Drag Queens Discuss the Importance of Celebrating Black Lives This Pride Month (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Images via Getty Images / Artwork by Nick Mantle
That Pride Month began with people everywhere taking to the streets to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the name of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among too many more, is a fitting reminder of where our community came from and how much further we have to go.
"Pride Month came about because we were protesting police brutality," explains RuPaul's Drag Race queen Shea Couleé. The Stonewall Riots of June 1969 saw the LGBTQ community in New York City rise against constant police raids on gay bars, a series of demonstrations that would spark the start of the gay rights movement and inspire the first-ever official Pride parade.
"When we think about the community leaders back in 1969, the people that were really out there out there organizing on behalf of the people were trans women of color like Marsha P. Johnson," Shea says. "It's important to acknowledge [that] it was black and brown trans people who were really championing for us to have the ability to march in the streets, hand in hand, celebrating our love."
Drag queens, nowadays, serve as patron saints of Pride and keepers of our history, as well as activists, the art of drag innately political even as it becomes increasingly mainstream. So ahead of last week's premiere of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 5, ET's Brice Sander spoke with this season's cast of queens about the intersection of Pride Month and the ongoing protests.
"Pride and protest are all the same thing," Mariah Balenciaga says. "I think that when people think there is a difference is where the problem is. People have enjoyed the benefits of [Pride] without realizing the hard work and the sacrifice from other people before them that it actually took to get us to this point. And we still have so much more to go."
And as the world speaks up to affirm that Black Lives Matter, this year's recognition of Pride must be used to further embrace the intersectionality of the LGBTQ community, specifically to black queer and trans lives.
"How can we celebrate the rights of the LGBT community if we aren't actively taking care of everybody that's a part of that [community]?" prompts Derrick Barry. "That's every race, every color."
And the fight for change cannot be waged by the most vulnerable amongst us alone. "It's everybody's fight," Mayhem Miller attests. "Everyone needs to get involved, it doesn't matter if you're white, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern. It's everyone. Because if one group of people's rights can be taken away or abused or injustice happens to one, it can happen to you, too, just like that. We are all human. We all gotta do this together."
"Pride means self-love and self-respect," Alexis Mateo says. "And what's happening right now in the world, we are loving ourselves and we are demanding respect."
"And the crazy thing is, us loving ourselves and demanding respect is intimidating and to some people, a form of aggression," Mariah points out, adding, "I live in pride every day of my life. But Pride Month and Pride season is about remembrance and also reinforcing the fact that we still have work to do. And I enjoy having a cocktail next to the pool like the next b*tch, but it's more than jumping into pools and gazing on beautiful bodies."
Throughout the Pride month of June and beyond, it's imperative to amplify the voices of black people -- specifically black trans voices -- as conversations continue about legislation and best practices to make them safer within LGBTQ spaces and the world, at large. At the same time, allies -- specifically white allies -- must be held accountable as the fight continues to eradicate systemic racism. As has been said, it's not enough to be not racist. Our community must be anti-racist.
"We have to continue on this path. Yes, this has been a crazy and really intense two weeks, but we're talking about over 400 years of systemic oppression," Shea concludes. "Though we made some strides these past two weeks, we still have a very long way to go. I want to be encouraging for our allies, but I also want to challenge white people to understand, like, yeah, you've done some things and spoken to some friends, but we have to continue the momentum. We have to keep going. I understand that people can get tired and it's good to take a break from social media, but you still have to stay in this fight and continue on for equality. Because that's the only way that it's going to happen."