The other night, I sat and talked with my girlfriend inside of her Toyota Camry that was parked on the side of a quiet suburban street. We were wrapped up in our own world, having a deep conversation that touched on everything from travel to trust issues to our favorite cereals. While we spoke, a car pulled up behind us and parked. I turned my head and faced the blinding glow of high beam headlights.
And immediately, I panicked. The tears hit my cheeks before I even understood what was going on. I could barely move in my seat and my breathing turned into limited, rapid spurts of air. My girlfriend asked me what was wrong and seemed concerned that I couldn’t answer her even though I was trying to get the words out.
The car started up, turned off the high beams, and drove away. As it passed, I saw that it was a black SUV with honor roll bumper stickers and stick figure family decals on the back. I noticed my girlfriend in my peripheral as she nodded her head and had an “aha” moment.
“You thought it was a police officer behind us, huh?”
That story is difficult for me to share, and it puts me in a vulnerable position. I tell it though, to show the reality of a lot of black millennials who are navigating life with the excitement of post-grad life while also trying to manage the anxiety that comes with being black in the United States. The same anxiety that makes me second guess every single one of my actions. Sure, I’m just sitting in a car having a conversation with another 24 year old woman. But in that moment, I recognized the dangerous perception that could, and has been, drawn by outsiders. Two black and Latina women sitting in a car, in a wealthy St. Louis suburb where neither of them lives (we were visiting a friend), and without any proof that we belonged there.
I also quickly realized that my wallet with my driver’s license and business cards were below the seat. Which meant if questioned for my identification, I would be a black person in a wealthy suburb at night, reaching underneath my seat in a dark car where my black Coach clutch purse could easily resemble a gun. I realized that our phones weren’t within reaching distance, so any interaction would not be able to be recorded. So in the three minutes that it took for me to realize the flashing light behind us came from a soccer mom’s SUV and not a police car, I quite literally saw my life flash before my eyes.
Fast forward from that night in my girlfriend’s car. It’s finally June which means the month is brimming with Pride parades, celebrations, rainbow colored baked pastries, and a fair share of gay friendly hashtags. As a queer woman, June is an exciting month for me. I look forward to the Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis where I can hold my girlfriend’s hand and twirl around to Lady Gaga blasting through subwoofers, and generate no reaction other than approving smiles.
I. Love. Pride Month.
After all, why wouldn’t I love Pride Month? It’s a celebration for the LGBT community and an opportunity for us to gather together in a loving embrace. So as I prepared for my weekend plans, I texted all of my LGBT ladies in my phone to get the details on the best Pride events going on in St. Louis.
While waiting for their text replies with the gameplan for hitting up the gay clubs, I decided to scroll through Twitter to pass some time. Philando Castile’s named leaped from my phone, and I read the news headline that felt like a grenade through my whole body.
“Police officer in Philando Castile shooting found not guilty, acquitted on all counts.”
For those who don’t remember, Philando Castile was shot dead during a traffic stop in St. Paul Minnesota. The interaction was caught on film, and showed Castile informing the officer in advance that he was a legal gun owner and permitted to carry the firearm that was on his waist. While reaching for his license, Castile was shot dead in front of his girlfriend and his four-year-old daughter. The live video was viewed nearly 2.5 million times on Facebook.
I shifted from numb to angry to heartbroken. I thought immediately of the night prior in which I feared that a police officer was parked behind us, and remembered that my anxious moment was not an overreaction. I switched from Twitter back into my text inbox to see that a few of my LGBT friends had responded with a list of gay-friendly events happening in the city. I replied to them:
“Hey! I’m actually feeling pretty down right now. Just read the Philando Castile verdict, and I feel sick about it. Not in the mood to party tonight, but might join you all tomorrow! Love you!”
Some responded with frowny faces, other with words of encouragement. Though one text in particular, from a white LGBT acquaintance of mine, stood out the most. “Who’s Philando Castile?” it read.
I wish I was not expected to separate the black part of me from the gay part of me.
We went back and forth for a while. After it was all said and done, she asked a simple question that still reverberates through my mind as I write this article. “I get why you’re sad, really, I do” she said. “But I don’t see what that has to do with celebrating for Pride month! Leave all that behind and come have fun with your community! Why would you let all that racism stuff keep you from the most important month of the year?”
For a second, I stared at the text message and wished she was right. I wish I would leave behind the trauma of racism and dispel it from my thoughts for good. I would kick it out of the door and lock the bolts, never allowing it to enter and disturb my peace again. I wish I could walk through the Women’s March and comfortably high five police officers the way so many women did in Atlanta.
I also wish I could walk into a gay nightclub in New York, like Rebar, and not have the owner’s assume that I can’t afford to order a drink. I wish my best friend could swipe through a gay dating app without seeing “no blacks, sorry it’s just my preference” littered across the news feed. I wish I could not be exoticized or fetished by people in the LGBT community who are simply curious of what it’s like to date a black girl.
Above all, I wish I was not expected to separate the black part of me from the gay part of me. Or be told that there’s not enough space in Pride Month to include my black joy, my black pain, or even my black rage. I’m black and I belong to the LGBT community, and those two elements hold equal density. When I step into a black church, or a black bar-b-que, I’m still a gay woman. When I step into a gay club or a Pride parade, I’m still a black woman.
There’s enough space in Pride Month to include my black joy, my black pain, or even my black rage.
I’ve marched alongside my fellow women while at the Women’s March in downtown St. Louis. I’ve risen my picket sign and lost my voice screaming for justice as we all gathered at the airport in opposition of the Muslim travel ban. And this month, I plan on walking alongside my fellow LGBT community in the Gay Pride Parade. I do this because it’s my job to fight for my community and other communities that are being oppressed. I do it because I love them and want them to know that I have their backs. It’s disappointing then, to have the same people I march next to during Pride Month be so incredibly silent when tragedy hits the black community.
This Pride Month, while you’re dancing and draping yourselves in rainbow flags, remember that there are members of the LGBT community who need to be reminded that you love and support them. Don’t ask me to leave my race at the door before I step into the Pride festivities; I simply couldn’t do that even if I tried. And just because I’m thrilled to be amongst my LGBT brothers and sisters in an epic celebration, doesn’t mean that I’m not fighting another battle every second of that dance party or parade route. Before you argue that protests have no place during Pride Month, or that adding brown and black to the LGBT rainbow flag is unnecessary, make sure you’re doing everything you can to include the members of your community who are fighting oppression that comes from not just their sexuality, but also their race.
While I’m partying with my friends during Pride Month, I’ll take you up on your offer to buy me a drink, or to dance. If you tell me you don’t know who Philando Castile is, I’ll even try to suppress my frustration and explain the entire situation to you as the music blasts from the dance floor behind us. But if you tell me to leave my race at the door, or to leave the racial politics out of Pride Month, I will decline your dance. If you ask me to ignore the fact that I’m black no matter where I go and therefore carry that trauma and anxiety wherever I go, even during the month of June, I’m going to walk away immediately.
Pride Month is a celebration and showcase of love for all members of the LGBT community. Our fights are different and our experiences are varied, but ultimately the goal is to love and support one another. If you love me, as your LGBT sister, then I have one request from you. Show up. Show up for me the way I show up for you. Walk with me, march with me, lend your hand and shout with me whether it’s at a Pride parade or a protest against police brutality. Show me that you’ve got my back, and make it known to your gay brown and black community that you hear them, value their experiences, and will fight with them. I need you to take my hand while we march through the streets for justice, just as easily as you would take my hand on the dance floor.