When it comes to Pride, talk is cheap. That was why, in 1969, trans women of color fought back against police brutality with bricks. Pride month — which in Seattle leads to Pride weekend — becomes a celebration for marginalized people in society. Especially at a time when Supreme Court justices are targeting Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that made gay marriage legal in the United States, after they gutted a decision making abortion a right for pregnant people in the country. There are horrific implications for HIPAA, the law that protects a patient’s right to privacy. That is the beauty of Pride celebrations over the decades — refusing to be silent in the face of oppression.
Pride is a big deal in Seattle, a city known around the country for being liberal and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. PrideFest Seattle is the large event that takes over Seattle Center the last Sunday of June, along with the parade and the giant sponsors. Somewhere along the way, PrideFest — and other pride events around the country — became centered on big sponsors. Along with big sponsors came beauty standards. Gone are Black and Brown trans women and the spirit of rebellion. In their place are alcohol brands, banks and a wave of thin cisgender gay men. PrideFest’s headlining sponsor, Delta Airlines, helped to transport thousands of detainees to Central and South America during the Obama and Trump years. LGBTQ+ asylum seekers were among those deported.
The danger for those whose identities were once anathema is that when they become accepted, they will be shoved away from the spotlight in favor of more privileged people. This past Pride weekend, I divested from corporate-sponsored Pride events for that reason.
On Friday night, Indigenize Productions put on a queer, Indigenous burlesque show called “Sweat Lodge” at a small, erotic art gallery in Pioneer Square. In this space, folks gathered to celebrate the first people of this country, who were stomping and dancing and performing on a stage elevated above the audience. It forced the audience to look up at the performers, to appreciate the Indigenous body on its own terms. Strength, softness, femininity, muscles, belly rolls, anything and everything in between, free from the colonial gaze.
As the emcee — dressed in a gorgeous rainbow outfit with jingle bells and leopard print booties — eloquently stated, “Existing is a ceremony, fucking is a ceremony, being queer is a ceremony, being Brown and loud and proud is a ceremony. Celebrate the ceremony of our existence.”
There wasn’t much talk, which was refreshing. Following the burlesque show was a dance party — and after 11 p.m., the dance party became BIPOC only. I won’t share much about that event. It is “closed,” which means that it is not privy to outsiders. But it was beautiful. And it is true that living in a body that goes against the mainstream, white narrative that currently exists around Pride is an act of rebellion in and of itself.
Howie Echo-Hawk, the producer of Sweat Lodge and creator of Indigenize Productions, said it best herself. She said Indigiqueer was “only possible because Indigenize is so intentional about who we want there and who we work with. We asked ourselves ‘Can we get the people that we want there?’ Native, queer, almost entirely POC, otherwise. We have to be really intentional.”
The intentionality was visible both at Sweat Lodge and the Indigiqueer Celebration at the Waterfront Park on June 25. This year, that event happened to be on the same weekend as Pride. The real reason is because June 25 is the anniversary of Gen. Armstrong Custer’s death. Custer is famous for being the commander during the Civil War and American Indian War who committed multiple atrocities against Native Americans.
Howie says she couldn’t care less about Pride.
“Rather than taking back up queer space, I don’t care what Pride does. I don’t give a fuck. I don’t need them to acknowledge me, don’t need mainstream Pride to know that we exist. I want them to know that we are already amazing. We do not need anything else,” she said.
Earlier that week, three other panelists and I partnered with KVRU 105.7 and Real Change to discuss degentrifying Pride in Seattle. The truth is that gentrification, a “street level” version of colonialism, is buried in the bones of Seattle.
Central District, Capitol Hill, Yesler Terrace and Beacon Hill all used to be cornerstones of Black community in Seattle before gentrification, redlining and skyrocketing housing prices forced people out of their homes. Organizations like Queer the Land, which was also present at the KVRU panel, discuss how the effects can’t be reversed, but the damage can be mitigated.
The Capitol Hill “gayborhood” had once been a part of that. Although it was still primarily for white, cis gay men, places like Lobby Bar, R Place, Pony, Neighbours, Queer/Bar and the Cuff have made sure that queer presence had a home on Capitol Hill. The Wild Rose, one of fewer than two dozen lesbian bars in the United States, has also been a cultural cornerstone.
However, rapidly increasing rent prices have begun to price out the middle class queers of Seattle. There are very few events that center BIPOC people. The monthly Sunday Night Shuga Shaq by Briq House and Sin de la Rosa is an all-queer, all-POC burlesque show that has been going on for almost a decade, currently running every second Sunday at the Theater Off Jackson. Pride ASIA Fest, held on the cusp between AAPI and Pride months, was founded in 2012 and prioritizes AAPI queer and trans people.
Taking B(l)ack Pride is in its third year and has already outgrown its former space at Jimi Hendrix Park — the organization took the Mural Amphitheater stage at Seattle Center this year. Although a part of me missed the intimacy and crowd of Jimi Hendrix Park, there was something incredibly beautiful about seeing the literal centering of Blackness at one of Seattle’s cultural landmarks. In full view of the Space Needle, on unceded Duwamish land, Black people were on full display for themselves, without the respectability of the white gaze.
Although much smaller, Indigiqueer Festival on the same day was equally restorative. The festival celebrated Indigenous folks, be they CHamoru, Yakama, Quileute, Samoan or Pawnee, among many others. Although the richness of the many nations inhabited on the continent and islands couldn’t be represented all at once, it was a beautiful experience. Two-spirit, ma_hu_, fa'afafine, fakaleiti and other expansive genders have always had a place in indigeneity and deserved the experience of joy among other LGBTQ+ Indigiqueers.
All of these BIPOC-led and curated queer events didn’t care what was happening on June 26 at Seattle Center, because PrideFest wasn’t made with them in mind. At Taking B(l)ack Pride and Indigiqueer, you can’t reclaim what was already yours in the first place. It’s the spirit of Pride that Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera would have loved to see, or, at least, I hope they would have.
At all of these events, one sentiment was prominent:
“We are here. We are celebrating. This is for us.”
There was dancing, smiling and community activism. There were vendors of color, community organizers and a sense of being cared for. PrideFest is fun, and I see the appeal: the crowds, the parade, the running through the international fountain to cool off. But at the other events, I felt seen. Seen in my Blackness, in my indigeneity and in my queerness. Nobody had to say anything, because talk is cheap. Instead, these were inclusive spaces, ones that welcomed me with an open hand and a smile.
Read more of the June 29-July 5, 2022 issue.