Today I would like to talk about Pride.
In 1968, a popular police figure was looking for something to help prove that he was the right kind of cop for the most populous city. Nixon was in office and building up his crackdown on “those who were undesirable”, the policy was to investigate mid and high level government employees at federal and state level for the possibility that they might be “subversives” — code for gay men, but covered under the suspicion of being communist or spies, or somehow secretly criminal.
At the time, most gay men and lesbian women who moved through society were assimilated in appearance — “straight acting”, and were often linked into groups or organizations that would sponsor events for them in combination.
It was illegal — a misdemeanor that could be upgraded — to wear more than a set number of pieces of clothing from what was decided was the opposite sex. Some of these sumptuary laws were still on the books as recently as the early 1980’s, and we still see the impact of them in work and school dress codes, which are merely repurposed from their original intent of helping to reinforce expectations.
That’s right, they weren’t originally about “presenting a professional appearance”.
At the time, women had immense difficulty establishing any kind of credit on their own, needed a man’s signature to buy homes or enter into large area contracts, and for the most part were outside any general structure.
And, especially at this time, the amount of hostility and intense and avid dislike for people of color was at an all time high because the recent Civil Rights laws, that no one at the time had any idea how they would shake out over the years, and so were more than a little panicked.
Heroin was rampant, marijuana was a major issue o the powers that be, and movie theaters were featuring popular, successful films where Black men took down The Man, and where AAPI folks were “spreading the culture” (IE, teaching kids that marital arts was cool).
As bad as things have been the last few years, they are still far better than they were. A Black Man asking a woman to leash her dog? He would have gone to jail and never been seen again. Let alone there is no way he would have been in his job.
Because so many of the more normative behaving and dressing gay folks (and note that at the time, everyone was gay. LGBT had not broken out yet, though Lesbian rights activists were beginning that process that would result in GLBT in the 80’s) were able to effectively hide themselves from police presence, the police used stings to identify them, close down the bars, and arrest the folks. Bath houses were a secretive thing, though “everyone knew” and so they were the easy target.
But this Police leader, he had a special hard on for showing he was able to do something about the “moral threat” that was “putting our children at risk”.
He wanted to get all the Gay out of NYC. Said so, publicly, several times, in newspapers, on the TV news (which was, you know, three channels then, max), and as a matter of policy. His department did not prosecute or really go after those who engaged in beatings and violence against gay folks on the street.
SO just *seeming* too effeminate or too butch was cause enough to be beaten — with near impunity — in the street, and that included cops, who routinely beat the living hell out of LGBT detainees.
Routinely. It was like stop and frisk, except really it was hold and punch.
And if you were a Gay Person of Color, you were in a world of hurt. IN Harlem and other BIPoC havens, there was at least some degree of safety in numbers, but you were not welcome in those spaces.
So if you were a BIPoC LGBTQ person, you had no where to go but the slums, the run down areas, the places no one cared about, where the Mob held sway.
That is the basis. Cops’ hated LGBTQ folks — whom were all Gay regardless of the differences. People hated these Gay people. It was shameful, and disgusting, and worthy of violent punishment.
It was even in the big book of psychiatry hat said they were sick, were diseased, were perverted. There were entire cross country campaigns by preachers who sold the horror of them in your schools, your grocery stores, your ice cream trucks.
The way that events in Philadelphia and San Francisco had played out of the previous years was unruly, crazed, wild people being a danger to everyone and everything around them.
Cesar Chavez was shutting down food production by standing up for some kind of rights for migrant and farm workers. Women were arguing with their mothers about a woman’s role and of course there was Kent State and Woodstock and all the things that made that year wild.
That was the scene.
And here this guy is who decided he was going to clean this city up and get rid of them all and he couldn’t find the wealthy ones, the ones who could sneak by, the ones who didn’t go tot he park at night for trysts, who didn’t act in “suspicious” ways.
But he could find the ones that dressed funny. That wore the clothes of the opposite sex, that swished and made Paul Lynde look straight enough, that were short haired and muscled and wore keys that jangled.
Everyone knew where they were.
