Some years ago now, I wrote a blog post about my feelings regarding Black History Month. The combination of the season, the subject matter, and the current reality of living while Black in the United States makes February a sorrowful time for me.
But, today, I realized that there is an antidote. June.
Juneteenth and Pride Month are a time to celebrate our emancipation from so many layers of white supremacist delusion. From the literal end of chattel slavery in the United States, to the proclamation that is the Stonewall Riot, Black people in every iteration should see June as a time to celebrate the collective shedding of our shackles.
Sadly, there are many Black people who see Pride Month, and any connection between LGBTQIA+ rights and Civil Rights as a conspiracy to erase our leadership and struggle. Many straight Black men and women, particularly those with strong religious affinities, believe there is a scheme to replace us, both literally and figuratively, with other, whiter, more trendy identities. Some even choose to fuel the fires of hate-filled violence against our LGBTQIA+ siblings from their pulpits and podcasts.
Pride Month, however, is not in opposition to the legacy of Black leadership for liberation. It is the culmination. Pride Month represents two choices. It represents the choice to love oneself, and it represents the choice to let that love lead you to refuse to be treated as less than who you are. Perhaps there is even a third choice, to link arms with those who have chosen to do the same, recognize them as family, and celebrate your journeys you took to arrive at this liberated place.
So much of what is celebrated during Black History Month is how Black people proved, over and over again, that we are fully human. Yes, we escaped slavery, because that’s what humans do. Yes, we fought in court to love who we want to love, or ride in the seat of our choice on the bus, or to use the public institutions and entitlements we already maintained with our labor and taxes. We did all of this because we are human. We also accomplished great things — performing the first open heart surgery, sending people into space, creating new artistic genres — because we are people, and that’s what people who are talented do. But that proof still has not provided the equity and respect we deserve, and that fact continues to have a lethal impact on our lives and bodies.
In Pride Month, I hear Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera say, “Fuck it. I’m done.” When police once again invaded the space of LGBTQIA+ New Yorkers, particularly Black and Brown, they decided enough was enough. They fought, all of them, for six days. They were done proving and started being human. They defended their inherent right to exist as their full selves. And this fight was more than a riot. Both Johnson and Rivera continued to fight, even other parts of the LGBTQIA+ community, for their place in the movement. In 1973, just four years after Stonewall and only three years after the first pride parade, the New York City Pride March organizers banned drag queens. But the power to include or exclude Johnson and Rivera from anything expired in 1969. They had already declared their belonging, and they marched together ahead of the 1973 parade.
While lawmakers across the states and around the world feverishly write and pass legislation attempting to erase and destroy Black, Brown, and Queer people, June is a time to remember who’s really in control. No one has the power to define our worth, our legitimacy, our goodness, or our abilities but us. No one can patrol our bodies, control our mouths, or overpower our minds. Even those who hold our same identities — our skinfolk — eve they don’t get the final word. That is what I, as a queer Black woman, have found to be so exhilarating about this time of year. The 400 year-old lie of our inhumanity was abolished, first with Juneteenth, and then with the Stonewall Riot, to place Black people once and for all in control of our identities.