund the police, but for a vision of an alternate society in which our communities have the freedom and resources to take care of each other. That’s what queer and trans liberation has always been about. As socialists, we recognize that this alternate society is impossible to achieve under capitalism. We fight for this alternate society, this socialist future, in which working-class people—in all of our queer, trans, Black and brown glory—take power and create a just, democratic, genuinely free world.
Since 1969, we’ve honored Stonewall, first with annual protests and marches, and later with city-sanctioned parades. This year, we return to Pride’s origins. Despite Pride’s inclusion into the mainstream, many of the issues that the Stonewall protesters were fighting for are still out of reach for many of us today: the ability to live free from police harassment and violence, free from transphobic, homophobic, and racist violence, and free from the economic violence that allows so many of those in our community to be unhoused.
Today, in Seattle, we have a white lesbian Mayor. But her actions speak louder than her identity, and she does not act in the service of our queer and trans community. She has overseen a brutal police force that is under federal investigation for excessive use of force, a force that killed a pregnant Black woman, Charleena Lyles, in her own home. She has swept our unhoused neighbors, many of whom are trans and queer, throwing out their belongings and destroying their shelter. And she has not agreed to the demands of the Black-led movement: to defund SPD by 50%, reallocate funds to Black and Brown communities, and release all protesters without charges. That’s why we follow in the footsteps of our elders. We confront the Mayor to force her to answer: whose side are you really on?