He began a campaign of harassment and raids that struck everywhere they could find at least twice a month. They would pull up, round everyone up, and throw the all in wagons with the press around to haul them down to the precinct houses where they would get criminal records that would forever block them from a lot of jobs even if they did somehow “change”.
For over a year this happened. IT was moved from the front page to the interior, and he got upset that the media wasn’t making more of his success, that he was being laughed at because he couldn’t even chase these lowest of the low miscreants, who were prostitutes and hookers, kids really, out of NYC, even with all his police and their fancy raid gear and their new tools.
One of hose places was a bar. We all know this one now. We know what happened one night at the end of June.
But to really get that, you have to understand just how bad it was, how Police were the instruments of death and torture, how everyone was against us and how no one could be open or safe or anything, and how just being gay or lesbian or trans could be a jail sentence.
We all know it was a riot. A Literal riot, not the kind of thing that Tucker Carlson called a riot last summer. Not peaceful protestors simply demanding and being gassed.
No, I mean that they lit police cars and police on fire. They took their fancy shields and used them against them. They were fighting just like the massively unpopular war in Vietnam was imagined to be fought — and the news was there.
I mean a riot. Genuine destruction. Retreats by the police and the sheer fury of people who have had e-fucking-nough.
It lasted a week.
A lot of people were hurt. Some died later from that.
Over the next year, different people in the community came together and formed first one organization and then another — and tossed the trans women out both times.
The purpose was to organize a parade down Christopher Street. TO commemorate the time when we, collectively, stood up and said no more.
IT did not get a permit. It had no license. Corporations *ran the fuck away* and had people dragged out by security if they were asked to help support it.
And they held it anyway.
Pride, since Day One, has been about defiance. It has been about celebrating *us*, and our history, and our struggle and our truth.
It is about spitting in the face of the Police. Sorry, that is the real truth. The acceptance and the membership even have changed the world dramatically, but that wasn’t on Pride.
Pride is a chance for those who were not straight acting or straight seeming to have a chance to show the world the glory of their weirdness and revel in the discomfort of those who are not us.
Which means leather and even the basically nekkid folks striding triumphantly. It means all that we are.
IT is not about getting the best sponsors. They should sponsor, and they should acknowledge every time they do their role in helping to create the circumstances behind why we have pride.
Not become an influence or power in one.
I have long said that LGBTQ people who are cops should be allowed to attend — but not in uniform. The uniform is a symbol. And symbols have power, and in this case that symbol is of everyone who says trans kids can’t play sports or shouldn’t use the right bathroom or find they can’t be bothered to use the right name and pronoun.
That is what that uniform represents, because who enforces that?
Even when they are members of that?
The same applies to members of the military. Not in uniform. It is a symbol. And it is a symbol that even I, a veteran, recognize.
Pride is Carnivale. To be ashamed to show our kids the import and freedom of such a time is a knock on us, on our ability to contextualize it for them.
Besides, it wasn’t that long ago when it was ok to talk about showering with your kids.
in cishet homes.
Hell, as much as I might dislike him, we watched a father get excoriated for kissing his daughter. Because for some fucking reason we are so damned scared that we will let a football player suffer nasty ass commentary not on how he plays the game with deflated footballs, but on how *we think he goes too far*.
(He may have. I am not close enough to the family to tell, and hey, I have some genuine hillbilly’s on the white side and they would string up a person who went too far but they also show affection like that).
I will grant you I am pretty far left by the measure of most folks. Those on the far left often say I am not far enough — you cannot please everyone, so it is a good thing I don’t give a rats ass about their expectations.
My *existence* is meant to challenge all of those, and create new ones.
So I recognize this is tough for a lot of folks to swallow, that it rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
Sorry. I am not being paid for this, and I wanted to say it because it needs to be said, over and over again, and I want folks to never forget the *circumstances* that led to this situation where Pride is being pushed by the same forces that never wanted it to happen to became something that is so remarkably not LGBTQ that it may as well just not exist.
Normalization is not about taking away the things that make us wonderful. That is assimilation.
And that is about killing the heart of something.