Photo: A participant in Atlanta’s Pride Month during summer 2017.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis and social distancing guidelines, Pride Month 2020 had shaped up to be muted compared to previous years. Businesses supportive of the LGBTQ community may already be looking forward to a return to the traditional festivities next year. However, the sustained, nationwide eruption of Black Lives Matter protests over the death of George Floyd is already inspiring a deeper understanding of the very meaning of Pride Month.
The Black roots of Pride Month
To be clear, there are points of contrast. However, it is no accident that Pride Month organizers are looking through the prism of the Black Lives Matter movement this year.
The connection goes to the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement as personified by Kei Williams, a self-described Black transmasculine person, who is a Black Lives Matter founder and is an organizer with the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.
Soon after the first George Floyd protests occurred, mainstream media also took note of the connection.
On June 2, for example, reporter Jessica Sager noted that “the Pride Movement began with the Stonewall riots against police brutality and oppression in 1969, which were largely led by LGBTQ+ people of color (namely Stormé DeLarverie, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera), making Pride, at its core, a voice for intersectionality since its inception.”
LGBTQ organizations step up
Leading LGBTQ organizations have been quick to voice support for Black Lives Matter protestors. On May 29, for example, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement signed by more than other 100 other groups. Another influential organization, GLADD, issued its own statement and took aim directly at intersectionality.
“There can be no Pride if it is not intersectional,” the GLAAD statement read in part.
Points of intersection
The statistics on police violence also support this perspective. A fact sheet produced by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs includes these items:
“Transgender people were 3.7 times more likely to experience police violence compared to cisgender survivors and victims. Transgender people were 7 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police compared to cisgender survivors and victims.”
As a corollary, criminal justice analysts cite fear of police as a main factor in the under-reporting of violence involving LGBTQ victims.
In the context of COVID-19, another key point of intersection is public health. The virus has had a disproportionate impact on people of color, and on LGBTQ people as well.
“The coronavirus pandemic has put the LGBTQ community at increased risk for severe illness and death if they develop COVID-19,” health journalist Liz Seegert wrote in April.
“A lifetime of systemic discrimination and poorer health outcomes can make older LGBTQ people especially vulnerable, according to LGBT advocates,” she further explained.
The economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis is another point of comparison. A survey commissioned by Human Watch Rights Watch in April and May showed that LGBTQ people lost their jobs at a higher rate than the general population due to COVID-19, at 17 percent compared to 13 percent, with non-white LGBTQ people skewing even higher at 22 percent.
On May 9, USA Today also took note of race and geographic factors behind the disproportionate impact of COVID-19, reporting that “many more LGBTQ people are struggling with unemployment, homelessness and food insecurity compared with other Americans while simultaneously facing increased rates of health issues stemming from bias, mental illness and lack of insurance.”
New complications for Pride Month festivities
In drawing attention to the connection between Black Lives Matter and Pride Month, LGBTQ organizations — and their sponsors in the business community — may already be preparing for a different approach to Pride Month events next year.
Part of the difference may be financial. In some ways, the events of the past weeks may be forgotten by next year. However, groups that developed virtual Pride Month events have already seen a drop-off in sponsor interest attributed to the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Some sponsors may be reluctant to come back on board next year if there is a concern that Pride events may turn into protest events.
Another factor may be logistical, as some LGBTQ organizations are already reassessing their relationships with local police departments in light of the George Floyd protests.
The main difference, though, may be a renewed emphasis on protest and concrete action.
For all the progress on LGBTQ rights since Stonewall, the federal government during the Trump administration has turned back the clock.
Last year, the news organization Pro Publica listed 31 specific examples of federal actions having an impact on LGBTQ rights during the Trump administration, from military service to education, employment, health care, housing, criminal justice and more — despite the efforts of LGBTQ organizations to challenge these actions in court.
Many businesses have responded to the Black Lives Matter movement by donating generously to civil rights and social organizations. However, the experience of LGBTQ people, and that of other communities under the Trump administration, together demonstrate that cash can only go so far against a determined, organized enemy of civil and human rights.
As businesses plan ahead for their participation in Pride Month 2021, they should take a cue from municipal governments that are reassessing their financial support for militarized police forces that use violence against peaceful, unarmed protestors.
There are signs that movement is already beginning.
Earlier this week, for example, the U.S. bicycle company Fuji announced that it has suspended sales of its bicycles to police forces “in an effort to work towards real change.”
“In the last week, we have seen our bicycles used in violent tactics that we did not intend or design them to be used for,” Fuji said in a statement.
Similarly, earlier this week IBM announced that it halting its development of facial recognition software. In a letter supporting the Justice in Policing Act, the company’s CEO, Arvind Krishna, wrote that “now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.”
Businesses seeking to make a real difference in advance of Pride Month 2021 could start now by shining a light on the role they have played in bringing the nation to this moment.
Image credit: JD Harvill/Wiki Commons
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.