When a Pride March Means Owning the Shame of Racial and Economic Injustice

From the #ResistMarch mission statement: "Just as we did in 1970's first LGBTQ+ Pride, we are going to march in unity with those who believe that America's strength is its diversity."

With its heavily-promoted #ResistMarch, the West Hollywood gay establishment is trying to signal that the usual L.A. Pride routine of holding a big drunken street festival might be in slightly poor taste under current circumstances.

And thus, darlings, we will pull on our sturdy shoes and march again this year, albeit only snaking our bodies through an affluent corridor between Hollywood & Highland (site of the Oscars) and good old West Hollywood, where we can then get slammed as usual.

March organizers have compiled a long list of community partners, notably including some major unions and CHIRLA, a leading group defending immigrants here and nationally, but the vast majority of partners are already gay-oriented organizations.

The collective self-critique that #ResistMarch hints at is well overdue.

A couple of years back a Black pastor friend here in Los Angeles called to quiz me about the pros and cons of his century-old congregation involving itself in outreach to homeless gay youth, kids of color in particular who may not be inclined to seek, or interested to receive, needed support services north of the 10 freeway (traditionally demarcating the boundary between White LA to the north and Black/Brown LA to the south).

I suggested to my friend that we query the powerful and well-funded LGBT Center to see whether they might be receptive to some kind of partnering with the church. Without even asking the right kind of due diligence questions, however, Center personnel brushed off the query with a “don’t worry, we’ve got it covered” response.

A typical response, I am sorry to say. White-run institutions like the Center can prate all they want about their commitment to “diversity,” but they are too often tone deaf and (in this case) even disrespectful when it comes to support of communities that are culturally (or geographically) other.

And tone deafness only begins to describe the problem.

Overt anti-Black racism is still commonplace in gay bars and gay resorts from coast to coast. The recent contretemps around the opening of the new REBAR in the old G Lounge space in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood is (again) quite typical. Evidently aware that G had finally, after many years, become a rare welcoming downtown space for people of color, the new management made a point of making REBAR distinctly unwelcoming to African American patrons.

With Pride month upon us, I want to call out what should be recognized as the Gay Shame in the persistence of so much racism—and classism—within the “community.”

The very assumption that cisgender white men can still act as LGBTQ community spokespersons itself reeks of racism. How else to explain why so many white gay men can still think of pundit Andrew Sullivan as some kind of hero, when Sullivan’s racism has been on open display for all to see over years and years?

Recall that during his stint as New Republic editor, Sullivan gave Hernnstein and Murray’s atrocious Bell Curve friendly cover treatment and has never given up on his commitment to so-called race science. Earlier this year, from his perch at New York magazine, Sullivan served up the old and discredited “model minority” view of Asian-Americans in a way that was both insulting to Asian-Americans and openly contemptuous of African-Americans.

The other galling thing about Sullivan (and so many other overprivileged white gays) is his uncritical embrace of heteronormativity: his fervent wish that we all marry and have kids and settle into a “normal” bourgeois lifestyle.

This goes to how generally un-woke these privileged white gay men are when it comes to the interplay between race oppression and class oppression. Not only do a great many queer Americans not really desire a tidy and safe Sullivanian lifestyle, but any realistic knowledge of the economic realities facing the wider queer community reveals that the vast majority can’t afford it.

The Andrew Sullivans and Anderson Coopers of the world may not intend it, but these rich icons let straight people off the hook when it comes to the actual level of social standing and social comfort experienced by most queer people. As do super-wealthy gay enclaves like West Hollywood, Palm Springs, and Fire Island: they all create the impression that gays in America have achieved elite status, when the statistics say this is far from the case.

Returning to the worst of it—the core racism—there is a set of toxic white gay assumptions that will need to be completely uprooted if white gay men are ever to be of any use to the wider freedom movement. One is the assumption that sexual racism is not “real” racism. When a Grindr user feels it’s OK to announce that he won’t consider anything but a white partner, some gay men insist this is online dating as usual. But as a Daily Beast headline so succinctly phrased it: “‘No Blacks’ Is Not a Sexual Preference. It’s Racism.”

The second assumption concerns the Black Church. It still shocks me to think how Black people, and specifically Black Church leaders, were assigned such heavy blame for passage of Proposition 8 here in California. Within white gay circles, that loathing and suspicion of the Black Church still lingers, despite the thorough debunking of the idea that Black pastors and Black churchgoers were primarily responsible for the electoral success of 8. This is not to say that there’s no homophobia in the Black Church, obviously, but let the one who is without sin cast the first stone (as they say).

The third toxic assumption concerns Black neighborhoods: namely, that they are dangerous and dirty until some white gentrifiers—very often gay white gentrifiers—arrive to redeem these areas from blight and decay. Working from this assumption also blinds those self-same gentrifiers to the punishing and destabilizing impact that rapidly rising home prices and rents in “transition” zones invariably has in long-established Black communities.

OK, you say, but this is all changing now, right? The Trump phenomenon is bringing us together in a united front for the freedom and dignity of all persons, right?

I wish I could believe it.

We will see how it goes. I will certainly be marching in Los Angeles on June 11. But somehow I can’t envision West Hollywood’s powerful gay white men doing a whole lot of sustained resisting when their unacknowledged core values—white supremacy and the rule of wealth—align so comfortably with those of the Trumpians.