The Stonewall Riot of 1969 has been credited as the event which led to the annual Pride parades in the United States, and then other parts of the world. When law enforcement raided the Stonewall Inn, sexual and gender minorities mobilized and fought back against police brutality. However, it is also argued that the Stonewall Riot of 1969 was a success because of the events that preceded it.
There were multiple police raids that were rampant through the 1950s and 60s. Stonewall only gained attention because affluent, educated gay men continue to view it as newsworthy. Post the Stonewall uprising, a movement took shape which centered the experience of upper-middle class white gay men who sought to only reform laws rather than invoke radical activism.
The historic riot was begun by a black trans woman, Marsha Johnson, throwing a brick at the cops. But the marginalized among the queer community were left behind in the process of queer collectivizing around pride and legal reform. Decriminalization of anti-queer laws came to be seen as the ultimate victory for queer rights. As the pride agenda moved from decriminalization to equal marriage, issues of resource distribution and socio-economic reforms for transgender persons, queer persons of colour and queer immigrants got crushed under the Pride tableau.
As gay communities across the world succeeded in decriminalizing anti-queer laws and are now enjoying equal rights and opportunities, corporate funding of Pride has now created what is called Rainbow Capitalism. As a result, many foundations “back less controversial LGBTQ causes” and not grassroots organizing or groups. This has been going on in the West for quite some time.
This trend is fast becoming visible in case of India too. We have seen repeatedly how transgender persons and queer persons from Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi and working class backgrounds get left behind while Pride is celebrated. During the Pride march meetings in Mumbai for instance, we had to convince people that opposing the transgender act was an issue that the Pride march had to take up. In Delhi, when we walked the Pride march with the Jai Bhim flag, we were told off—they claimed that permission would be denied if we marched with it. Despite many attempts we were never able to get the pride organizing committee members to include the NRC as a queer issue, despite what happened in Assam, when authorities excluded 2,000 trans persons from the registry . And we have already seen how upper class gay men threw a young trans person under the bus for protesting against NRC and in support of Sharjeel Imam in the Mumbai Pride. None of the corporate who have turned their logos into rainbows have come out against the trans bill or other legislation which affect the most marginalized among the queers.
While intersectionality is a word that gets thrown around in the Pride marches, there is rarely serious engagement with it. While some say that bringing intersectionality into the Pride March would dilute the Pride agenda, some others think that putting up one speaker with multiple marginality is enough to make the Pride march intersectional. However, there is rarely any initiative to make the Pride March or the events around it include issues that affect marginalized queer populations. The focus on issues of marginalized queer persons that different Pride Marches have given range from invisiblisation of the violence and discrimination to blatant erasure of their experience. Thus, the Pride agenda becomes the agenda of largely the upper class, upper-caste cisgender gay people and is centered around an aspiration towards respectability in the eyes of the heternormative society.
Today the “progressives” among the queers want to remind others that Stonewall was a riot. It was a result of resistance towards police brutality. The Indian celebrities are suddenly becoming sensitive to police brutality because thousands of people in the West are out on the streets protesting about #blacklivesmatter. Several urban activists and intellectuals because police brutality has today reached the heartlands of the country. It has reached Delhi, Mumbai, and the households of the relatively upper class and upper caste people. However, for many this brutality has been a norm for ages. The Hijras on the streets were never free from it, the sex workers were never free from it. The queer people in areas where Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is enforced were never free from it. The Adivasi persons who have been struggling to safeguard their land, water and forest have never been free from it. The State’s most brutal force has always been upon them for decades now.
The fact remains that the Pride marches have historically been a space created for and by upper class gay men and the narratives of many others will remain outside of this narrative of Pride. The question that needs to be asked now is whether we want to put our energies to make pride more inclusive or do we want to look for other avenues to claim our narrative.