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Two Steps Forward

This New York City Pride Parade I had the honor of marching with the Metropolitan Community Church of New York. MCCNY is where Stonewall legend Sylvia Rivera once served as Director of its Food Pantry; I too had the honor of carrying that torch and helping to keep her memory alive. I’d had the pleasure of being helped by Sylvia back in my youth, when being gay meant being on your own – sadly still too often true today.

Like most Prides, the floats were full of color and smiles were everywhere. But on my bus ride home to the Bronx, I was exposed to verbal gay bashing. My partner and I were subjected to a 30-minute yelling tirade, while onlookers either stared in entertainment or laughed as we were repeated told that we should be killed. The scary part was that the driver did nothing to intervene.

When I got home, I reflected on the event and began to wonder why this still happens. Last week on June 28th, we celebrated the 48th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. On that day in 1969, a group of queer youth, including Sylvia Rae Rivera of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, along with African American activist Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson, fought back tirelessly after declaring that they’d had enough of the police raids at their community space, the Stonewall Inn. This is the point where the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement began. A year later, the first Pride Parade – originally known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade – commenced, and from there it has been a rainbow of activism and hard steps forward.

Fast forward to 2017: while marriage equality brought us two steps forward, did it also mean that we left some people two steps back? As a harm reductionist, it is my privilege to be able to meet people where they are at, but isn’t the key to not leave them there? As I reflected on the anniversary of Stonewall, I asked myself, did I leave that person who berated me on the bus behind? Did I leave my fellow LGBTQ+ family behind in Chechnya? Have I met them at Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria, where homosexuality is still a death sentence?

Certainly, I have done all the events and been to all the balls, donated to all the causes and marched at all the marches, but what have I left out? As that person stood 10 feet tall in front of me, I was reminded of his humanity and his fear. I was unknown and threatened his gender dominance: if I could be gay and deviate from the male gender expectation, then how solid is that platform he uses to raise himself above me? At that moment I was reminded however much the world had changed , he had been left behind, no longer part of the conversation.

So while I stood my ground and fearlessly channeled my inner Sylvia, I also took that time to have a conversation with him about the new world we share. I wished him peace, even as he wished me death. At that moment I was meeting him where he was at, and trying my best not to leave him there. I call upon leaders of all movements to start a national dialogue to end homophobia and transphobia. No person should have to die simply for being the person they were born to be.

Christopher Collazo
Capacity Building Services, Program Coordinator

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