Hell hath no fury like a privileged white gay man who has waited too long for the next Pride parade contingent to sashay by.

When #NoJusticeNoPride blocked the D.C. Pride parade route on June 10, causing an hour delay to an already epic three-hour parade, you could hear the ice cubes impatiently rattling in Bloody Mary glasses for blocks. Revelers at three locations on the route were forced to contend with (mostly black and Latinx) protesters, women and trans folks among them, shouting chants about how D.C. Pride was beholden to corporations and institutions and a police state that do not have their welfare in mind.

But let’s set aside their message for the moment, since it hardly mattered to angry parade attendees anyway. What infuriated them most was the timing and location for such an action, disrupting the flow of hunks and baby strollers and such. Protesters really should do their best to be, you know, obedient. They weren’t. And this is why we can’t have nice things.

The Stonewall riots were not particularly well-timed either. Those rioters – also mostly people of color, also including gender-bending outcasts – displayed the fury of years of being marginalized, discounted and mistreated. The parallels, between then and now, are plain to see, and just having to type that sentence makes me wish LGBT history were taught in schools – or shared among us, at the very least.

With a couple of days to give thoughtful consideration to the event, offended parade attendees flooded comment sections online, which is of course the perfect place to make your privilege most widely known.

After first misidentifying the protestors as Black Lives Matter because, well, all those brown-skinned arms waving around look alike, the crowdsourced idiocracy posed some deeply clueless questions. Why didn’t these trouble makers try working within the D.C. Pride organization? They did. Why did they have to do this at the parade? Because it worked. Why don’t they just start their own Pride event? Because they still maintain a shred of hope for your humanity.

I looked upon the protest with admiration and nostalgia, because an AIDS war horse like myself doesn’t get to witness old school activism so much anymore. When I pointed this out to commenters, that the #NoJusticeNoPride action reflected a time when gay white men like myself felt obligated to take to the streets, the indignant responses came fast and furious.

“But we were dying!” came one ill-considered retort. Yes, my darlings, we were. Like the weekly and sometimes daily murders of black trans women these days. Like the justified, mortal fear that people of color have of the police, who lined the parade route in uniform like an unspoken taunt.

Peter Staley knows a thing or two about street protests, given his iconic status as an ACT UP veteran and star of the Oscar-nominated documentary “How to Survive a Plague.” He’s also gay and really white, so maybe you’ll listen to him.

“We really pissed off the gay intelligentsia,” Peter told me about early ACT UP days, referring to those who are appalled that #NoJusticeNoPride would dare target our own. “William F. Buckley suggested people with HIV should be tattooed, while his wife, Patricia, was a philanthropist who was doing AIDS benefits.” ACT UP protested at an event she was chairing because she would not repudiate her husband’s vile comments.

Oh my. AIDS activists targeted “their own” at an AIDS benefit during the worst of the epidemic. And yet LGBT civilization somehow remains, aside from reality programming on Logo.

“We were despised by an entire section of the gay community,” Peter continued, even if, in retrospect, gay men view ACT UP as heroes who changed the world. “And we just ignored it at the time.”

Peter also offered some important perspective on the nature of acting up.

“From a civil disobedience perspective, it was a home run,” he said about the #NoJusticeNoPride action. “Their issues got discussed widely. They led the news every day. Sure, there’s a debate about what they did and how they did it, but I experienced that with every demonstration I have been involved with. And people want to complain about the disruptive effects? Please!”

Peter is making my points so beautifully I will just keep quoting him.

“The important thing here is, they had every right to protest, whether or not you agree with their message,” he said. “No one was majorly inconvenienced. If anyone is claiming there were, well, that is the very height of white privilege. I mean, where’s the beef here? Since when do LGBT Americans start complaining about people’s right to protest?”

My favorite string of online hysteria thus far has been the warnings that #NoJusticeNoPride is dividing us, which is exactly what conservatives want, and our internal conflict will lead to election disasters and global warming and the death of Meryl Streep.

“People thought ACT UP was attacking allies, too,” Peter adds. “People like Andrew Sullivan thought our protests against the pharmaceuticals would scare them away from AIDS research.” Instead, activism lead to accelerated clinical trials and drugs that saved lives. “Debates about who you are targeting happen all the time.”

So take heart, everyone. The system of speaking out and acting up is secure and even beneficial. And Peter has an even more philosophical point of view that deserves to be the final word.

“We as LGBT people are plenty strong to handle all this,” he said. “We are not wilting flowers that will die because one group of LGBT Americans is demonstrating against another. This is all silly. We can take this and debate this and we can grow and be stronger for it.”

