Pick a side, and don’t flip-flop!

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas. Their mission was to announce the end of the war and the immediate abolition of slavery. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued in September of 1862, and officially took effect in January of 1863, many Confederate states ignored it, and there weren’t enough Union troops to enforce the policy. On this day in June, Major General Granger said this:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

That day became known as Juneteenth, a mash-up between “June” and “nineteenth.” Juneteenth celebrations began the following year, in 1866. Today, forty-two states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or special day of observance.

* * * * * * * * * *

Early in the morning, on June 28, 1969, New York City police conducted a routine raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Although raids of gay bars were common at that time, this incident was different, in that the transgender and gay patrons of the bar fought back. The police initially beat the crowd away, but the next day, a crowd of over 1,ooo people returned to the site of the raid. A series of violent demonstrations took place over several days, marking the beginning of the modern gay liberation movement.

One year later, on June 28, 1970, the first gay pride marches took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. Today, most large and mid-size cities host LGBT Pride celebrations, many of which take place in June. Moreover, the federal government has declared June to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.

* * * * * * * * * *

Two major historical events, both occurring in June. Two events, both celebrating freedom and resistance from the binds of oppression. Two events, both sharing similar underlying roots – and both of which often end up competing with one another. Here in Sacramento, for example, the Sacramento Pride parade took place on June 15 at 11:00AM. The Sacramento Juneteenth Emancipation Parade took place on (drum roll, please. . . ) June 15 at 11:00AM.

If you’re strongly queer-identified, and strongly Black-identified, this poses a problem. It’s like a kid having to decide, “Do I go to Best Friend #1’s party, or Best Friend #2’s party?” Either way, you lose out on one of the parties, and on top of that, you possibly betray one of your friends. Especially if Best Friend #1 and Best Friend #2 hate each other.

Feeling caught in the middle like this is pretty familiar territory for people whose identities span across multiple groups. For queer people of color, the homophobia that often exists in their communities of color collides with the racism that often exists in LGBTQ communities. Throw in the fact that our culture struggles with people who don’t fit into nice, neat, non-overlapping categories, and you’ve got the seeds of some serious stress.

Psychologist Eduardo Morales was the first to put a name to this experience – the divided loyalties that many multiply oppressed people routinely experience. At the heart of his five-stage model of sexual identity development among ethnic minorities is the concept of allegiance.

The stages go like this: In Stage 1, the individual experiences a period of denial – possibly because that person hasn’t come out of the closet yet, or it may be that the coming-out process has begun, but the individual is experiencing a honeymoon period. It’s in Stage 2, where a person grapples with whether they’re exclusively gay or lesbian, or if they might be bisexual, that we see the first conflicts in allegiances. It’s not uncommon, according to several researchers who study sexual orientation in ethnic minority populations, for people to initially come out as bisexual, in order to soften the blow within their racial and ethnic communities. By doing that, allegiances to both communities are maintained – at least for the time being.

By Stage 3, the trials of pacifying both communities begin to take their toll, and the individual begins to experience intense conflict in allegiances. A young black gay man, for example, might be out to his friends, but not to his family. During the week, he might go to school and be active in high school or college LGBTQ activities. In the evenings and on the weekends, he might go to church with his family, or participate in other activities in the African-American community. And on June 15, when his friends are going to Pride and his family is participating in Juneteenth, the jig is up. He has to pick one or the other, but not both.

Enter Stage 4 – choosing one side or the other. Am I gay, or am I black? Morales refers to this as “establishing priorities in allegiances.” Maybe he decides to go to Pride with his friends, knowing that he’s taking a risky step with his family. Or maybe he decides to go to Juneteenth – and his friends might accuse him of being too chicken to stand up to his parents. A prisoner’s dilemma. It’s either Best Friend #1, or Best Friend #2. Either way, somebody’s going to get pissed off. And our young black gay man sees, in living color, the homophobia that lives within his ethnic communities and the racism that breathes within LGBTQ communities.

Stage 5, in which the individual finds a way to integrate both communities, and as a result synthesize all aspects of their identity, is a logical, albeit pie-in-the-sky resolution to this identity development process. Ideally, the individual is able to move seamlessly between communities, grounded in both a strong queer identity as well as a strong ethnic identity.

Sounds good, right? Happily ever after, with a nice neat bow tied on top.

The reality, however, is that this doesn’t always pan out. Some people may choose to stick with one community – either being out and involved in the queer community, but downplaying ethnic identity issues, or being involved in their ethnic community, but being discreet about their sexuality. Some, however, would like to integrate both communities, but don’t have the opportunity. This young black gay man might be very involved in his church, but there’s no open and affirmative discussion about homosexuality – and certainly no groups for LGBTQ African-Americans. This young black gay man might be very involved in his local LGBTQ community center, but there are no groups, activities, or events for queer people of color. And so the dilemma of allegiances continues.

What happens in a world where we have the freedom to live fully as we are, without having to choose sides, make people angry, alienate entire communities? Audre Lorde articulated this vision better than I ever could:

My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all  my different selves, without the restriction of externally imposed definition.



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Filed under bisexuality, coming out, culture, homophobia, intersectionality, LGBTQ youth, racism, religion, Sacramento, transgender

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