We awoke on June 15 to a frankly surprising Supreme Court ruling. A 6-3 majority, written by a Trump appointee, found that the 1964 Civil Rights Act applied not merely to biological sex, but to sexual orientation and gender expression as well. The impact of Bostock v. Clayton County could be far-ranging, exceeding even Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriage. The fight to end economic discrimination for LGBTQ+ people — who, in more than half of our states, could have been fired simply for being gay or transgender until this month — had ground on for decades.
Let’s think about this in our social context: The arrival of this ruling was simultaneously very welcome and unexpected. (In fact, it’s jarring how few activists even seemed to be aware that a decision was coming at all.) Also, the timing is even more consequential, as we are in what might turn out to be the most severe economic downturn since the 1930s. Tens of millions of Americans, gay and straight, trans and cis, are experiencing unemployment, underemployment or general economic precariousness. Some semblance of financial security, however tenuous, is incredibly important.
But in a different way, we were caught off guard a bit because the idea of celebrating anything right now feels, well, strange. We are months into a pandemic that forced the cancellation of nearly everything — including the in-person events at the 50th anniversary of San Francisco Pride, The City’s biggest annual outdoor event.
Even more pointedly, we are weeks into a tremendous surge of demonstrations nationwide. Black people are leading America into the most honest reckoning with racism and police violence the country has had in four centuries. This is very valuable, if tragically overdue. Many people of our communities have experienced brutality and oppression, and our stances of solidarity feel more substantial than what we could accomplish with a parade.
This June feels much different than any I can remember. But it still feels like Pride. And it was Black people who made it happen. As Carolyn Wysinger, my good friend and the President of SF Pride’s Board of Directors, has said again and again, “Pride was a defense of Black bodies.”
We remember the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot here in the Tenderloin and the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Manhattan. At Compton’s, it was Black transgender women who threw their coffee in that cop’s face, and at Stonewall, it was a Black transgender woman (Marsha P. Johnson) who threw that first brick.
What’s happening now is more than an echo of these past struggles. They are one and the same, and it’s important for all of us to know that. Queer liberation and Black liberation are inextricable. Queer history and Black history are American history.
As this strange and unexpected year has progressed, we have asked ourselves — and other people have asked us — what is the purpose of Pride, now? While Americans face real discrimination at the federal level, many LGBTQ+ people enjoy levels of social acceptance like never before and our would-be oppressors tweet angrily about “Sesame Street’s” lessons in love and tolerance. At the same time, our Black trans siblings are still being murdered. Now everyone can see just how inadequate all this is without true racial justice.
This week, in light of the Bostock decision, I expected the question to come up again: Do we even need Pride at all? In a year when we have largely moved online due to the coronavirus, it’s an interesting question. But around the world, as people gather to protest, we see the importance of showing up, being present, and raising one’s voice.
So, the answer to whether we need Pride has been and continues to be yes. We need Pride very much in this moment, in fact, although it is the job of our generation to rethink many aspects of it. And whenever it is that we are allowed to come together again and fill the streets of The City, Pride will look different than it did before. Our communities will be more aware of their shared history and more conscious of one another’s struggles. And I hope we continue to offer gratitude to the brave Black people who, from the very beginning, made this beautiful thing possible.
Fred Lopez is the executive director of San Francisco Pride.