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Pride month started as a riot – and we can’t afford to stop fighting now

From book bans to anti-LGBTQ legislation, this month is a reminder of what’s at stake

June 28, 1969 was a night that would change the trajectory of LGBTQ rights around the world. Led by activists Miss Major, Marsha P. Johnson, Silvia Rivera and Stormé Dulavarie, the Stonewall Uprising was a five-day clash between patrons of the Stonewall Inn and New York City police, who had raided the bar and began beating and arresting people. It wasn’t the first time the Stonewall Inn and other establishments for gay people were raided, but this time hundreds of queer folks decided enough was enough and fought back.

On the one-year anniversary of the uprising, activists held the first-ever Pride march, walking from the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village to Central Park. More than 50 years later, Pride has grown into a global celebration of LGBTQ culture, full of parties, clubs, organizations, and rainbow capitalism. This has resulted in continued growth in our visibility, representation, and storytelling. Although the attacks against our community have never gone away, this year has reached a boiling point and brings with it a new call to action to return to Pride’s original roots if we are going to protect the progress we’ve made.

Just as queer activists battled police in the past, these days, politicians and “parents rights” groups are threatening to roll back our rights. And I’m not having it.

When a group of white women began the anti-Black, anti-queer groups Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education, they began an assault on the humanity, rights, and storytelling of LGBTQ people. These groups have fought for nearly three years to remove books from K-12 public schools that make any reference to identity, race, gender, and sexuality under the guise of “protecting children” — but realistically, they only care about coddling straight, white children. 

My memoir, All Boys Aren’t Blue, has become a popular target of these groups. In the book, I explore my journey growing up as a queer Black kid in New Jersey — my struggles with my identity, my family’s history, and overcoming abuse — to finally find strength in who I am. Many young kids have found comfort in my book, but groups like Moms for Liberty have made it one of the most banned books in the country.

But it’s deeper than just pulling a few books off school shelves. These parents’ rights groups and Republican politicians have formed a coalition of chaos, focused on harming LGBTQ people and rolling back the gains we’ve made in the last 50 years. Just this year, hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures a — mainly in red states. Drag shows were banned in Tennessee in February (a federal judge ruled the law unconstitutional earlier this month). Trans athletes, especially trans girls, are being barred from competing in high school sports. And in Florida it’s damn near criminal to be an LGBTQ person. The state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill” prevents educators in K-12 schools from practically using any words or materials that have to do with sexual or gender identity.

Many Republican-led states have now made LGBTQ people their new “bogeyman,” stoking fears that we are groomers, pedophiles, and “demonic.” Our safety — which barely was a thing in the first place — has become even more endangered as we once again have targets on our backs for simply existing. However, we’re fighting back to protect LGBTQ people and their stories. In addition to advocating for our existence, even when it puts me in jeopardy, in May, I joined PEN America, Penguin Random House, and several other authors in a federal lawsuit against Escambia County, Florida for violating our First Amendment rights. 

Like Marsha P. Johnson before us, LGBTQ authors are fighting back and books are our bricks.

Now, I know there are conflicting reports about who actually threw the first brick during the Stonewall Uprising. However, as a Black queer person, Johnson is still our symbolic brick thrower, fighter and hero. Queer books have become our bricks and we’ve been breaking glass in classrooms across the country, providing visibility and representation to thousands of LGBTQ students. Helping non-LGBTQ students learn about the world that exists around them, while building empathy for a community with less privilege and power than them is also vital.

As laws continue to imperil the lives of LGBTQ people, Black queer folks’ plight still exists at the intersection of race and sexuality. We are not only fighting against the bigoted laws being introduced across the country, we also confront homophobia within the Black community, while having to fight racism and microaggressions from the white queer community, too. We sit at the trifecta of oppression. But working to help Black communities unlearn the indoctrination of homophobia and transphobia, while understanding that Blackness and queerness go hand in hand in vital to our survival and freedom. And while its origins have often been whitewashed, Pride is Black history and Latinx history. 

So where does that leave us today? For me, there is only one option: fight. My queer ancestors were forced to live in the shadows. They fought so that I/we didn’t have to do the same. So we must fight. We must protest. We must provide each other aid and safety and support. And we must continue telling our stories because they can’t ban them all. Pride month may be full of joy, but it comes with responsibility. If we want to continue living our best, and most bold lives, it’s time to make Pride our riot.

George M. Johnson is an award-winning Black non-binary writer, author, and executive producer based in Los Angles. They are the author of the New York Times Bestselling author of the Young Adult memoir "All Boys Aren’t Blue" discussing their adolescence growing up as a young Black Queer boy in New Jersey through a series of powerful essays. The book was optioned for Television by Gabrielle Union.