CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Members of Charlotte Black Pride and representatives from nearly 40 other gay organizations gathered at Camp Northend to celebrate gay Pride with a call to action to the larger gay community — Black Lives Matter.
Organizers of the June 28 press conference picked the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots to make a statement that the fight for black liberation is entwined with the struggle for gay and transgender rights. At least 30 people stood behind the featured speakers holding signs that read “There’s Still Hope” and “We Stand In Solidarity.” The sign holders wore T-shirts representing the 40+ organizations that supported a community letter, released at the start of the press conference, expressing support for black lives. They were black, brown, white and other shades of the race rainbow.
This was a wake-up call for the larger gay community, said Charlotte Black Pride chair Shann Fulton.
“We want to make sure we are holding everyone accountable and everyone is standing up for black lives. What better place to start than within your own community?” Fulton added. “By us starting in our own community that will bleed out to the rest of our community.”
Sunday’s event was born out of a conversation between the two Pride groups, Fulton said. From there they reached out to other local LGBTQ organizations to garner support for the open letter (bit.ly/2NT1QCp) and a commitment to root out systemic racism within their individual groups.
The press conference was a powerful statement by entities that have not always worked well together — at least not publicly. Since the start of the pandemic, however, the gay community has seen collaborations that have been quietly building in recent years come to light. The statement of support around Black Lives Matter is the strongest to date.
“We cannot fight queerphobia and transphobia without simultaneously being committed to fight racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia and agism. These things do not exist in a vacuum,” Nada Merghani, Charlotte Pride programs associate said during the press conference. “We can not claim to have a world where LGBTQ individuals are liberated and free without that world also including black and brown individuals to be liberated and free.”
Typically, the last Sunday in June ends a weekend of revelry, but this year’s Pride Day had a more somber tone in the wake of the pandemic and protests against police brutality unleashed upon African-Americans nationwide. Charlotte Pride recognized the seriousness of this moment and issued a statement a couple of weeks ago banning participation of law enforcement in the gay Pride parade. The organization’s decision garnered mixed reaction, but Charlotte Pride wanted to send the message that it stood in solidarity with African-Americans in the fight to change policing in America. On Sunday, an additional 40 or so other Charlotte gay organizations showed their solidarity as well.
At the press conference, Fulton outlined what it looks like to support black lives as indicated in the open letter:
• Continuing or creating new opportunities for our organizations’ boards, staff, or volunteer teams to learn more about ending systemic racism, police brutality, transphobia and white supremacy.
• Continuing or creating new ways to diversify our organizations’ boards, staffs and volunteer leadership teams.
• Continuing or creating new and intentional changes to our marketing and communications efforts to ensure the voices and faces of all people in our community are represented in our work.
• Continuing or creating new efforts to identify ways that our organizations’ services, programs and projects can be more directly accountable to and receive input, direction and leadership from the people we serve, including black people.
• Creating or utilizing existing and new sources of funding to ensure that we are generating accessible, intentional and uplifting programs for the black community.
Fulton said the next step is to create an accountability team to look at what areas need to be improved within organizations to achieve the goals outlined above.
On June 28, there was a particular call to help black transgender women, many of whom were some of the earliest activists in the Stonewall Riots, and even before that. It is a call that is being echoed nationwide. Refinery 29 published an article during the week of June 21 detailing the black queer community’s role, especially black transgender women, in fighting for LGBTQ liberation. (See “The Queer Black History of Rioting” by Jonathan Borge at r29.co/3eKvRzZ.)
These days most stories about the fight for gay liberation have all but erased the black queer community. Google the Stonewall Riots and the images are mostly of white people protesting. Marsha P. Johnson’s life is memorialized in a Netflix documentary rather than a theatrical release like that of Harvey Milk.
News coverage of the Charlotte protests also tends to render the black LGBTQ community invisible, but they have been on the front lines along with white queer people as volunteers helping to keep protestors safe.
“Do not stop showing up,” Merghani said. “These symptoms of oppression and the bodies and the buildings that enforce them will continue to abuse us. White supremacy will continue to break us down. Capitalism will continue to violently dig into our pockets. Police will continue to brutalize and arrest us for continuing to fight for justice. That is going to happen. Know that, and still show up… It’s all of us or none of us.”
Pay close attention in the coming months and years. There are a crop of young leaders fighting to make sure Charlotte’s black queer community is integrated, not assimilated, into the larger gay community. It is not going to be easy or comfortable. But it is work that many say is long overdue.