“A Letter to Our Community” from The Stonewall Youth Staff Collective

“To Our Community:

This year, Stonewall Youth’s Staff Collective decided to support a group of Queer and Trans People of Color in creating space for an Ancestor Procession during the Pride Parade. Our youth participants and numerous community members contributed in the creation of the altar, brought flowers, herbs, signs, and other items they felt relevant to celebrate, remember, mourn, and call on our Queer Ancestors. (At the end of this letter, we have posted the text from the invitation the group posted on Facebook.)

As a contingent, we decided to walk at a pace that could accommodate the mobility of all people who marched with us in the procession. Due to this, many people who otherwise would have opted out of participating were able to do so, and we received feedback that our section of the parade this year was the most accessible it had ever been. The Procession also paused for several minutes near Sylvester Park to honor QTPOC ancestors and to acknowledge their living presence in our lives. For this particular day, our group intentionally decided that grieving and honoring the dead should not be rushed. We wanted to be respectful of ourselves and of the dead and not move on too quickly to convenient distractions.

Some members of the community have raised concerns, curiosity, and anger in regards to one of the more than thirty signs included in the Procession. The sign was on the vehicle that carried the Ancestor Altar. It read, “FUCK PRIDE WE WANT REVENGE!”

The sign critically asked viewers, whose Pride is this? Who is this Pride for? Who is this celebration for, and who is not here to celebrate amongst us? Let this be heard: Pride was not created for cisgender, straight allies. Nor should Pride be a celebration of and for only a narrow segment of the LGBTQ+ population. People’s reactions to the sign reveal in part how invested they are in preserving their privilege, and how complicit they are in perpetuating homophobia, transphobia, and white supremacy. However, we recognize that given the climate of increased Islamophobia in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, that the sign could have been perceived as advocating violence against Muslims.

We stand in solidarity with our Muslim community members against Islamophobia.

For some, the statement was a wake-up call, a call to action, an expression of rage and grief about the violence and oppression perpetrated against QTPOC and other LGBTQ people, and a reminder of why we even have Pride.

The sign was a critique of Prides across the United States as well. What was once a radical notion has assimilated to become a pinkwashed, capitalist “family friendly” event, where gender expressions and clothing are highly regulated in a patriarchal and misogynistic way. “family friendly” is a deeply coded language that has been used by hate groups to regulate Trans and Queer bodies and expressions. Pride today perpetrates and enforces historical amnesia about its origins: that 47 years ago, Queer and Trans People of Color rose up to fight against police brutality, racism, and state sanctioned violence.

If that sign made you uncomfortable, reflect on that discomfort. If seeing Queer and Trans People of Color taking up space and time makes you uncomfortable, think about why.
If seeing grief and rage expressed in five words on a sign resulted in you targeting your anger or other discomfort on Procession participants or supporters, question why you cannot be more of a compassionate witness to that grief and anger.

We agree that celebration is important to sustain us for the work ahead. However, we also need to honor our history, our ancestors, our grief, and most importantly our anger. We need to honor that grief and anger are valid responses to interlocking systems of oppression. What revenge looks like for one person may not look the same for another person. Revenge can be a community mobilizing so our trans siblings can exist without fearing for their lives, wondering if this is that last day we’ll see them alive. Revenge can look like queer and trans youth thriving and living the lives they want to live, instead of merely surviving day to day. Revenge can look like not wondering if you were turned down from a job because you couldn’t pass enough. Revenge can look like dismantling policies that harm us all.

Some raised concerns about adults not taking charge, asking why the Stonewall Youth Staff Collective chose not to censor or regulate the sign, “FUCK PRIDE, WE WANT REVENGE!”
The Stonewall Youth Collective acted in support of the Procession member who created the sign. We acted in accordance to Stonewall Youth’s mission, vision, and values. A youth-led action is not the same as an adult sanctioned expression. We are aware that this sign did not represent the entirety of all queer youth expressions, nor of all queer people of color. We recognize it expressed a perspective not held by some people who support Stonewall Youth. It was one facet of the extraordinarily multifaceted entirety of the altar and procession.
We recognize and respect the multitude of perspectives held by ours and other communities and hope that others can do the same.

It is ironic to be expected to conform to a very narrow spectrum of expression at an event that is supposed to celebrate individuality, diversity, and the wide spectrum of orientations, identities, and expressions.

