06/04/2018 05:45 am ET Updated Jun 10, 2018

Queer Pride Has Found Its Purpose, Once Again, In Rebellion

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Rebellion is in the air as the resistance to Donald Trump’s presidency and the hate it has given license to continues. And both seasoned LGBTQ activists and new, younger queer people are at the forefront of much of it ― organizing, engaging and challenging bigotry.

This is true not only regarding the demand for accountability in the larger world but also among LGBTQ people and groups as well. And while some might bemoan this as “infighting” or the perennial “eating our own,” it actually is the true spirit of LGBTQ Pride, which kicks off all across America this week and goes through the end of June.

For decades, our annual marches and parades, which included chants for visibility within a larger, heterosexual-dominated society ― “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” ― have been vital in highlighting homophobia in American culture. But a chant that goes way back to the Stonewall era and the early pride marches ― “Out of the closets and into the streets!” ― was about accountability to each other as well. It was about what individuals needed to do, challenging themselves and their own complacency, fears and biases. And that’s still hugely important in many ways.

Today we see it playing out in the LGBTQ rights movement as queer people make demands of LGBTQ groups ― for example, pressuring pride events to stop associating with entities that have a history of racial bias and stop accepting sponsorships from companies that do business with weapon manufacturers.

In New York, a group called the Reclaim Pride Coalition has demanded that police officers not be present in uniform with weapons because of the visual threat they represent to African-Americans and others who experience police brutality regularly in America today.

Queer people are amazing at coming together, joining forces even as we have sharp differences and engage in self-examination.

It’s a demand that Heritage of Pride, the organizer of New York City Pride, has pushed back against, and it seems like a heavy lift, considering LGBTQ police groups march in pride parades, proudly in uniform, and that the New York Police Department is also intent on making sure visible security is present. But activists persevere, challenging people in the LGBTQ community to think about and confront the issue.

In Washington, the group No Justice, No Pride last year engaged in civil disobedience during the Pride march and is once again pressing Capital Pride, issuing a statement this year that reads in part: 

All signs indicate that Capital Pride 2018 will once again celebrate weapons manufacturers, corrupt banks, and police departments, aligning itself with those who profit off of the oppression of the most marginalized members of our communities.

The same is happening in smaller cities with a shorter history of pride marches, like Salt Lake City. Just days before the Pride Month kickoff, a group of prominent local activists sent a letter to the Utah Pride Center asking that Chase Bank and Wells Fargo be dropped as sponsors, charging that the banks have a “history of discrimination against the most at-risk in [the LGBT] communities.” Similar controversies are sprouting up around the country.

Resolving these issues won’t be easy, and the tense town hall meetings and protests of the past couple of years are likely to continue and escalate for a while. But they nonetheless are a direct result of the growth of the LGBTQ movement and the intersection with so many other movements. At a time when police brutality against people of color is a focus of progressives and when there have been energetic protests of companies that support the gun lobby in the aftermath of school shootings, it’s vital that these issues are given focus at LGBTQ Pride in a meaningful way. 

That is and always has been of the purpose of pride events ― to challenge and spark debate. Or, at least, that’s been the traditional (for lack of a better word) purpose, which may have been suppressed and obscured as corporate sponsors began courting pride celebrations over the past 25 years and, more recently, during the relatively heady Obama years, when the focus was on winning marriage equality in the courts and gaining acceptance among the public. As I’ve pointed out many times, many LGBTQ people were overcome with victory blindness in the wake of achieving marriage equality at the Supreme Court in 2015, not seeing all the work ahead on so many fronts.

But in addition to energizing LGBTQ activists within groups like Rise and Resist to take on Trump and the extreme-right political agenda ― which threatens to roll back LGBTQ rights ― the rise of Trump has been a jolt in so many other ways. Queer people couldn’t be truly integrated into the larger progressive resistance, after all, if we weren’t grappling with issues of bias or complacency among our own and challenging ourselves, especially as the presence of queer activists in the resistance is undeniable. 

Lesbian and transgender leaders like J. Bob Alotta, executive director of Astraea Lesbian Foundation, and activist and author Janet Mock were prominent speakers at the massive 2017 Women’s March. Gay and lesbian African-American activists, such as Deray McKesson and Alicia Garza, have been at the forefront of Black Lives Matter. Latino queer activists like Bamby Salcedo have been on the front lines in the fight for immigrant youth and LGBTQ immigrants.

We’ve been in this fight in America for a long time ― long before Trump ― and we know how critical it is right now.

Gays Against Guns became a driving force in the fight against gun violence after the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016. And among the Parkland, Florida, high school student leaders who organized marches this year after the shooting at their school are youth such as Emma González, who proudly identifies as bisexual

How could the LGBTQ rights movement be part of a larger movement challenging companies doing business with the National Rifle Association, for example, if pride events are taking money from the very same companies? 

It’s inevitable and hugely important that these heated debates take place. And yet queer people are amazing at coming together, joining forces even as we have sharp differences and engage in self-examination. That’s where we’re underestimated by many in the media and even by some LGBTQ leaders who fret about the appearance of division.

In a similar example, there has been so much talk of Democrats and progressives being divided headed into November’s midterm elections ― Bernie Sanders supporters vs. Hillary Clinton supporters, the establishment vs. the grassroots, and insiders vs. outsiders ― but progressives and Democrats have come together and turned out to vote in large numbers and solidly behind a diverse array of candidates in primaries and special elections since Trump’s election. This has belied the overblown claims of deep divisions in the party, even as there are very real disagreements 

The same is true of queer people. Despite the tensions and differences, we know the battle we’re up against ― authoritarianism, far-right religious extremism, white supremacy ― and we know why we must beat it back, staying united.

We’ve been in this fight in America for a long time ― long before Trump ― and we know how critical it is right now. We’re resilient, and we can do many things at once ― including challenging each other and the rest of the world.

Pride 2018 is getting back to its rebellion roots, within our own movement and against the forces intent on harming us all. And that’s exactly what Pride is supposed to be.

#TheFutureIsQueer is HuffPost’s monthlong celebration of queerness, not just as an identity but as action in the world. Find all of our Pride Month coverage here.

Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter @msignorile.

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