We Know Better
Happy Co-option Day!
Ahhhh, Pride. That yearly celebration of all things LGBT that has, for so long, been a hallmark of every young (and old) queer’s social calendar. That magical time of year when people dust off their booty shorts, wrap themselves in a boa, and shine up their sparkly shoes in order to hit the streets, dance the night away, and unapologetically shout “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”
The meaning and form of Pride has changed dramatically over the years, with the original Christopher Street Liberation Day commemorating the famed Stonewall riot gradually morphing into an international, corporate-sponsored behemoth phenomenon and party. A far cry from its roots, you’re far more likely to see organizers shilling Budweiser than crying out against social injustice.
While millions celebrate Pride every year, this change has many people worried. Groups like Gay Shame have formed in order to speak out against the corporate nature of Pride, and in my home base of Seattle radical anti-capitalist queer group GLITUR (the Grand Legion of Incendiary and Tenacious Unicorn Revolutionaries) has an entire weekend of events scheduled to provide an alternative to the orgiastic display of corporatism taking place at Seattle Center.
It’s not just the corporate hijacking of Pride that has me worried. There are other people who use the timing of this season to cash in on the gay agenda and earn LGBT cred. I woke up this morning, excited for tonight’s anti-capitalist drag show benefiting Lifelong AIDS Alliance, and instead was dismayed to see the latest attempt to co-opt queer culture to legitimize a controversial organization: the Seattle Police Department has made an It Gets Better video.
This isn’t coincidental timing; Pride is this weekend and this release can only be a hopeful attempt by SPD to ride on the coattails of gay goodwill and queer activism.
I’m flabbergasted by the irony; the SPD is attempting to capitalize on a holiday rooted in police oppression in order to get good PR. Not only this is sad and ridiculously gross, it’s wildly inappropriate. The cops’ attempt to reach out to queer communities in order to say “we’re your friends!” isn’t just in poor taste. It’s an outright lie.
The cops still aren’t our friends.
Police Oppression of Queers: Some Highlights.
In the early morning hours of June 28th, 1969, a police raid descended on popular gay tavern the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in order to arrest gay men for indecency, a popular practice that had been going on for years and often resulted in the published photos of bar-goers in local papers, exposing them to violent retaliation from homophobic neighbors and employers. This time the queers fought back, and a movement was born that would challenge patriarchy and oppression for decades to come. The riot was one that sparked a veritable queer revolution, with LGBTs worldwide taking notice and deciding that they weren’t going to stand for police and government harassment.
This wasn’t the first, nor the last, time that queers stood up against a corrupt criminal justice system that despised them. Three years before Stonewall, in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, police harassment led to a riot at Compton’s Cafeteria. Ten years after Stonewall, after the conviction of Harvey Milk’s assassin of voluntary manslaughter, queers rioted in outrage of injustices perpetrated by the criminal justice system. The White Night riots are credited with reforms instituted shortly thereafter in San Francisco.
Each and every time queers have rioted, it has been in reaction to oppression, brutality, and unfair treatment at the hands of the cops and the State that uses them to abuse the oppressed. Why should we suddenly give them a pass? Why should we allow them to reach out to us?
Oppression is not a thing of the past.
Police oppression in queer communities has continued. We can see notable examples right here in Seattle, on Capitol Hill. A longtime LGBT haven, the Hill has also served as a nest for radical organizing and center of activism. The police historically have responded to this fever for social justice with their usual weapons: brutality and good ol’ fashioned beatdowns.
The infamous WTO protests of 1999 is a classic example. As protesters fled downtown Seattle from the tear gas and rubber bullets being used to disperse them from Constitutionally-guaranteed activities protesting global imperialism. Capitol Hill, just across the freeway from the Convention Center, turned into a battleground as martial law was declared, tear gas flew, and police pepper-sprayed residents. Longtime queer establishment the Man Ray was host to protesters struggling with police, with queers and their allies chanting “This is our hill! Go Home!”
Even more recently, demonstrations in solidarity with the Montreal “casserole” protests have been met with excessive force on the part of the police. Just two days ago a brutal arrest occurred at a peaceful march on Broadway, and citizens and news outlets are reporting that police aggression exacerbates tense situations and brings violence to Seattle streets.
Armed thugs are still roaming our communities victimizing people crying out for social justice. How can we accept them as friends?
It won’t get better for our youth with cops involved.
The It Gets Better project, started by renowned sex columnist and controversial journalist Dan Savage, had simple intentions. In an effort to stem the tide of LGBT suicides tearing apart schools across the country, videos are posted in order to tell kids to hold on, to choose to live, and to wait and see that their lives will indeed get better.
It’s sadly ironic that SPD is attempting to link themselves with this effort. Police are used to displace and arrest homeless youth every day. These youth, rejected by their families and by society at large, are forced to live on the street and experience harassment on the part of the police. Crammed into juvenile detention centers rife with abuse, these kids are set on a path of self-destruction and misery by the very system that claims to be improving their lives. Queer youth of color are repeatedly oppressed by the cops and trans youth and prisoners are routinely victimized by the criminal justice system.
So let me get this straight: an institution that makes the lives of queer youth in marginalized communities worse wants to tell them that It Gets Better? On the anniversary of a riot against police oppression? Two days after a brutal arrest of a 19-year old protester in our own community?
We’re onto them.
Not all have bought into this ridiculous attempt to get gay cred. This is one of the flyers for GLITUR’s pink bloc action this Sunday at Westlake:
Because we remember. We remember what the police have done and we know what the police will continue to do: oppress and brutalize queers and their allies. They will always bring violence, oppression, and victimization to our friends and family. This attempt to jump on our bandwagon is rejected by us.
Because to be frank?
We know better.