Unlike the revolutionary decade of the 1960s during which the air bred dissent, we LGBTQ people appear to be residing in a sanguine time — rebels without a cause, a context, or an agenda. Many of us would argue that we have moved from our once urgent state of, “Why we can’t wait” to our present lull state of, “Where do we go from here?”
With advances such as hate crime laws, the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the legalization of same-sex marriage in some states, and homophobia viewed as a national concern, we have come a long way since the first Pride marches four decades ago. Also, with the AIDS epidemic no longer ravaging our community as it once did — an epidemic that galvanized us to organize — and with the Religious Right becoming more of a political liability than an asset to political candidates these days, our backs appear to not be slammed as harshly up against a brick wall like they used to be.
Some in our community contest that we are in a holding pattern while other argue that we are ready to assimilate into mainstream society.
Boston Pride’s new Human Rights and Education Committee (HREC) broached this topic by presenting a forum to discuss the impact of assimilation on LGBTQ communities and cultures on Tuesday, June 7, at the Radisson Hotel’s Theatre Café in Boston.
In its flyer, HREC wrote,
“2010 was a year of progress for the LGBT Community. …Of course there is more to accomplish before we can consider ourselves truly equal and some of the questions we want to delve into are:
- What happens when we achieve full equality?
- How do our cultural norms and practices stand up against assimilation over time?
- Do we even want to assimilate into mainstream culture? How much? And can we do so without losing our LGBT identity?
- Who are we if we blend into the mainstream fabric?
- Do we want to be just like everyone else?
- Does quality eventually result in a cultural demise?”
With the LGBTQ community being the fastest disenfranchised group to touch the fringes of America’s mainstream since the Stonewall Riots in 1969, many who oppose the LGBTQ community driving forth an assimilationist agenda are waving a cautionary finger, saying to us “not too fast now.”
And the cautionary finger waving is because not everyone in the LGBTQ community is accepted.
While we all rev up each June for Pride, so too do the fault lines of race and class in our larger and white LGBTQ community. In addition to Gay Pride events, there will be segments of our population attending separate Black, Asian, and Latino Gay Pride events. And oddly enough, the racial divide that is always evident at Pride events across the country shows us something troubling and broken about ourselves as we strive to be a community and movement.
The growing distance between our larger and white LGBTQ community and these LGBTQ communities of color is shown by how, for example, a health issue like HIV/AIDS that was once an entire LGBTQ community problem is now predominately a concern for communities of color.
The themes and focus of Black, Asian, and Latino Pride events are different from the larger Pride events. Prides of communities of color focus on issues not solely pertaining to the LGBTQ community, but rather on social, economic, and health issues impacting their entire community. For example, where the primary focus and themes in white Prides has been on marriage equality for the larger community, Prides organized by and for LGBTQ people of African descent have had to focus not only on HIV/AIDS but also on unemployment, housing, gang violence, LGBTQ youth homelessness, etc.
Cultural acceptance is just one of a few things LGBTQ communities of color still do not experience from larger Pride events, instead at times experiencing social exclusion and invisibility.
For example, Sunday gospel brunches, Saturday night poetry slams, Friday evening fashion shows, bid whist tournaments, house parties, the smell of soul food and Caribbean cuisine, and the beautiful display of African art and clothing are just a few of the cultural markers that make Black Pride distinctly different from the dominant queer culture. And after decades of Pride events where many LGBTQ people of African descent tried to be included and weren’t, Black Gay Pride was born.
While Pride events are still fraught with divisions, they, nonetheless, bind us to a common struggle for LGBTQ equality.
Driving an assimilationist agenda would eradicate the fact that our gift and our struggle arises because we are a diverse community. And our diversity as a LGBTQ community should not be diluted, but rather our diversity should teach us more about its complexity, and by extension teach society at large.
Our diversity not only affirms our uniqueness and LGBTQ people, but it also broadens America’s understanding that a democratic society is a diverse one.
Rev. Irene Monroe