You’ve probably noticed the rainbow flags flying throughout the city, stores promoting rainbow-colored options, festivities and more—particularly this month. June is internationally known as LGBTQ Pride month, a time when LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning) groups celebrate with various events and parades. And this Sunday marked the city’s 49th Annual Pride Parade.
Andre Henry, 56, and his wife Melony, 53, have been attending the parade for the past nine years. Each year, they stake out their spot in lawn chairs behind the barricade on Broadway Avenue. It’s become a ritual; they park their car in the area, sit down and enjoy the parade that they look forward to and describe as very “entertaining.”
The Pride parade has become a place for the LGBTQ community and their supporters to go to celebrate and escape a heteronormative culture. During the parade, many Black people also celebrated who they are and paid their respects to Black queer ancestors who led the movement of the Stonewall Riots of the late ’60s.
Let’s go back in time to the year 1969. On June 28, police raided the Stonewall Inn—a gay club located on New York City’s Christopher Street. The raid turned violent as patrons and local sympathizers began rioting against the police. New York’s gay community had grown weary of the police department targeting gay clubs.
Because of the raid, the crowd began throwing bottles at the police. The protest spilled over into the neighboring streets. A Black transgendered woman named Marsha P. Johnson struck back by throwing a shot glass at police officers. This act of resistance, known today as the “shot glass heard around the world,” kicked off days of rioting as LGBTQ people revolted against the police system’s brutality and bigotry.
The Stonewall Riots were followed by several days of demonstrations in New York and was the motivation for the formation of the Gay Liberation Front as well as other gay, lesbian and bisexual civil rights organizations. It’s also regarded by many as history’s first major protest on behalf of equal rights for homosexuals.
Support and Celebration
The Chicago Pride Parade began in 1970. According to the officials of the Chicago Pride parade, “By 1972, an estimated one thousand people marched in the parade as protesters hurled rotten eggs and rocks in their direction. Over the next 40 plus years, the parade continued to change. Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade has grown from a few hundred in 1972, to a few thousand in 1977, and to a few hundred thousand by 2015.” The Parade became more of a celebration of what it means to be a part of the LGBTQ community and is considered one of the largest attended Pride parades in the world.
This past Sunday, it was a beautiful sunshine filled day. The weather was perfect as people walked with their friends and loved ones. Many people came to the parade either to celebrate or support family members who are a part of the LGBTQ community. Some sparkled with glitter spread on their bodies; others sported rainbow-colored make-up and hair while bubbles filled the sky. The crowd waved and hugged each other, often greeting other parade-goers with “Happy Pride;” yet, the day was not all about love and happiness. A group of naysayers held up their megaphones and cardboard signs reading scriptures from the Bible and chanting “repent for your sin.”
Religion and Pride
“Who are we to judge?” asked Henry. “They [LGBTQ community members] don’t have to answer to me, a higher power will judge us all, and that’s it. I come out here just like anybody else. I have no problem with homosexuality.”
Religion has played a role in the rift between the heterosexual and homosexual communities in many cultures, but it may seem even more prominent in the African American and Latino communities because of our historical reliance on spirituality and deep regard for the Bible. The church has traditionally informed, influenced and guided the day-to-day lives of many African Americans and Latino families.
But there is even change within the church. According to CNN, a victim of clerical sexual abuse has said that Pope Francis told him that God made him gay and that his sexuality “does not matter.”
Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of sexual abuse, spent three days with Pope Francis at the Vatican in April, in which he discussed his sexuality and the abuse he suffered at the hands of a Chilean priest.
Describing his encounter, Cruz said the Pope told him: “You know Juan Carlos, that does not matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this, and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.”
Other denominations have welcomed openly gay members and have even ordained clergy who are homosexual.
However, not everyone in the religious community is as accepting. In 2017, gospel singer Kim Burrell responded to adverse reactions to a sermon that she gave at a church in Houston, Texas, where she used the word “perverted” to describe gay people.
She received backlash for her statements and was “uninvited” to perform at previously booked events.
In the Black community, many families have been raised in the church and taught that homosexuality is against God’s Word. But as times have changed, some Black people are becoming more understanding, even supportive; others are simply more tolerant, not wanting to lose a loved one even if their opinions are different. As more and more Blacks come out and others educate themselves on the LGBTQ history, there has been a shift for some, to accept this lifestyle just like any other lifestyle.
A group of African-American women sitting on a bench watching the parade stated that they have been attending since the beginning. They like coming to the parade, but they feel it has gotten more political. U.S. Representative Robin Kelly, U. S. Representative Mike Quigley, Cook County Clerk Dorothy Brown and gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker were among the people who walked in the Pride Parade on Sunday.
