In June, Black Girl Hockey Club celebrated LGBTQ Pride all month long. BGHC started off the month helping to put together a street hockey activation with the New York Rangers and a basketball activation with the New York Knicks for the Hetrick-Martin Institute Youth Pride Festival in New York City on June 1st. Our street team, filled with a people who are a mix of genders, races and sexualities, volunteered at the Festival, hanging out with families in attendance and helping out at the sporting booths. On June 31st, BGHC ended Pride Month by marching in the NYC World Pride Parade with the NHL and a number of affiliates in attendance. Alongside organizations like Black Girl Hockey Club, Pride Tape and You Can Play, the National Hockey League is working hard to show fans that hockey is truly a sport for everybody, not just a select few. With corporations like the NHL loudly supporting events like the World Pride Parade, Pride Month has become a symbol of acceptance and joy. Obviously open support of LGBTQ rights does show progress, but with the heavy corporate presence involved in Pride marches now, the LGBTQ message becomes watered down. As an organization populated by those who identify in a variety of ways, BGHC’s participation and support of Pride Month shows the intersectionality and complexity of the LGBTQ movement and points to a hopeful future.
The occasion of pride parades did not begin as a joyous expression of all sexualities and identities with support from major corporations but as a riot. Pride marches first began in New York in the 1970s in commemoration of the Stonewall Riot. In the 1960s, Stonewall Inn was a private bar for LGBTQ people in New York. There was a code in New York City at the time that banned people from dressing in clothing intended for the opposite gender. The police would regularly raid Stonewall Inn, arresting employees and harassing the patrons. Typically the owners would be aware of the raids happening and they would occur earlier in the night before the club would be completely full. However, on June 27th, past 1 o’clock in the morning, the police made a surprise raid on the establishment. But instead of the crowd dispersing as usual, the crowd grew restless. Beginning with booing the police officers carrying out those who were arrested, a sense of rebellion grew within the crowd. Soon rocks and various other items were being thrown at the police officers and they were forced to retreat back into Stonewall Inn, calling for back-up. As a riot control unit arrived, the crowd only escalated. Drag queens and others began taunting and chants reveling in gay pride began. Transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were among the boldest and most outspoken leaders who stood up against the police brutality that had plagued the bar for months. The patrons of the Stonewall Inn were tired of the continual harassment and mistreatment and stood up to the police. The night resulted in injuries for both sides, but despite the wounds, the word of the riot spread and a growing sense of LGBTQ pride spread, creating the tradition of marches.
But the event at Stonewall Inn was not the beginning of radical change in the LGBTQ movement. In the 1950s, a perceived conservative era, the gay liberation movement began with men who were members of the communist party. The Mattachine Society, one of the earliest gay rights advocacy groups was founded by Henry Hay, Bob Hull, and Chuck Rowland. Influenced by Marxist ideals the Mattachine Society saw the structural obstacles blocking homosexuals. Combatting the view of homosexuality as a mental illness, the Mattachine Society rejected institutions like the nuclear family seeing that it framed sexuality as culturally pathological. In 1953, the Mattachine Society became a private company and all members associated with the Communist Party were kicked out. The Mattachine Society then developed a more mainstream ideological mindset and attempted to frame gay people as psychologically damaged people that needed help in order to gain support. Moving from radical to mainstream made the Mattachine Society more popular but it did not help the mission of LGBTQ liberation. Unfortunately, Black and Brown people are often disregarded in the struggle for LGBTQ rights.
More recently, in the battle to legalize marriage Freedom to Marry adopted a white, middle class face in order to appear more respectable. By prioritizing the depiction of an LGBTQ couple in an “acceptable” manner, the Freedom to Marry movement also reinforced the mainstream values and ignored the lower socioeconomic class and people of color that are members of the LGBTQ movement. The use of respectability politics, the practice of marginalized groups to police their own members and align their social values with dominant values, helps the most privileged members of marginalized groups and further alienates people at the intersections of oppression. White, middle class gay people were rid of their “badge of inferiority” in the acceptance of the right to marry, while queer people of color remain in a system where oppression cannot be escaped.
As the practice of celebrating LGBTQ pride becomes more commercialized and accepted into main stream, we cannot allow the foundations on which it started are ignored. As we look back at the fun pride celebrations we must remember that the fight for LGBTQ people does not begin and end in June, nor should it exclude LGBTQ persons of color. Sports serve as a microcosm of the world around us, so as we advocate for acceptance in the locker rooms we must also advocate for acceptance in the world.