Not Pride But A Riot

Drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, one of the militant activists at Stonewall.
Drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, one of the militant activists at Stonewall.

Yesterday Olave Nduwanje spoke at the Trans in The City Symposium, organised by Trans United Nederland. We are very proud to present her impressive speech here.

The first Pride was a riot. The first Pride was a police riot. The first Pride was a protest, a revolt against police brutality, harassment, racial and gendered profiling. The first Pride was a revolt by and for Black and POC trans women, femmes, dykes, transvestites and gender non-conforming faggots. The first Pride was a riot by and for sex workers, homeless, sick and dying poor queers.

The first Pride was not a Pride at all: it was a riot, a revolt, a protest; it was a loud and unapologetic “NO!”, it was a militant “NO MORE”, it was a righteous “WE WILL FIGHT FOR OUR DIGNITY”. It was not a “celebration” nor a call to violence. It was a demand for justice, an exercise in community power, a hurling of angry heels, a throwing of righteous stones! It was bloody and raw, vulnerable but resounding. It carried with it a momentum, a volition of such force that it shook and changed the world.

I wonder, when did we start calling it “Gay Pride”? How did we turn it into a White Gay Pride? Why did it become a White Cisgender Gay Pride? Who transformed it into a White Cis Gay Business Pride? What exactly do we gain with a White Cis Gay Business Pride Party? Or, maybe I should ask: where did all the angry, riotous, sick, poor, homeless and dying black and brown trans women, femmes, butch dykes, punk transvestites and gender nonconforming faggots go?

Join the “We Reclaim Our Pride” protest on Saturday, August 4th, in Amsterdam!

Well, many of them died: of aids, of violence, of sorrow, of broken hearts, of fear, of poverty, of oppression. Many others remain sick, poor, angry, homeless and dying. In the Netherlands alone, we find that the vast majority of trans and gender nonconforming queer people are unemployed, living in poverty, some undocumented and/or unwelcome in the Netherlands.

Toni Morrison once said: “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is.” I think that the same goes for sexism, transphobia, queerphobia, islamophobia, whorephobia, ableism. These methods of oppression keep us distracted, explaining our humanity and right to dignity. Institutionalised racism, sexism, ableism, capitalism, islamophobia, in turn, keep us distracted and stuck in survival mode, drowning in bureaucratic violence and banging our heads on walls of exclusionary policy, de-humanising politics, exploitative economies, stigmatising media and predatory laws. I know that we are tired and broken, lost and confused, isolated and anxious, made sick and sad.

I ask again: where did all the angry, riotous, sick, poor, homeless and dying black and brown trans women, femmes, dykes, transvestites and gender non-conforming faggots go? Well, poverty, marginalisation, exclusion, stigmatisation and oppression has erased us, silenced us, excluded us. While we are out there surviving and dying of the poverty, the violence, the neglect, the anxieties, the persecution, the white gays organised themselves a nice, positive and fun party. While we are out there surviving and dying, they designed and implemented advocacy strategies and appropriated resources for themselves. They seem only focused on regaining their privileges as white, able-bodied, documented, cis males. Privileges which the imperialist, heterocissexist, capitalist, ableist, white supremacist patriarchy society holding us hostage is willing to extend to them, as long as they disavow us.

They call it a Pride, and I hear: White Pride, White Gay Pride, White Cis Gay Pride, White Cis Gay Business Pride. But I rather we called it a Riot: A Black and Brown Riot, A Black and Brown LGBTQIAP+ Riot, A Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Black and Brown Riot, A Poor People Riot.

Cause I do not know what to be proud of anymore. I am not sure what we are celebrating. Why are we not mourning? Why are we not raging? Why are we not protesting and demanding? Why are we not fighting for justice? Why are we not reclaiming the streets, demanding religious leaders, politicians and companies to be accountable for the systemic class, racial, gender and abilities inequality, here and around the world? Why are we celebrating, and not rioting anymore?

Or maybe I underestimate the range of Pride? Maybe I do not understand the uses of Pride? Is there room for anger and outrage in Pride? Is there room for mourning and sorrow in Pride? Is there room for militant hope and creative imaginings in Pride? Is there room for flying heels and chants for justice in Pride? Is there room for my trans and gender-non conforming siblings, sex workers, disabled people, black and brown folx, migrants in Pride? The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights invited me to join them Saturday on their Pride Boat during the Canal Pride. I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know today whether I will join them or not.

I am deeply conflicted. One the one hand, I would love to re-iterate and re-confirm, with my presence on their boat, that LGBTQIAP+ rights are human rights. Human rights that are disputed and alienated form LGBTQIA+ folx living and loving in the Netherlands, as well. But on the other hand, I worry about legitimising the exclusion, marginalisation and erasure of black and brown, trans and gender nonconforming, poor, disabled and neglected folx. I can’t believe that this Pride organisations extend open and welcome arms to the Dutch Police, an institution that continues to target racialised communities, poor communities, gaslights women and LGBTQIA folx is beyond belief. Why are companies known for destroying the environment, peace and stability in other countries allowed to advertise with big fancy boats? How can the Canal Pride organisation accept political parties and ministries that are part of a government that seems to have declared a war on poor people, on women, on migrants, on the environment, on workers, on disabled workers, on people of color, on black people, on people living in their current and former colonies, is outrageous. A government that sees me, and my multi-cultural trans family, as a threat to the Netherlands. Why are they allowed to dominate, bend and twist what should be our riot, our protest, our fight for justice and dignity?

The anger and sorrow within me, sings to me, pulls at me, whispers to me: “Find the angry and outraged queers, join the survivors and justice warriors, join the demanding and the unapologetically trans and gender non-conforming folx, join the black and brown descendants of freedom fighters, join the protestors, along the houses of Amsterdam’s rich and powerful. Join the demonstration against the Police, against the VVD, against the IND, against the corporations infiltrating what should have been our Riot. Join those of us who want our riot back, who won’t stand for our erasure and silencing. Those who say NO and NO MORE to the whitewashing of Pride and the Pinkwashing through Pride.”

I wonder, beloved trans and gender non-conforming siblings, what should I do? Will you advise me today, please? How and where can I best be of service to this courageous community of ours? And will you all be there, this Saturday? How about we go out there, determined and committed to be political, demanding, militant and unapologetic in our demands for solidarity, dignity and freedom.

Olave Nduwanje