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Pride Started As A Riot

Pride started as a riot
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“I think I’m ready to start looking at whether or not I am bisexual,” I said to my therapist. “My brain is telling me ‘no, you’re not’, but I’m crying… so…” 

I have only been out to myself since 2021. Yes, I had a female celebrity crush list three times as long as my list of men (insert more evidence here.) It’s natural for people to express surprise or curiosity as to how I did not know until my early thirties about my attraction to women, and I have an answer. It’s long and complicated– like most of our stories. 

Some unfamiliar with its origins may claim Pride is simply a celebration of one’s general choices, a time of debauchery, glorification of sex, and sexuality. And while parts of this may be true, it is also a time to remember that Pride started as a riot! Pride is a celebration and a festivity so popular even capitalism is on board at this point. Most point to the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, as the origin of what we now know as Pride. That night began as “business as usual” – a police raid of the bar known to serve alcohol to homosexuals (something illegal at the time). During such raids, patrons experienced interrogations, strip searches, police brutality and humiliation. It started when a group of mostly brown and black transgender women pushed back after officers began to use force to move a dyke into the back of a cop car. A bottle was thrown and then another. Soon a full blown riot had begun. Word of what was happening quickly spread and by the end of the day, thousands had joined in protest. These individuals said “enough” and snatched back their dignity from the hands of individuals in power who would abandon their own humanity to degrade theirs. 

The battle around LGBTQIA+ rights is a battle for human rights and the right to take up space. When faced with their identity being policed, violated, and humiliated, they had a choice to fight for their right to love who they want and love themselves or be defined by the society that said they are less than human and unworthy of freedom and dignity. Without their own advocacy, these individuals would have never been safe. Pride had to start as a riot! As a matter of self-preservation, when our backs are against the wall, we have parts of us that protect us by causing our system to fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. There is only so long that a person can play dead or try to pacify those in power before there is nothing left to do but fight for one’s human dignity. In a nation that trumpets, “liberty and justice for all”, these individuals did the most American thing they could do—they demanded it. Pride was the turning point where the LGBTQIA+  community decided to survive by fighting back to be seen and heard.

Pride started as a riot and is still a riot! Pride is the celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community who chooses to educate communities about who we are and what we are about and take in queer children rejected by their families. They teach consent and body autonomy in a society that profits daily off of forced labor and in a society where 1 in every 6 women are sexually assaulted. They have started a much-needed conversation on the right to self-identify and to be referred to by their proper pronouns. They challenge discriminatory laws and practices, as they organize on the front lines of social change, calling for more inclusivity and understanding for all. Period. They must continue to riot in this way because members of the LGBTQIA+ community still find themselves fearing for their safety—concerned they might be a victim of hate crimes as anti-LGBTQIA legislation sweeps our nation. 

At the Restorative Justice Institute of Oklahoma, we choose to center those who are unheard and marginalized as they experience harm. Ironically, sometimes the most silenced are the ones who are being the loudest. Every extreme behavior has an unmet need behind it. Pride started as a riot, because of the injustices against the LGBTQIA+ community. Pride started because our black and brown trans and gender nonconforming ancestors had their back against the wall and were marginalized. We see this with a child throwing a fit, communities who are disenfranchised, parents and teachers who feel like they have lost control of their little ones, and even ourselves. When we feel unheard we yell, scream, get loud, and riot against our silencers. Though the phrase “Pride started as a riot” has been memorialized we have to understand that it had to be a riot because of our society’s failure to protect, support, and love the LGBTQIA+ community. And it will continue to be a riot until we center and listen to them. That includes the queer parts that may be inside of us. 

My story is long and complicated much like the story of Pride. Pride provides representation to queer children, like myself 30 years ago, who might otherwise feel very lost and alone without an example of who they might grow up to be. Being gay creates an internal polarization. We are forced to choose between being loyal to ourselves or going against our need to survive through being loyal to our ecosystem of origin. Our internal systems know that we need community to survive. This is why the stress that comes from loneliness is as deadly as many unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and bad eating habits. Therefore, when the gay community is forced to choose who to be loyal to, our community or ourselves, complex PTSD becomes a likely outcome. Our survival is at risk no matter which choice we make. 

I chose to claim my queer self in my therapist office and I eventually made the choice to come out to my family and friends. I lost a lot and I feel it almost every day. But the loss does not compare to the expansion and gain that those losses made way for. There are days when exhaustion starts to win and the parts that kept me safe all those years, play the greatest hits of my life as they call me back to the closet. On those days, many of the parts that love my queerness and know that we made the right decisions want to riot against those parts calling me back to the safety of the closet. However, I have the opportunity to choose to turn towards those parts with compassion and thank them for how well they did their job to keep me safe all of those years. I can invite them to see all we have also won by choosing Pride over shame. Pride began as a riot but it doesn’t have to stay a riot. I can choose to support and listen to all of my parts, my queer parts and my parts calling us back to our ecosystem of origin. I can love them all just like I want this society to support, listen to, and love the LGBTQIA+ community.  This is the restorative justice we all deserve so that future queer kids do not have to continue to riot!

Written by J Branston

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J Branston

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