I am blessed to be part of a strong lesbian community. There are women from different races, social classes, religious beliefs, generations, and nationalities within this friendship group. And we all have something in common: not one of us is going to participate in our local Pride.
The only possible exceptions are a couple of women who are considering a protest. None of these women, myself included, feel represented by Pride. And we’re not alone.
Research compiled by Her, the dating app for lesbian and bisexual women, shows that 31% of us don’t feel comfortable or welcome at Pride. Even though 74% of participants lived in towns or cities where Pride parades took place, a meager 40% planned to attend Pride last year. A minority of lesbian and bisexual women go to Pride or feel like that space is for them. Over a third have never gone to a single Pride march.
As Pride season rolls around once more, we must ask why it is that so many lesbian and bi women aren’t engaging with it. Pride marches began to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. The rebellion kicked off when Stormé DeLarverie – a Black butch lesbian – resisted police brutality and encouraged others to do the same. After a police officer hit her over the head with a billy club and handcuffed her, Stormé gave a battle cry that changed history: “Why don’t you do something?!”
Pride, like the events at the Stonewall Inn, was inspired by an act of lesbian resistance. The Uprising – and the marches to mark that protest – would not have happened without Stormé. And yet her name would have been written out of LGBT history without the intervention of lesbians such as Clare Dimyon.
Although there are plans to honor Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera with statues, no statue has been planned to commemorate Stormé – despite her extraordinary contributions to LGBT rights.
The erasure of Stormé DeLarverie is a cause and consequence of misogyny within the LGBT community. Lesbians are rarely valorized, celebrated, or given the same space in popular imagination as the men of this movement.
Misogyny has caused multiple fractures in the community since it first formed. Coalitions between gays and lesbians, such as the Gay Liberation front, fell apart because men were unwilling to let go of their sexism. We have never had a collective reckoning with that misogyny. Until we fully address sexism, it will continue to infiltrate Pride and undermine attempts to build solidarity between the sexes.
In the UK, 51% of LGBT people of color report experiencing discrimination or poor treatment within their local LGBT network because of their ethnicity. This figure increases to 61% for Black women. A lesbian of color is, more likely than not, going to experience racism in so-called community spaces.
There is also the question of how the mainstream LGBT movement deals with the interests and perspectives of lesbians. At London Pride last year, a group called Get the L Out protested the parade. Their aim was to challenge the lesbian erasure that is rife within the LGBT community, organizations, and spaces. Pride condemned the protestors and issued a public apology for allowing them to join the march. Male-led outlets such as Pink News branded them “transphobic.” No effort was made to understand where the protestors were coming from, or why they felt so strongly that separatism was the best thing for lesbians.
Lesbian separatism has always been controversial. But criticisms of lesbian separatism take place in a social, political context where women who wish to live fully apart from men are demonized or branded as crazy. In dismissing Get the L Out and other lesbian protestors so completely, Pride, Stonewall, and male-led LGBT media threw away an opportunity to bridge the divide which has convinced so many women that the LGBT community is not for them. By repeatedly failing to engage with the protestors in any meaningful way, Pride widened the gulf between those lesbians and the mainstream LGBT movement.
Although Pride marches began as a way of honoring the Stonewall Uprising, in recent years they have become increasingly corporate. There’s more of rainbow branding than resistance about the parades of today. A weekend pass for Manchester Pride, allowing you to attend the whole of the celebrations, cost £70.95 – more than double the price of the previous year.
It’s unlikely that Stormé DeLarverie or her peers could have afforded this price band, nor would they have considered paying it. HSBC, an international banking conglomerate, was the main sponsor of Birmingham Pride in 2018.
It’s a world away from the grassroots organizing that brought Pride into being.
Lesbian feminists, in particular, are vocal opponents of Pride turning corporate. As Audre Lorde once said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Supermarkets, banks, and restaurant chains participating in Pride is in the interest of consumer capitalism – not lesbians, who are significantly more likely to be living in poverty than straight women. Rainbow vodka bottles and bank cards, however attractive, are of no benefit to us. If a liberation movement is reduced to a marketing strategy, only corporations win.
Pride is a male-centric, corporate, and overwhelmingly white space. It is not representative of the average lesbian woman’s life or interests. Until Pride reclaims its radical roots, I doubt that anything will change. Lesbians will continue to avoid events in which we cannot see ourselves and our values reflected.