June is the month of Pride. Many people are talking about Pride starting as a riot, but it is deeper than a slogan and beyond three days of protest. It was a response to systemic and institutional discrimination.
Queer bars were often the target of police raids and police extortion. State laws, particularly those connected with liquor licenses, created the conditions for this. There were also laws that policed clothing, as if clothing has a gender, but these laws required people to wear at least three pieces of clothing of their sex (and male and female were the only options).
Policing of Black and Brown bodies persists. Framed as anti-gang ordinances, communities have often prevented Black and Brown people from gathering in groups and policed what they wear from certain colors to baggy pants. Employers and schools routinely police Black hair, prohibiting dreads and braids.
Ironically, the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) is being used against LGBTQ people. RFRA was a response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed a school to force a Native American boy to cut his hair despite his beliefs. RFRA overturned that decision. Now it is being twisted to allow people to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against LGBTQ people in public accommodations.
Businesses refusing to serve same-sex couples is similar to Jim Crow and de facto segregation. We can draw the connection between what happens to LGBTQ people and other oppressed people, but we have to be careful not to conflate it with racism. White LGBTQ people can blend in. Yes, sometimes our gender presentation may make it hard to blend in, but it is still different from skin color that cannot be hidden by deciding to avoid holding a partner’s hand in a hostile community.
These comparisons are meant to draw connections and build empathy as we approach Pride in the middle of another civil rights movement. Unlike the LGBTQ movement, which has had incredible traction toward equality, including a recent Supreme Court decision prohibiting discrimination in the workplace (though we are not there yet), the movement towards racial equality has been slow and subject to several intentional setbacks. Our nation started with the original sin of enslaving our fellow human beings. Then we failed to follow through with a solid commitment to reconstruction after slavery. Then we used policing to re-create a system of slavery through incarceration, and created laws that lead us to incarcerate more people than any other nation. We allow lynching by cops and by people claiming to protect their neighborhoods.
This time demands we all fight against injustice. In the middle of a pandemic, when we cannot go to Pride Parades, Trans Marches and Dyke Marches, we can fight to transform all discriminatory laws.
Jill Mullins is an attorney and activist who has written for NW Lawyer, King County Bar News and LGBTQ outlets.
Read more in the June 17-23, 2020 issue.