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Interview with Shauntelle Hammonds: The Meaning Behind Pride

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Pride is more than just a party.

As each June rolls around, folx take this opportunity to celebrate being queer. However, often overlooked are the true meaning of Pride and the critical and life-threatening activism that got us to where we are today. I spoke to activist Shauntelle Hammonds about the importance of acknowledging the roots of Pride in our celebrations.

Q: We recently discussed Pride content and you mentioned that it’s important to highlight the real meaning of Pride. Can you expand on that?

Shauntelle: It started as a push back because of police police brutality—that’s kind of where it evolved from. Then it became the celebration thing, which is fine. It’s cool to celebrate yourself and to celebrate us and our community. But we also have to remember that it started as a fight for equal rights and justice. And that should be at the forefront of every Pride month, every Pride parade, every Pride gathering. Pride was a riot started to advocate for our rights and to stop dealing with police brutality against the LGBTQ folx. It was started and led by Black and Brown trans and queer fellows.

Q: You also mentioned that Pride should be about highlighting marginalized folx, like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who led the movement. Who should we be highlighting?

Shauntelle: There are a lot of people out there, and honestly I don’t know all of them, because everyone doesn’t get a platform. Some people include: Miss Majors, who has been a big advocate for the movement as a Black trans activist. There are also local people in my community who’ve been fighting and starting things since before I even came around, or got involved in this community, like Zakiyah McKenzie and Aurora Higgs, and a lot of other people. I think we need to focus on those who showed up and who fought. The movement that turned into the gay rights movement came from the the pushback from Black and Brown trans folx, and it became co-opted to become a gay rights movement.

Q: Why do you think that the activism of the folx that you’ve mentioned has been diluted in preference for the shiny rainbow-y Pride that we see today?

Shauntelle: The LGBTQIA+ community includes all people from different backgrounds. But the the focus, or the poster person, for that community was usually a cisgender White man. The movement got co-opted because they stood in, they stepped up, they used their voices, but they took control. And the mainstream society felt more comfortable looking at White men than at anyone else. So it was a lot easier for them to take over that movement, to be the face of that movement, and to say that this was their movement. And people started backing that and believing it, because when they look at it, they see White men.

Q: Would you feel comfortable in sharing what you think we could do to remember the heart of the movement? And what do you think we could do to be more inclusive?

Shauntelle: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of things they can do. They can highlight the Black and Brown folx who are out here doing the work and who have done this work for a long time. Pride, for me, has become a party and is no longer about advocating. So I think we need to bring that social justice movement back into it, and talk about advocating. We need to talk about the folx in this community who are marginalized the most and who need support. The focus should be around their needs. 

We could get together and celebrate with your party, but we also need to talk about the racism in our own community and the transphobia in the LGBTQ community. We need to talk about the stuff that’s not happening, what these communities need, and how we can support them. 

I think to be more inclusive, we have to stop having big corporations come into this space and take over. They highlight and market themselves, when there are already local communities that could be there and taking up that space. 

A way we could celebrate Pride is by putting money and funding into organizations that support marginalized communities: organizations are Black- and Brown-led and -run, organizations that are trans-run, and organizations that provide support to these communities. Instead of—when Pride month comes around—going out and spending all our money into these big corporations and buying all these rainbow colored things from them. That’s fine, but also spend some of your wealth on these local, small organizations that are out there fighting and doing the work for us every day.

Q: One of the local organizations you lead is Peter’s Place RVA. Is there anywhere else that we should consider supporting?

Shauntelle: Yes. In my local community here in Virginia, there’s the Nationz Foundation, a non-profit that is Black- and trans-owned and -led, providing a lot of support to the LGBTQIA+ community. They provide food, housing, and money support. And they also run a lot of classes and training, such as educating on HIV prevention and treatment. They also offer testing onsite. They are doing a lot to help this community. There’s also an organization in Charlottesville, called Black Trans Men Incorporated, who do a lot of work for the trans community. Specifically the trans-masculine community. They offer a lot of programs to help these individuals through this time.

Q: You also mentioned how substance use disproportionately affects this community and the lack of recovery support. Can you expand on that?

Shauntelle: If we looked at the statistics for this community, members have a higher chance of developing a substance use or misuse disorder. That comes from a lot of things connected to adverse childhood experiences and how many experienced a lot of things like school bullying, poor treatment within the family, and homelessness. LGBTQIA+ teens face a much higher risk of homelessness than other teens. A lot of these things fuel their substance use. 

One thing that I always like to point out is that when we look at the opioid epidemic in this community, is that 9.3% of the LGBTQIA+ community will misuse opiates. Compared to peers— around 2%—that’s a very big gap. 

When we look at the opioid epidemic and the money, we see where the money’s going, what organizations are being supported, and the programs that are being built. Very little of that funding and support are focused towards the queer community, which is affected by the opioid epidemic at a much higher rate. When I look at funding and programs, there are not a lot of spaces that provide support specifically for this community. What we need are safe supports. There’s a difference between saying, “Oh, you can come into our space,” and actually having a space that understands how to treat us, that understands our identity, that provides us support. Safe, affirming support, where we can be authentically ourselves and also not feel triggered or discriminated against. There need to be more programs built towards this community, but also support groups that are specifically for this community that are not a part of mainstream recovery movements.

Pride is more than just a celebration. It's important to remember our history.

Olivia Pennelle (Liv) has a masters in clinical social work from Portland State University. She is a mental health therapist, writer, and human activist. Her writing has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, Life After 12-Step Recovery, and Tera Collaborations. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Instagram @Livwritesrecovery and @teracollaborations

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