Happy Pride, remember your riotous roots!

by Heather McNamara

Pick up a brick.

This month is the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall riot. We have a tendency to think of it as the riot – the one that marked the beginning and end of rioting for queer rights but it was neither of those. It was one riot in a hundred year span of riots that succeeded and failed in varying degrees to convince the privileged that our lives mattered.

Underground gay bars had been subject to police raids for decades before Stonewall. They fought back sometimes, occasionally leading to a headline before being forgotten again. Decades after Stonewall, as mostly gay men and trans women died of a mysterious cancer, our country’s leaders were content to stick up their noses and tell us just to stop having sex. ACT UP protests disrupted life enough to force an apathetic government to take notice. Stonewall was years in the making and even longer in the execution. We are not finished.

Momentum is difficult to create and sometimes the only way to do it is to seize the moment and start a riot. The sense of urgency around the pandemic (in which we are still mired!) didn’t even last long enough for the deaths to slow. As trucks gathered bodies in Brooklyn and brought them to mass graves, swaths of mostly white protestors blocked entrances to a hospital in Michigan bearing signs that read “I need a haircut.” As it became clearer and clearer that those who were statistically most likely to die of the pandemic were people of color, the mood of the country switched from fear to apathy. Just more insignificant lives for the grinder. Make no mistake: Your local restaurants and cafes are opening right now because black lives are considered disposable.

The warriors who battled for queer lives at Stonewall and who fight in Minneapolis (and everywhere else) now are fighting two fronts: aggression and inertia. The aggressive are easy to see. They kneel on the necks of citizens who will never get their constitutionally guaranteed right to trial. They shoot citizens in the back as they run to safety. They grip necks as their victims beg for air. They pace on the steps of capitol buildings bearing swastika flags and high powered rifles. They strap rocket launchers on their backs to go out and buy sandwiches.

The inert are more insidious. They say things like “It’s not that I think the cop was right, it’s just that I think more violence isn’t the answer.” They are uncomfortable and they just want everyone to stop it and go home. They won’t notice the next time a black child is shot because the cop “got scared” or the next time a black woman with no warrants and no record is riddled with bullets in her bed because the cops read the wrong address. They know that if something happened to them, they’d get their day in court. More importantly, they’d live to see it. And they don’t know or don’t care that those rules only apply to them because they’re white. Are you inert?

Close the roads. Block the streets. Scare the governors into setting curfews. The privileged must be brought to the threshold of their discomfort and held there, skin to flame, until a momentum is achieved and justice has been seized because when these riots end, the privileged will return to their sense of comfort and nothing more will change.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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