It’s time to take our Pride celebration back to its roots: visible and defiant

We all know this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Most of us also know that the first predecessors to today’s Pride parades began the following year, on the first anniversary of the riots. Several major cities held parades and marches on June 28, 1970. These events were not the beginning of the gay rights movement, but they marked a tremendous change in tone, goals and effectiveness. It was at that point in history that advocates for gay rights turned away from polite, quiet attempts to make society accept “us” as “just like them.”

Post-Stonewall activism was all about being loud and proud of who we truly are. Pride celebrations back then were all about two things: visibility and defiance.

Visibility was important because we needed to show the world how many of us there were. People are more comfortable ignoring us when they think we are few. People are more apt to discount our existence as mental illness or passing fads when they don’t realize that we are in every corner of society, in every profession, in every locality. People are more able to hate us when they are unaware that we are members of their communities, schools and churches, their friendship circles, and even their families.

Pride was in part about coming out of the closet as a community and telling the world that we are here, and we are queer.

Defiance was important as well, because society wanted us to live in shame and hiding. They were afraid of us because they didn’t understand us. They shamed us into the closet where we hid our true selves from them for near eternity. What began at Stonewall was a sense of defiance against the very notion that we ought to be ashamed of who we are, who we love and what we do to express our love. We finally decided to stand up and fight back.

Fast forward 40-some years, and travel to Dallas, Texas. What have we here? A city that is a liberal safe haven, in many ways, in a small corner of a huge, conservative, hate-fueled state. In a state that pushes hard for bathroom bills and “religious exemptions,” this city has tremendous local protections for the LGBTQIA+ community — protections the state is working to take away as we speak.

We have the colors of the rainbow flag light up the skyline annually to celebrate Pride. We have gay city council members, the largest LGBTQIA+-inclusive church in the world, a thriving gayborhood and a true sense of acceptance for most of us, compared to other cities in this part of this country.

And we have a Pride Parade scheduled for Sunday, June 2, 2019 at 2 p.m. . . . in the biggest closet in the city . . . on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Why? How did this happen?

A lot of factors went into moving our Pride parade and celebration from Cedar Springs to Fair Park. A big part of it is money. We were told that we could no longer hold the parade on Cedar Springs because the crowd is too big for the area (a great problem), and the roads will be under construction this year.

Fine. The parade never belonged in the gayborhood anyway. What do we accomplish by screaming “support gay rights” to gay people? Parades belong downtown. The first parades in Dallas were downtown. That’s where they need to be to have the biggest impact, to serve their purpose of visibility.

But it would be far too expensive to hold the parade in downtown Dallas, so it will be held in Fair Park — visible only to those who choose to be present there.

Visibility, then, is dead for the LGBTQIA+ community in Dallas, right? One might suppose it is no longer needed anyway; gays have all the rights straights have now — with marriage equality and employment protections most places, right? Wrong! Visibility is alive and well — as is the need for it among many in our community.

It is true that the situation in society has vastly improved over the past 50 years for affluent, white, gay men. Meanwhile, they are only a small part of our community, and there is much more work to do.

The transgender community is being attacked at every angle. The federal government is trying to force us out of existence, and the Texas government is helping. Local governments are doing precious little to protect us, and they are losing the power even to do that.

We need change in the way society treats us on an institutional level and on a very personal level. We need employment protections, but we also need employment opportunities. We need the freedom to marry, but we also need people who date women to recognize that trans women are women, and those who date men to accept that trans men are men so that we can build the relationships that might lead to marriage.

We need protections against housing discrimination, but we also need trans-inclusive policies at homeless shelters. We need people to stop murdering us because of who we are, and we also need police and other authorities to stop harassing us, misgendering us, dead-naming us and housing us according to our genitalia in direct contradiction of federal law.

We need the citizens of Dallas to know who we are. We need huge societal changes. We need visibility like never before. That is why we MARCH!

Transgender Pride of Dallas is hosting a “Pride is a Protest” March before the parade on June 2. We will rally at City Hall at 11:30 a.m., then march from there through downtown Dallas, through Deep Ellum, to the gates of Fair Park. We will arrive by 1 p.m. and have an hour to settle in before the parade begins.

We will be loud, proud, and visible! We will remember our sisters, trans women of color, who were instrumental in making the Stonewall Riots the turning point we needed in the history of the gay-rights movement. We will bring the Protest back to Pride in Dallas, Texas. Join us!

Jayla Wilkerson is founder of Transgender Pride of Dallas.