In June 2017, I attended my first Pride parade with both of my parents. My Black father, my white mother, and my bisexual, nonbinary self made for a picture of diversity hand-in-hand through the streets of downtown Fort Worth, Texas. I recall feeling the solidarity of that sea of rainbows and sunscreen, followed by the messages of encouragement and affirmation made by community organizers over the speakers set up in the Water Gardens.
During the parade, a bullhorn-holding gay Fort Worth Police Department officer rattled off the regular affirmations, including condemnations of anti-queer violence, the Muslim ban, the injustices at the border just hours to the South. But, thinking back on it, he conveniently omitted two notable crises. The first was the historic violence queer people have faced at the hands of the police, which one would think very specifically relevant to mention. The second was police brutality against Black people, an even more glaring omission in the age of the murders of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, and countless others.
I heard my father shout as much from the crowd. I saw him look around at this group of largely white faces, waiting. He was scanning, searching for someone in what was meant to be a protest for an oppressed group’s civil rights to speak up for him the way he was there to speak up for them. The cop’s speech rolled along uninhibited. A short word to my mother and I, and he left. I didn’t understand at the time how right he was to do so.
My relationship with Blackness as a concept has been as complicated as my relationship with my father—a confusing mix of distance, shared trauma, mutual sympathies, and resentments. My father’s family was mainly out of the picture, while every major holiday featured a get-together with mother’s side. In middle school, those early, ugly years of self-discovery, my effeminacy and eccentricities were most readily accepted by a lovable group of emo Mexican girls (who largely grew up to be queer themselves), especially after I came out in seventh grade. Just as the lightness of my skin made me more palatable to my non-Black peers, my distinct queerness made me feel at a constant arm’s length from connecting to my culture in a substantial way. Not to say that I didn’t experience the weight of American Blackness; by high school, I had had the hard-R n-word spat in my face multiple times, but on some level I knew that it didn’t carry the same heft for me that it did for my darker-skinned peers.
Despite an upbringing in the American South, my queerness was at many times more tolerated—and at times even encouraged—than my Blackness. I distinctly remember being loudly reprimanded for wearing a hood in my freshman year Biology class. But on another day, showing up in a fedora/bowtie/colored-nail moment was no issue. Not to say that either of these call for harassment, but the difference struck me: The former was reprimandable, even though my eyes and ears were visible and open and I paid full attention. I was still perceived as disrespectful and potentially threatening. In addition, Black queers stood at the intersection of an academic condemnation of African American vernacular English (AAVE) as entirely unacceptable and a generation of white queers regurgitating and laying claim to it. In a moment I didn’t know about until years later, my father was stung by this appropriation at the 2017 Pride march, when he saw a group of white women loudly proclaiming themselves as the “Soul Sistas.”
I can’t pinpoint any one thing that led me to understand how integral it was to my Black queer experience to marry my identities together. One piece was moving away from my father, who was at once the biggest Black influence on my life and my central source of trauma. Another was the constant cycle of police brutality against Black people—and the constant violence against Black trans women, specifically. Another was the disparity I saw in messages on queer social apps that depended entirely on whether my ethnicity was visible or not. And, though at times it feels otherwise, another piece was the slow shift in online social consciousness towards uplifting the least heard of us. While political division has gotten more pronounced and extreme online in the past decade, visibility has become possible for Black queer people like never before. Movements are born and fostered in hashtags, videos of anti-Black and anti-queer violence are shared for all the world to see, and a generation of Black queer creatives have found their platforms. Seeing my communities coexist and prosper in people like Janelle Monáe, Aaron Philip, Shea Couleé, Alex Newell, Kevin Abstract, and Angelica Ross, I knew I wasn’t alone. I saw that these weren’t two worlds at odds, but one multifaceted experience.
In June 2020, my father and I marched through the same streets we had three years before. We screamed for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Sandra Bland, for Atatiana Jefferson. One of my hands clutched my boyfriend’s as the other was raised in a power fist, and my father walked just behind us, keeping watch. Though my relationship and my rainbow pin got a few sideways looks, they also elicited multiple Black women thanking my boyfriend and I specifically for coming out that day. As an organizer on the steps of the Tarrant County Courthouse cried out about the murder of Black men to affirmative applause, a crowd member yelling about Black women and Black trans lives drew out agreement just as thunderous. In this crowd I saw Latinx teens, black butches, white twinks, afabs with brightly colored hair, Black men with long locs, and wheelchair users with signs propped up in their laps.
The solidarity was far from perfect, as organizers led the group in Christian prayer, with one man going so far as to try to “educate” my friend against her hijab. Thankfully, there were a number of protestors jumping in to tell him to mind his decidedly non-Muslim business. Even with room to grow, there seemed to be a general consensus that the time of standing idly by was past. Even if not unanimous, the energy of these many different fights being one struggle was palpable.
My father left the march early again. We parted with a hug as he went home to recover from the Texas heat. No matter how short our time by each other’s sides was, it felt like we had found ourselves on the same side more than ever before.
As a mixed queer person, I know what my dark-skinned queer siblings have had to learn in a harder way than I have: None of us is free until all of us are free. And, contrary to the thought of many a white gay, Pride isn’t canceled in 2020. These protests, these riots, the people marching against police brutality for Tony McDade, and the thousands-strong Black Trans Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn for Riah Milton and Rem’mie Fells—these are all our fights. This is Pride. And no omissions can stand this time.