A drag performer flaunted a picture of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick across a makeshift stage as a cheering crowd sat in the middle of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Madison, Wisconsin.
A DJ spun house music from a booth adorned with signs proclaiming: “Black artists invented techno.” Familiar calls of “Black lives matter” gave way to more specific declarations that “Black trans lives matter.”
June is LGBTQ Pride month, and this year it was also a time of reckoning over racial injustice and police misconduct as nationwide protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
As a tumultuous month ends, here is a look back at a June 12 Madison event that focused on the past and present ties between the struggle for — and the celebration of — Black lives and LGBTQ Pride.
Organizers and attendees said intersectionality is a fundamental but often understated part of the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ Pride movements.
Intersectionality refers to the overlapping of different identities, such as race, sexual orientation and gender. Considering all aspects of a person’s identity, activists say, illuminates the unique experiences and challenges of those who may share membership in some groups but not others.
“I think intersectionality is important. Being gay is hard enough, and add that onto being Black,” said Alex Aikens, 23, who is Black and straight. “We’re just trying to exist. We’re all discriminated against.”
Pride month takes inspiration from the Stonewall Riots, a series of violent demonstrations that began in the early morning of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn bar in New York. The demonstrations, also called the Stonewall uprising or Stonewall rebellion, were a response to a police raid and arrests made at the Inn, and were by many accounts led by a Black transgender woman named Marsha P. Johnson. The episode is widely viewed as the birth of the modern LGBTQ movement.
“We have Pride today because Black and other POC (people of color) trans women were fed up,” said Mahnker Dahnweih, 28, one of the event’s leading speakers and organizers. “Police murder and violence is also a queer issue.”
The festivities began on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol, where organizers from Madison-based activist group Freedom, Inc., which collaborated with other local groups in sponsoring the event, led participants in song and chant and offered a moment of silence for Black LGBTQ people lost to racism, homophobia and police brutality.
Most attendees wore masks during an event that collided with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — a public health crisis that spurred cancellations of many other Pride celebrations across the country.
Marching a few blocks from the Capitol to the seat of Madison’s city government, demonstrators called for the defunding of police and for the removal of police from schools — while investing in other community programs. Through their megaphones, speakers demanded support from local officials such as Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Madison School Board President Gloria Reyes. (The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education on Monday voted to terminate its contract with the Madison Police Department, which provided resource officers at high schools.)
Demonstrators soon arrived at their final destination: a section of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just in front of the State Capitol building, where a makeshift stage was cleared for the event’s more celebratory phase. Drag performers in suits of bright pink, reptile print and purple velvet danced and lip-synced for the crowd. The show was followed by a ball — a friendly competition wherein audience members strutted for a panel of judges.
The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (wisconsinwatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.
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Will Cioci joined Wisconsin Watch in 2020. He is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pursuing a degree in Journalism, Environmental Studies, and Political Science. He has interned for state and local government in the past and works as co-editor-in-chief and photographer for the Daily Cardinal student newspaper at UW-Madison.