This is Marsha. 48 years ago Marsha put on a dress (when that was against the law) and rode the subway to Greenwich Village to go dancing (where that was against the law) with men (when that was illegal). She partied until sometime after 1 am with a bunch of homeless kids, prostitutes, butch lesbians, effete gays, and other trans women who just wanted to dance. That was the chief draw of the Stonewall Inn – the dancing.
When the police arrived, as they did nearly every month, those in dresses would be “checked” to see that their genitals matched their owner to the officer’s satisfaction. If not, there was a paddy wagon waiting outside. Their pictures would be in the paper for cross dressing. They might horrify their families. They would probably lose their jobs.
When you’re out celebrating pride this weekend, when you read the news about violence against black people, remember Marsha. The reason any of us can go to a three day festival as casually as we please with whomever we love and celebrate our lives, is because Marsha P. Johnson, an African-American street queen picked up a goddamn shot glass, shattered a mirror in that slum bar, and resisted arrest.
Never forget our lives are easier because of the sacrifices of our black and trans brothers and sisters who are STILL dealing with prejudice and discrimination on a scale the broader gay community hasn’t experienced in twenty years or more. Because of people like her we are free, while people just like her are marginalized, brutalized and murdered.
Never forget who you owe your freedom to. Never forget that your Pride was once against the law. And when the discussions about the reduced police presence at Pride come, I want you to remember Marsha’s face and ask yourself, who needs the greater protection, support, and solidarity? Who has the power, and who is still struggling for the enforcement of their civil rights?
During the 2016 Toronto Pride march, members of the Black Lives Matter movement halted the parade in order to bring attention to discrimination within the Pride organization.
They met with the executive director of Pride Toronto with a number of demands that were eventually signed off on. One of these demands was to ban officers from marching in uniform during the parade.
This decision was unfortunately met with some backlash, but here’s a story that may help those who do not, understand.
Reverend Evan Noodin Smith, an ordained minister who works at the Toronto Urban Native Ministry, reveals how their own experiences as a minister has informed their stance on police uniforms at Pride.
“Here’s why I think cops are overreacting about not being able to wear uniforms at Pride Toronto.”
“When I started working in an Indigenous ministry, an Elder told me I shouldn’t wear my clergy collar when I was at Indigenous organizations or working with residential school Survivors. And it makes sense. Again and again survivors tell me that a priest in a collar is triggering.
You know what I do?
I don’t complain that it’s not fair. I don’t refuse to go to, or boycott Indigenous organisations. I don’t call on the city to cut funding to those organisations.
No, I recognize that my work uniform exacerbates PTSD. I understand the damage that my profession has done to marginalized communities. I respect the voices of my community. And I don’t wear my collar in these spaces.
And you know what? I am still a clergy person without my collar. I am still in a position of power even out of my collar. But I have respect in the community. I am able to work on repairing the damage done to my people by respecting peoples lived experiences. And I do my work in a way that tries to cause the least harm possible to the community.
Because I love them.
Because I know what it feels like to be powerless.
Because I would never want to hurt another person.
Because my uniform does not define the work I do.
Because I am good at my job whether I am wearing a collar or not.
And because that’s basic respect.
For those of us who work in positions of power in our own communities, especially in jobs that have caused great harm, we HAVE to be aware of how what we do affects others. We have to respect our community’s voices, especially when those voices come from the people more marginalised and traumatised than us. If we can’t do those things in our work, then we are just part of the problem and history is repeating itself.