Pride's Race Problem

06/17/2015 03:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2016
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My first Pride celebration happened in college. In famously hot Columbia, South Carolina, I marched in the parade, staggered my way through the festival, tipped the local drag talent and even threw some Bible verses at the inevitable protesters -- ones I could still remember from back at my childhood church in the Alabama boondocks. I like to believe I handled myself pretty well, except for my choice in after-party. And that story is one best told with tequila.

It was not until many hangovers later that I learned Pride had an actual history behind it. I had assumed it was simply like Black History Month -- a queer concession from the PC wars to showcase our community. The word "Stonewall" meant more to me as a piece of Confederate history from my Southern indoctrination than a rallying cry from the queer past -- a past I was now a part of. The riots, the arrests, the birth of the gay movement -- the story was and should remain an eye-opener to many young gay people during this month of the progress made on the backs of gay men and women before us.

Compare the story of Stonewall with how we celebrate it today. I'm not hear to cast judgment of the festivities themselves like some philistine -- if anything, I think our gay ancestors would be thrilled to see us making merry in the sun, oftentimes with police forces marching beside us rather than arresting us. No, I would rather cast the first stone at the diversity of today's Pride -- or the lack thereof.

Recently, Nick Jonas replaced Iggy Azalea as the headliner for Pittsburgh Pride. His performance was a rousing success, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and his role in HBO's "Kingdom" has made him a rising star among gay fans. But as the local paper reported, Azalea's cancellation was not the only hiccup for the city's Pride event this year. Several accusations have been brought against the Delta Foundation, the event's organizer, of a lack of diversity in its leadership -- mainly, that there are too many white gay men running the show.

The storyline is not new. White gay men have typically been the faces of Pride organizers across the country, and even national groups like the Human Rights Campaign have been criticized for having a particularly monochrome palette among their leaders. Take this together with questions regarding the ethnicity of NAACP official Rachel Dolezal, and this really has been a month of remembrance -- more specifically, of how whites tend to co-opt minority narratives and speak for everyone.

Consider this: More than 40 years have passed since Stonewall, and the men and women who were instrumental to those riots are only just now having their moment -- transgender people, especially those of color. I say "moment" in the sense of Hollywood's acceptance; the deaths of many transgender women of color this year alone have shocked us into a frightening realization of the dangers that remain. Still, the black women who squared off with police officers in the streets of New York could hardly imagine the visibility their culture enjoys today. The question that remains for me is, why has it taken so long?

The question has obvious answers, but leads to some not-so-obvious lines of thinking. The gay community should ask itself: Have 40 years of Pride celebrations crafted and showcased by white gay men held back the advancement of rights for transgender people of color? As we wait on the brink of a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage this month -- the crown jewel in the post-AIDS crisis gay movement -- who have we left behind in the struggle toward a better future?

Pride needs to change. It remains, each year, a product of the present, not the past or even the future. Its organizers in cities across the country treat each June as the month to commemorate a struggle they might have inherited, but not necessarily one their community sparked. Black transgender women gave us a legacy decades ago. It is time to turn that legacy into change. I say this year's Pride, next year's Pride and all those that follow should open doors to those in our community who have been held for too long in the background, waiting their turn. Let's make the effort to let the story of Pride be told by those who were there -- and carry on its fight today.