Mark S. King is an award-winning blogger, author and HIV/AIDS advocate who has been involved in HIV causes since testing positive in 1985. The former Atlanta resident was the executive director of the (now defunct) AIDS Survival Project and later the director of education and communications for AID Atlanta. You can read more of his work on his blog, My Fabulous Disease.

9 Responses

  1. DaveS

    “Hell hath no fury like a privileged white gay man who has waited too long for the next Pride parade contingent to sashay by.”

    It’s a bit ironic to see ‘white gay men’ equated with the oppressive forces of patriarchy while mocking us like a bunch of impatient, whiny sissies. Apparently, we have a long way to go.

    I’m supportive of this protest, I was involved in Act Up! back in the day but we didn’t attack members of our own community by generalizing and stereotyping one demographic. We went after influential individuals who needed to wake up to our needs in an emergency. I don’t object to interrupting the parade, I do object to painting ‘white gay men’ as the problem.

    LGBTQ people still have higher rates of suicide, teen homelessness, an aging population dealing with poverty and isolation, higher addiction rates, hate crimes. A society that’s still intensely homophobic despite much advancement in recent decades. A major political movement that is still seeking to demean us and legislate against us. ‘White gay men’ and every other LGBTQ person are still dealing with some big issues.

    I looked over the internet comments after the protest. What I saw was mostly supportive. I didn’t notice people identifying themselves much by gender or race. I’m not denying issues of white privilege within the LGBTQ world but we’re not the enemy. Many LGBTQ people may be blind to the needs of POC and transgender people so I do support this protest but don’t write us out of own history with this self righteous approach to debate.

    Step back and ask yourself what the sum total of negative comments on social media even means about our ‘community.’ Too many conclusions are drawn these days in journalism based on nothing more than some Facebook posts and Tweets.

    It was a successful protest that was heard. No way to measure, but I suspect that most ‘gay white men’ and every other LGBTQ identity has been mostly supportive. A balanced perspective might help to prevent so much unnecessary division and resentment within the LGBTQ community. It feels like a sad reflection of what’s going on in the larger society.

    Reply
    • DaveS

      I’d like to add that the criminalization of HIV+ people that is largely accepted by HIV- queer people and the toxic social marginalization of positive people in the LGBTQ community are also issues that are getting ignored. Issues that largely transcend race and gender identity. I’d like to see these issues added to the ‘No Justice’ goals. There is the politically correct facade of the LGBTQ community when it comes to HIV and the reality on the ground. Two very different environments. I believe these issues add to the tragedy of continued HIV infection despite all that we know about prevention.

      Reply
    • ShinobiDude

      Yet in this case… members of OUR community ARE discriminating against people of color every day. Act up, you’re enemy was outside the community. Now the enemy is our own. So our course they have to protest against the community. It certainly isn’t straight white men discriminating in the gay community. It’s gay white ones. So who exactly are they supposed to “attack”. (You say attack, they say “call out”)

      Reply
      • DaveS

        If that’s how you see it, gay white men as the enemy, by all means continue. Please, keep generalizing and dehumanizing, that always works out.

        I read the demands by No Justice No Pride, I thought it was a call for all LGBTQ people to listen to these demands. You know, the organizers of the Pride event.

      • DaveS

        Put another way, do you think cis gender POC and lesbians need to think about about transgender issues? Does everyone in the LGBTQ world really ‘get it’ except for gay white men? Do you think only gay white men have helped to marginalize? Do you think only gay white men hold racist views of minorities? Hispanic and Asian men don’t hold prejudices against African Americans? African Americans hold no prejudices against transgender people? Maybe Asian men? My gay minority friends have said otherwise.

        White men aren’t innocent of course but most of us know what it’s like to be marginalized. Especially we older ones, and HIV+ people who are marginalized to the extreme in our own ‘community’, at least where I live. To treat us just like the forces that have oppressed us doesn’t ring true. This divisiveness seems unnecessary, scapegoating those who are seen as the most privileged, when this society has brutalized all queer people for centuries.

        As I’ve said, I support the protest and the demands, not the angle of this article.

  2. Patrick O'Reilly

    As a gay white man, I will say I cannot understand how anyone would be upset by this article. I think most people would admit gay white men have the most “power” in our community, both politically and in terms of public attention. For every RuPaul, there are ten Barney Frank’s or Will & Grace’s. We do have the ability to change our community, and we do have the ability to bring those who are more marginalized in our community with us. With all this crap about the flag in Philly, now this, I am scared for all of us. Pointing out inequality does not make us GWM bad, ignoring it does.

    Reply
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