K Shelton, a 28-year-old from Hyde Park, attended to introduce her friend to the Pride Parade since it was her friend’s first time in the City of Chicago. Shelton said she is also hopeful that legislation will take notice of the social injustices of the LGBTQ community and make changes. “You have to support everybody; everybody has somebody that came out that’s affected by legislation that targets certain groups. We must support each other; I’m very vocal about that politically. I’m excited to celebrate…I care about our community, and I can celebrate with them.”
African-American Drag Queen Lucy Stoole has remarked on how the LGBTQ community wants to be equal regardless of how they dress or their sexuality. For that to happen, she feels that everyone must make a stand together. According to an article in the Red Eye, Stoole stated, “We have so many politicians and people in power that are stripping away rights and affecting the lives of people that have been fighting for these rights for years and also affecting the lives of children that are coming up behind. I think it’s important for people to see us out there celebrating and being ourselves and also having other people there with us as our allies to have our backs.”
And just like with most things, there are issues particular to African-Americans within the LGBTQ community. In a community that promotes inclusion, African Americans can still feel isolated and forgotten. Black folks have begun to understand that they are still being discriminated against even by White LGBTQ members. If they want to be heard and valued for their own issues, they must make their own pathway to resolve issues like marriage equality, HIV, healthcare, homophobia, and homelessness. Through a movement named Black Pride, Black LGBTQ members even have their own parade and different activities during pride month.
Black and Brown youth who identify as LGBTQ are also more vulnerable than others. According to the Advocate, “Queer youth are about three times as likely as the non-LGBTQ youth to end up in the juvenile justice system, and eight times as likely to experience homelessness. Among this vulnerable age group, the majority (about 60 percent) are Black or Latino. In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that HIV rates among Black queer men ages 13 through 24 increased 87 percent over the past decade.”
Black Pride also speaks of these needs to further educate and help those in need. What began as a concept has grown into a movement to save bodies, educate minds, and uplift the spirits from a population that is tired of being disregarded.
There is still even more work to be done, with the youth as homelessness is on the rise and disapproval of being an LGBTQ member in Black society still exists. The Black LGBTQ community was devastated in late 2017 by the murder of 14-year-old Giovanni Melton, who was shot and killed by his father. His father was quoted as saying “I’d rather have a dead son, than a gay son.” In addition to this, over the past five years more than 100 trans women have been murdered, with more than 70 percent of them Black. It is often said that the average life expectancy of the Black trans woman is 35.
Progression Through Media
Logo TV [American digital cable and satellite television channel] launched in 2005; it was initially aimed primarily at LGBTQ viewers. Owned by media giant Viacom Media Networks, Logo, and founded by Matt Farber, a former MTV executive. Logo continues to provide programming that place LBGTQ characters as central figures.
Patrik-Ian Polk is an American director, screenwriter, and producer. Polk, who is openly gay, is noted for his films and theatre work that explore the experiences and stories of African-American LGBTQ people. Polk introduced us to the tv show “Noah’s Arc,” a dramedy centered around the lives and experiences of African-American and Latino gay men. Before this, we mostly saw Black queer characters only as side-kicks or, at best, in limited roles.
African Americans are, and have always been, a vibrant part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) community. From trailblazing pioneers such as openly gay novelist James Baldwin, Billie Holiday, Lorraine Hansberry and transgender rights activist Marsha P. Johnson, to modern-day heroes such as actress Laverne Cox, Wanda Sykes, Lee Daniels and basketball star Jason Collins, LGBTQ African Americans have made enormous contributions to the ongoing fight for social, racial and economic justice.
Black Queer representation and visibility in media are currently on the rise, both in front of and behind the camera. As a growing number of queer people continue to identify across the sex and gender spectrum, great strides are being made on the big and small screens.
Chicago native Lena Waithe, who is an American actress, producer, and screenwriter, made history at the 69th annual Primetime Emmy Awards when she won Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for her work on Master of None, becoming the first black woman to do so. She is also the creator of the Showtime series The Chi. She is engaged to Alana Mayo.
The community marches as a cultural and social statement that the LGBTQ people are equal in every way and demand equal treatment. The theme for 2018 is #comeoutcomeoutwhereveryouare. While the African-American LGBTQ civil rights movement still shouts for real freedom and equality, they continue to make great strides. Perhaps we have evolved. Yet we still have a ways to go.
As James Baldwin said: “You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.”