Remembering Stonewall: Rioting and why we should support Black Lives Matter

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A young gay man confronting police during the Stonewall Riots, 1969. Image courtesy of The Independent.

On 25 May, an unarmed black man, George Floyd, was killed after a police officer pinned him down by the neck for nearly nine minutes. He repeatedly told the officer, Derek Chauvin, that he could not breathe, and by the time he was taken to hospital, Floyd had died.

Does this sound familiar? It should do.

Floyd’s death echoes the murders of hundreds of other black Americans killed by the police. As such, the Black Lives Matter movement, founded in 2013 as a response to Trayvon Martin’s murder, has resurged in the public eye once again. Protests over the murder of another innocent black man has sent the US ablaze as riots and revolts spread throughout the states. Even here, in the UK, stores have been looted, buildings set on fire, and there seems to be no end in sight for the unrest… and that is a good thing.

A good thing because, that same week, Tony McDade, a black transgender man, was killed in a police shooting. The murder of McDade has gone primarily under the radar, especially after the video Floyd’s death went viral, but the reason I bring him up is because he is one of the latest of trans or gender-non-conforming people to have been killed in 2020 in the US, according to the Human Rights Campaign. So, I ask you this: Why, after the countless amount of evidence of black people suffering under police brutality, do people still not support Black Lives Matter?

It’s because society has a habit of forgetting the most painful parts of history that formed the catalyst into all of us evolving into better, well-rounded people. As June is LGBT Pride month, I’m taking you 51 years into the past, to the rebellion that was fundamental to the existence of LGBT people; the 1969 Stonewall Riots.

The Stonewall Riots were a series of violent demonstrations against the police raid of a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, and is widely considered the most important event of the LGBT liberation movement in the United States. Like Black Lives Matter, the Stonewall Riots was a response to police brutality of the LGBT community, and was spearheaded by Marsha P. Johnson, a black, transgender woman. This crucial moment in LGBT history also serves to highlight that the oppression of the black community isn’t unique to straight, cis men and women - but to the queer and trans people too.

Marsha P Johnson (left) and Sylvia Rivera (Right) at New York Pride, 1973. Courtesy of LGBT Community Center National History Archive

But despite this, there is a shocking amount of people on social media that question why Pride month still exists in 2020 when gay people have ‘gained equality’. Even more dumbfoundingly is that some of these responses come from the LGBT community, who have conveniently forgotten that the roots of Pride month stemmed from a black, trans woman throwing the first brick at Stonewall. Darren Grimes, a gay, white Conservative, recently asked on Twitter why “do we need a Pride MONTH?” Commenting underneath was an uneasy number of other white right-wingers, some LGBT, supporting him, and even his other Tweet that the BLM riots are wrong for destroying businesses and livelihoods. But Target, a store that was vandalised during the Floyd protests, can be revived at any time. Black lives do not have that luxury, and neither do LGBT lives for that matter. Grimes’ tweets scream white privilege and highlights the racism within the LGBT community.

I’ll make this perfectly clear: Black members of the LGBT suffer far more than those members who are white.

I do not want to undermine any abuse that queer white people have dealt with because of their sexuality or gender; but if you identify as LGBT and are white, you are still far more privileged than those who are black. Racism is rife within the community, with 51% of BAME LGBT people experiencing discrimination. To support Grimes’ belief that we no longer need Pride month, is undermine not just the message of the Stonewall riots, but the message of Black Lives Matter, too. It is offensive to say LGBT people have successfully gained equality, when in 2019, the US saw at least 26 trans or gender-non-conforming people murdered, most of whom were black, and their stories go unreported.

If LGBT and black history were not underrepresented within the education system, perhaps there would not be as many queer people asking why Pride month still exists, or why the phrase is not “All Lives Matter.” Because, of course, those who cannot remember “all ” the past are condemned to repeat it.

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