Pride & Privilege
By Tristan Schmidt
Marsha P. Johnson is my mother, Sylvia Rivera is my mother, as are so many individuals who have struck a blow to authoritative forces that prevented myself and my family members of the LGBTQ+ community. In the realm, at least of what I have seen it to be, of the LGBTQ+ community, I have found solidarity to be myself and to be who I want to be at the same time. Although, when I think about myself in this community I forget a few things that I always need to slap myself in the face for. I am a white individual in the LGBTQ+ community. I see this and I think nothing of it, however, that is a luxury and privilege I can afford because I am white/white-passing (I am Hispanic as well). This was something I had never actively engaged in thinking about until my first year at the University of Iowa.
I sat engaged with material and viewings of documents, texts, and media from my foundations course in cultural competence. So much information that I had never knew or thought about consciously. My class was asked to think about our own identities. We each took turns speaking ourselves into the room. The professor then asked, “Now that you know who you are and your identities think about this: what does it mean to be all of them? Do they overlap? Are they siloed?” I sat in confusion and tried to seek out an answer mentally. It clicked in my mind. One identity I took well was my identity of being Gay/Queer, yet I was also white. I raised my hand and said, “I am white and gay, therefore I benefit from the white privilege in both the world of race and the LGBTQ+ community because of the intersectionality.” My professor said, “Exactly.”
Exactly was right. I was afforded something that other people with different identities that intersect did not have. I could watch TV and if there was a queer character I could almost guarantee they were white. I could go out to a queer nightclub and see mostly white individuals. This used to be okay to me, but I have since (through much literature, self-reflection, classes, conversations, and much more) thought that this is something that I benefit from mentally. I have times where I do not feel welcome in spaces like nightclubs or pride events because I do not fall into the body image of what a gay male-identifying individual looks like. That sucks… a lot because I feel unwanted and shunned, yet I still have my privilege of being white in those spaces. For my family who are folks of color in the LBTQ+ community, I cannot begin to imagine the dilemmas that occur for them. There is already a great amount of sexism and homophobia with the presence of transphobia, toxic masculinity, and stagnant, yet present heterosexism. To add racism to the mix is painful. To my folks who experience racism within the community, I can imagine it has a toll on so many things yet I must speak from my truth. I have witnessed it – instances where someone is rejected because they are “too dark” or seen the profiles of men on dating apps saying “No Asians”, “No Blacks” because it is their “preference”. That is another issue for another time, yet it relates to this all. Folks of color who are LGBTQ+ face many more obstacles than I could ever imagine. There is still so much for my family in the Bisexual spectrum, Trans(gender), Pansexual, Intersex, and Agender communities that need to be recognized and discussed.
It is with that I recognize my mother, Marsha P. Johnson. This woman was key to starting it all. The key to me having the rights I have today and the inspiration for me to give back to my community in so many different ways. This woman was trans, this woman was also a person of color, this woman was a sex worker, and this woman is a champion. Through many of the turmoil of the authoritative police arresting her and my mother Sylvia on numerous accounts, getting beaten, and much more, she persisted to make a move. On June 28th, 1968, Marsha had enough and resisted. Through this all came the Stonewall Riots, the very reason I can say I am proud and have the rights I do now. Marsha P. Johnson had all these identities and faced those obstacles and came out as one of the founders of the movement, and of my being proud and happy. To my LGBTQ+ family of color, I am here for you, I recognize myself in this world and society, and I will help in whatever way you want (or do not want) me to do. Marsha was not alone through this. She had her family of all different identities and backgrounds. Her life is a principle of unity and we should remember this. I always pledge to myself, next time I am at a meeting for the LGBTQ+ community to ask, how are my family who are of color included? How is my family of persons with (dis)abilities included? How can I ensure that I keep Marsha’s movement alive? So to those who want to be a force in removing those “-isms” from our community, ask those questions.
For those of you who are afraid, scared, angry, and a plethora of other emotions that come from coming out to your family, leaving home, experiencing intolerance and hate, and many other things, remember this: the “P.” in Marsha P. Johnson stood for “Pay it no mind”. Tell those who try to pry and get at you and to your family seeking help: PAY IT NO MIND cause Marsha loves you for you.
I love you Moms and happy Pride