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Black, trans, working-class legacy of Pride at Tallahassee’s BLM Stonewall March and Rally

By satya

Tallahassee’s BLM Stonewall event.

Tallahassee, FL – Tallahassee residents assembled at 12:30 p.m. at Cascades Park, June 28 to launch a march to the capitol. Organizers and volunteers with the Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC) pre-decorated the capitol steps and breezeway with rainbow flags, banners, signs and hand-painted portraits to honor the Black and brown working-class trans women who led the Stonewall Riots in New York City 51 years ago. Organizers distributed masks, water, snacks, bumper stickers and printed copies of Fight Back! to the 150-plus people in attendance. Attendees spread out across the entire capitol lawn to abide by COVID-19 safe-distancing guidelines.

From the massive steps leading up to the Historic Capitol Building, speakers imparted the history of Pride and of Stonewall, including Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson’s long and unfinished fights for justice around housing, police brutality and the criminal justice system, and access to public places. Speakers emphasized that in this moment of broad visibility, people will not be placated by empty gestures that make no material changes to how local policing criminalizes Black, brown, queer, working-class people. Attendees were invited to join the ongoing work of defending the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community with local organizations such as TCAC, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Gender Odyssey, and Dream Defenders. These groups and others, led by working-class trans members of TCAC, recently passed a robust and inclusive city ordinance banning the torturous abuses known as ‘conversion therapy.’ TCAC is in motion to ban conversion therapy at the county level as well, in addition to leading local demands for community control of police through a freely elected Civilian Police Accountability Council.

“A riot is the language of the unheard and Stonewall was a riot!” emphasized event volunteer Laura McTighe, TCAC member, Queer Tallahassee co-founder, and assistant professor of religion at FSU. “These words are more than a slogan. They are a strategy and a call to action. When Delilah Pierre was on the mic, she drew us into the litany of everyday abuses that Black trans and queer people are facing here in Tallahassee, into the great and unimaginable ones. And she opened a portal to us to feel with her the cumulative impact of these abuses. Because the point when our transcestors picked up a brick at Stonewall, it wasn’t in response to a first abuse. It wasn’t even the hundredth. It was the millionth abuse. Enough was enough! And here today, enough is enough. We’ve got our backs, because we really are all we got. That is the revolutionary promise we made at BLM Pride, and we’ll be working to make it reality for all our Black trans siblings going forward.”

Hannah Schwadron, TCAC member, Sunday Collective member, and associate professor of dance at FSU stated. “Yes, Pride, indeed! Pride for this town’s real talk and soul prowess, Pride for Stonewall as a living practice and no small slogan, Pride for the radical care of our Black and trans leaders and the orgs they lead, and pride in amplifying the voices, needs, and demands of the unheard.”

In addition to speakers and chant leaders, the rainbow stage was graced by dance, poetry, song, guitar, and the undisputed highlight of the event, an exquisite drag performance by Tallahassee’s beloved Sassy Black. “Drag is usually done in the dark – at night, indoors, lit by spotlight. To see my own cousin take that stage in public, in broad daylight, and to see them met with absolute love and enthusiasm was beyond beautiful!” said TCAC founding member Trish Brown, who is also running for Tallahassee City Commission Seat 2 on a progressive, BLM, community control of police platform. “I want our city to be as diverse, open, affirming and inclusive as this stage here is today.”

And from the mouths of babes: “I was concerned about everything,” said Knox Lee, age 9, as he took a brief respite in an organizer’s AC-equipped vehicle standing by. “I really wanted to do something, so I asked my dad, what can we do? He said we could come here and so we did. I’m glad we are here. Everyone is so kind! I just want good things for everyone.”

Satya Stark-Bejnar (they/he) is an activist based in Tallahassee, Florida.

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