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Pride Must Return to Its Activist Roots

Author Clay Cane says LGBTQ rights should be more than a corporate cash grab.

Aaron Barksdale

Aaron Barksdale

Image by Aaron Barksdale

The LGBTQ community has made significant strides towards equality in recent years, from trans people being able to openly serve in the military to same-sex couples obtaining the right to marriage, and RuPaul's Drag Race now in its ninth season. There's so much to celebrate at Pride this year. But aside from the half-naked men dancing on floats and bare-breasted women on motorcycles lies an undercurrent of activism that bore the LGBTQ rights movement more than 30 years ago.

Despite some historic wins, here are still smaller more vulnerable identities fighting for their humanity to be acknowledged and who keep the activist spirit of pride alive. Queer people of color, particularly trans women, face higher rates of violence and social stigma than their white counterparts. Not to mention trans students are being denied federal protections in the classroom, and bathroom bills are legally sanctioned forms of discrimination against trans people.

Clay Cane is an author, documentary director and journalist. In his new book, Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race, Cane addresses marginalized pockets of the LGBTQ community and shares his own experiences as a black gay man. Cane dives into these topics and more to highlight the importance of returning Pride to its activist roots.

Photo by Ken Marcelle

So this week, VICE Impact sat down with Cane to hash out what the real issues are for LGBTQ people, and what battles are ahead of us in a political climate that is especially unfavorable to sexual and gender minorities.

VICE Impact: How did you develop this project?

Clay Cane: All my life I've lived at these complex intersections of race, sexuality, faith and even region. In 2015, I directed a documentary called Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church, which was screened at the White House. This book is a collection of 27 essays, all with a takeaway of equality or social justice. In many ways, this book is an act of resistance against the Trump administration. The people who will be the most marginalized or disenfranchised under this administration are highlighted, and even celebrated, in Live Through This.

Your book discusses the intersection of various identities and issues. Why is it so important to take that encompassing view?

I think it shows how we are more interconnected than disconnected. No one is a monolith.


It's currently Pride month, can you tell us about your coming out story and what the month means to you?

As crazy as this sounds, when I was younger, I thought gay people were only white. So, as a black boy, I felt very alone. But you eventually find your tribe. My tribe was an area of Philadelphia called 13th Street. That was where everything made sense, norms were bucked and traditions were dismissed. The people I met on 13th Street helped me step into my authentic self, which I talk about in the book.

Has the LGBTQ community diverged from its activist roots? If so, how can it get back on track?

I'm happy to see queer folks accepted, but in many ways activism shouldn't be about corporate sponsorships. It's nice that McDonald's and Target celebrates LGBT Pride, but we need acts of resistance. That's what Stonewall was, the fight against HIV/AIDS, it was resistance.

Realizing people are still so deeply disenfranchised regardless of same-sex marriage or the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. We must push the narrative beyond same-sex marriage. I hope it won't take something like Religious Freedom Bills or a complete rollback of LGBT rights for people to wake up. They're coming for undocumented workers and Muslims now, but you can be next.

Your book talks about the concept of tribes and identity. Where does that idea fit into today's digital-heavy social media universe?

To some degree, you have more people united and banding together in a way that is more accessible. Via social media, you can go out and find your people. For example, I really admire the activists who came out of social media. However, the key for activists, or any other group, is to go beyond digital.

We still need to pound those streets, we still need to be visible. We still need eye-to-eye contact. For me, when I came out in the 1990s, I had to leave my home for any interaction. But, if I would've had social media, I can imagine I wouldn't have felt so alone.

In light of religious liberty laws, the terror attack on Pulse nightclub and the fate of marriage equality being threatened, what can LGBTQ people do to fight back and defend the rights of the most vulnerable members of the community?

We have to realize that we all need each other. There's unspoken racism and misogyny in the LGBT community, which we never discuss. We need to unite in our identities. Educate yourself, vote in every election and support each other. Even getting the word out about this book has started from a grassroots level, nearly every media outlet I've gotten on has been from another person in my community supporting and believing me—that's a good sign.

Cane's book Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race is available on June 13. For more information go to claycane.net or follow him online.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.