We also understand the pace of the procession and the pause we made at Sylvester Park (which cumulatively resulted in about 20 minutes of delays in the parade) angered some parade participants and organizers. It may have made things difficult for performers who were waiting on stage for their audience to arrive. To be clear, we are not responsible for the fact that the parade started about 25 minutes late.

We strongly encourage future parade organizers to create a parade and stage schedule that better accommodates a wider range of the mobility abilities of people in our community. We also wholeheartedly encourage organizers to build time and space into the parade and stage schedule to honor and acknowledge the terrible violence and oppression faced by LGBTQ+ people (particularly QTPOC) throughout history and in the preceding year, as well the violence and oppression experienced by people facing discrimination based on race, disability, class, and other intersecting oppressions. Because we live in a violent and oppressive culture, there is currently inevitably a “recent tragic event.” Recognize and mourn this fact. Accommodating this fact would prevent disrespectfully superficial and rushed acknowledgements of “recent tragic events” caused by the pressure to move on quickly to previously scheduled events.

We do not regret the decision to let the sign be present in the Procession, or to let the Procession proceed at a reasonable pace. It was not an oversight. It was a deliberate and united decision to hold space for such an expression. For us it is a reminder that we too, must reflect on our own complicity.

Lastly, people in power utilize different methods to derail and deflect actions perceived as a threat. A common tactic is focus on one aspect and obscure the greater message, delegitimize in the name of being offensive, inappropriate, too angry. As the late Audre Lorde has written, your silence will not protect you. Silencing others will not protect you.

We would like to refocus and remind people that the altar, the procession and all of the many signs were thoughtfully created and assembled by members of our community to honor not only those that were lost in the recent Orlando tragedy, but also those in the Charleston shooting whose one-year anniversary it was, community members’ ancestors and family, the queer and trans lives we lose every day that we hear briefly about or not at all, and our queer and trans predecessors that made it possible for us to be here.

Some have said that the Pride parade was not the time or place for this type of expression. In a society that erases and rewrites history to serve structures of power, there is no day or place but right here and right now.

In love and struggle,

The Stonewall Youth Staff Collective (composed of youth & adults)
Amira, Bryn, Lili, Masa, Ruby

HERE ARE THE INTENTIONS FOR THE PROCESSION, AS WRITTEN IN THE FACEBOOK INVITATION:

We invite you to Grieve and Celebrate at an Ancestor Procession in the Pride Parade. If you are committed to walking/riding in other parts of the parade, we welcome you to bring your ancestors with you and/or bring something for the altar

We are centering and honoring our black and brown queer ancestors. We invite all of you to bring all your ancestors committed to the healing of the lines. We are centering and honoring our black and brown queer ancestors. Our work is to honor our dead. Our work is to be present with our shared lineage as queers, our terrifying beauty, our ability to decolonize ourselves, our survival, our tragic deaths and our long lives. Our collective power is profound. We are centering and honoring our black and brown queer ancestors. Our work is to remember the forgotten, the shamed, the invisible ones. We are being offered an opportunity to hold a tiny piece of collective healing. By stepping into this space we are each responsible to hold the healing that wants to come through us as we prepare, move through the parade and afterwards. Our ancestors have been waiting. Please be mindful as you step into this call.

Please meet us at the capitol at 10am on Sunday 6/19. Stonewall Youth has generously offered to host our procession

Suggestions of what to bring:

Images of Queer Ancestors….or signs holding their quotes. Signs saying ie: Those who died in Institutions, Death Camps, Mental Hospitals, Prison. Those Who Died and were never Found. The Aids Epidemic. Uganda. Orlando. The Un-mourned Ones. Signs that Hold Space for: The 2 Spirit Ancestors. The Queer Artists. The Queer Musicians. The Queer Visionaries and Revolutionaries That Have Died. The Queer Healers. The Queer Teachers and Educators. The Queer Sex workers. Stonewall. Any queers that you feel called to remember. It would be really good to make sacred space how ever you feel called and put a lot of love, rage, pain, gratitude, heartbreak, pride, joy, grief…all of the feels into the making of the sign.

Flowers, herbs, branches, offerings for an altar that will be built on the back of a large flatbed truck.”

To read the original posting, click here: http://stonewallyouth.org/a-letter-to-our-community/#more-1339

For photos from the event, click here: https://www.facebook.com/StonewallYouth/videos/vb.328318382745/10153872317842746/?type=2&theater

For more about Stonewall Youth, click here: http://stonewallyouth.org/ and here: https://www.facebook.com/StonewallYouth/

To donate to Stonewall Youth, click here: http://tinyurl.com/SYDonation

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