07/15/2014 04:08 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Living Under an Unequal Rainbow

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My First March

I had the incredible opportunity to march in San Francisco Pride two weeks ago with the Equality House, the organization who boldly paints and owns the rainbow house across from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. I met the organizers of the Equality House on my way through Kansas, and they graciously invited me to march alongside of them, as someone working on anti-violence within the LGBT* community, particularly as it relates to sexual assault on campus.

In typical Pride fashion, there was glitter; there were drummers in peacock feathers, dancers in elaborate costumes and, my personal favorite, a contingency with "God Hates Bags," canvas recyclable tote bags. We started marching two hours later than call time -- to the surprise of no one -- so we passed around our water bottles, talked with the other parade marchers and took turns spraying sunscreen.

When the parade finally started, everyone was ecstatic; there were smiles and a sense of incredible unity. Someone from the Trevor Project gave me a shirt; Burger King pride crowns were ubiquitous, and the Sales Force brigade behind me was cheering incessantly. We marched through downtown for about an hour, waving, smiling, and for a few minutes, we felt like we all belonged.

Minutes after this incredibly empowering march, we were folding up our banners, passing around water again and congratulating everyone who had finished the march with us.

And, as the police force marshaled us off the street, I saw a man approach a woman and proceeded to grab both of her breasts. She shrugged him off uncomfortably, gave him the eye and she walked on.

He, left standing, threw his hands up in the air and shouted: "Don't worry, I'm gay!" He turned around in a huff, confused as to what he's done to make the woman so upset.

In this moment, I whipped my head to face my friend. "Did you just see that?" I asked. He responded, "Well, it's Pride."

"Well, It's Pride"

In an instant two things happened:

1) A person with more privilege oppressed someone with less privilege.

In this case, a male physically grabbed a female without her consent.

2) The person with more privilege defined how the person with less privilege should interpret the experience.

The male controlled the conversation with his protest, "but I'm gay," tells the female (and all those listening) that she has no "right" to be upset, and his sexual attraction should govern her response. He has effectively said: "You cannot be offended with my physical violation of your body because I am not attracted to you."

Many of us in the LGBT community are aware of homophobia, and many of us who identify as female are aware of sexism, yet here, within this incident of non-consensual touching, the male privilege, entitlement and sexism were simply ignored.


Firstly, in self-proclaimed progressive spaces, there's a tendency to believe that "we're beyond that," meaning we are so progressive, that we no longer have to recognize the issues which plague the rest of America. When microagressions or blatantly offensive things do happen in these spaces, we play them off as "just kidding" and they are really harmless because we too progressive to actually offend people.

Secondly, at a Pride event, most folks fall somewhere along the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender* Queer spectrum, so we sometimes ignore our other identities for the sake of solidarity. Not only is there a desire to conveniently ignore issues, there is sometimes an incentive to not talk about them.

As activist John Kelly and MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry recently explained on Ronan Farrow Daily, when there is an issue of violence within an already oppressed group, there is often a desire to protect community members, and as a result, we hesitate to call out those members of our community who are hurtful because we don't want to reinforce negative stereotypes.

But if we don't address these intersecting identities and the fact that sexism, racism, classism, and the like are within our rainbow bubble, we are hurting the very members of our community that we proclaim we are fighting to protect.

The Political Is Personal

While in the Bay Area for Pride, I had the opportunity to meet with many folks and discuss the infamous San Francisco Pride parade. Never having attended before, I asked them what to expect, what I should wear and which booths to stop by afterwards. Some folks couldn't wait to watch the parade while others had stopped going to the event altogether.

I spoke with Berkeley student Aryle Butler, an activist and member of the LGBT* community, and asked her to explain to me why she no longer attended Pride. She said, "I don't go to Pride because I don't like other people dictating when they can touch my body," as if this was an unfortunately well-known pre-requisite of attendance for females.

She went on: "As a woman, I don't feel respected, and as a biracial woman I don't feel represented."

Additionally, for many people I talked to, even though they identified with the LGBT* acronym, they didn't feel welcome at Pride. Aryle explained:

Pride is not always accepting. The mainstream gay community doesn't really talk about queer people of color and people who are transgender... it's mostly gay, white, middle class celebrating that they are getting closer to [the status of] other white middle class men.

Like many women or people of color, Aryle didn't feel safe in the community that proclaimed to celebrate her identity.

And truthfully, after watching female after female be groped at Pride, I began to feel the same way.

Unequal Rainbows

While it's important to stand together as a marginalized group, we must also recognize that everyone under the rainbow flag is not treated equally.

Just because there were no KKK floats last Sunday doesn't mean that that there were no incidents of racism; and just because folks lined up to support Planned Parenthood does not mean the queer community is immune to sexism.

Waving a rainbow flag and being able to check a disadvantaged box in one category doesn't give one a free pass to ignore other types of privileges and oppression.

And as Aryle explained, we must be careful in claiming to understand other's experiences; " We tend to believe that because we are oppressed, we understand the oppression of everyone else around us, and that's not how it works."

My experience of being discriminated against because I am female doesn't translate to me being able to understand what it's like to be discriminated against for being a person of color. The gay men at last week's parade, who are regularly discriminated against for their sexuality, must recognize the fact that they have male privilege.

So, as we celebrate the strides that we have made in the LGBT* community this past year, we cannot do so in vacuum void of intersecting identities.

"But I'm gay" is not an excuse to grab someone without their consent, and until we recognize this, we will continue to play into the same systems that oppress the LGBT* community as a whole.