For Julián Padilla, an organizer of Bushwick Pride, the line that divides the North Brooklyn neighborhood’s LGBTQ community is clearly defined.
“On the one hand, you have a lot of black and Latino LGBTQ people who created communities that were thriving, despite racism, capitalism, homophobia and transphobia, and now there are a lot of people who are LGBTQ but are white and/or are coming from higher economic incomes, who are claiming that they have begun sort of like a newer, friendlier gay Bushwick,” he says. “But it’s only newer and friendlier for those people who are moving in and not being pushed out.”
In short, gentrification is further marginalizing members of an already marginalized minority. “There’s a lot of tension there,” Padilla says. The fact that people are trying to position the neighborhood as “now” having a LGBTQ community when in actuality, one has existed there for decades is going over about as well as it would with any established population set upon by self-proclaimed pioneers.
Given the nature of the divide, it would be naïve to think that Bushwick’s two LGBTQ communities could become cohesive in a day, but Saturday’s Bushwick Pride march and celebration will perhaps serve as a chance to unify the two factions behind a common cause—better health care for trans individuals through the repeal of a bill passed by the New York State Legislature in 1998 that removed transgender-related health care from Medicaid coverage. The theme of this year’s gathering is “Trans Healthcare Now!,” with trans being an umbrella term encompassing transgender, gender queer, gender non-conforming, two-spirit and third-gender individuals. [To brush up on your LGBTQ lexicon, see here.]
“I’m not interested in having a Bushwick Pride that is not from the neighborhood and is part of the wave of gentrification that will obliterate the LGBTQ communities of color that have struggled to create space for themselves,” says Padilla.
This schism largely stems from a socio-economic issue the average Brooklynite can relate all too well to—irregardless of sexual orientation or gender identity—an affordable-housing shortage.
“We know that LGBTQ people living in the neighborhood are not just affected by homophobia and transphobia, they are affected, in some ways first, by a lack of housing, and we’re seeking to protect the housing that people do have right now, as we’re also fighting to protect people’s abilities to access health care and walk down the street without fear of harassment or death,” says Padilla, who is also a community organizer for Make the Road New York, a Bushwick-based nonprofit that advocates for expanded civil rights, social justice, housing and health-care reform, public school safety and youth empowerment on behalf of the local LGBTQ community.
Today’s newer LGBTQ community, as well as an onslaught of artists and young adults, is descending on the neighborhood for much the same reasons Bushwick’s already established LGBTQ community did a generation or two ago—the promise of cheaper rents and a close proximity to Manhattan.
The biggest difference between then and now, though, is that Bushwick, traditionally a neighborhood of predominantly Hispanic and black populations, was nowhere near as desirable a place to live in the ‘80s as it is today. Anyone willing to relocate to the area overwrought as it was with crack and crime, could essentially have their pick of vacant apartments without pushing anyone out. Population density increases and unprecendentedly high apartment values have made such occurances all but obsolete in the current real estate climate.
Transgender issues though, may be a particularly potent, of the moment rallying cry for the community to rally around. Bushwick Pride’s theme this year highlights a greater phenomena permeating pop culture at present–positive and negative media attention on transgender individuals and rights over the past year has brought this particular segment of the LGBTQ community into the spotlight.
We can trace the trans timeline in contemporary pop culture back to the appearance of more transgender models like Valentijn de Hingh and Lea T on catwalks and in fashion magazines starting in 2010, followed by Barney’s publishing a print campaign and catalog consisting entirely of transgender individuals and their family members this past January. Jared Leto won an Academy Award for his portrayl of Rayon, a transgender woman, in Dallas Buyers Club, (though plenty of trans activists had strong critiques of the role, starting with the fact the Leto is not transgendered). The series premiere of Orange is the New Black in 2013 prominently featured the story line of a transgender inmate played by Laverne Cox, who herself has become a spokesperson for the trans community educating Katie Couric about how transitioning isn’t just about physical appearance and appearing on the cover of TIME magazine this past May—Cox and Janet Mock, a transgender rights activist, author and former People magazine editor, have both emerged as faces of the movement.
More recent examples of transgender topics making their way to mainstream media include the video of a family explaining their choice to let their five year old daughter transition that went viral, attracting over 7.2 million views since May 27; and most recently the public spanking Joan Rivers received for calling Michelle Obama a “tranny” on video immediately after officiating a gay wedding on July 1, managing to imply that transwomen are somehow lesser than, and that Michelle Obama is insufficiently feminine, a tired and all-too-common slight against strong black women, at the same time.
“It’s disappointing,” Padilla says when I ask for his thoughts on Rivers’ derogatory remarks about the First Lady, “especially with—well, I don’t know if it makes it especially disappointing, but—Joan Rivers having been once at the forefront of pushing for women’s rights and partly doing so with her own career, breaking down a lot of barriers for women in comedy.”
Fortunately, at this point, for every backwards step transphobic comments like Rivers’ creates, there is someone stepping up to steer the movement for sexual-diveristy acceptance into a more positive direction.
“I think especially black trans women have been at the forefront of pushing for visibility for a long, long time, and, finally, their voices are being heard in ways we haven’t seen before, and people are speaking for themselves a lot more,” Padilla says. “One of the things I’ve discussed with other people is how exciting it is that a lot of these trans women of color, and specifically black trans women, when speaking to the press and when building these movements, are refusing to leave anyone behind.”
“But we also know that we have not arrived,” Padilla counters, “that every day people in our community face incarceration, are denied access to health care, housing, education, basic human needs. Just this month, four black trans women and one Latina were found murdered.” [This OUT magazine article reveals some harrowing hate crime statistics: “Half of all fatal hate crimes committed in the United States in 2012 against LGBTQ people were against transgender women, and 73% of all homicides were of people of color.”]
“So at the same time that we have more visibility and a lot to celebrate, the lives of trans women of color are maintained in an incredibly precarious place,” Padilla says.
It’s precisely this juxtapotion that Saturday’s Bushwick Pride is attempting to address through a protest march from the Make the Road New York’s Bushwick office (301 Grove St.) to Maria Hernandez Park and back, starting at 1pm.
“I am hoping for the best and expecting the worst,” he says. “I’ve been doing a lot of outreach, and we have 21 organizations and two city council members who signed on, and it’s going to be a really great mix of organizations, too. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will be providing condoms. We also have a rapid HIV testing van, and then, of course, a lineup of performers, featuring all LGBT people of color, including many trans women.”
Local LGBTQ personalities, including drag queens Merrie Cherry (Bushwig), and Jerome André Jones will be in attendance, as will the poets Emanuel Xavier, Phoenix Nastasha Russell, and J Mase III. Pride goers can also expect songs and dances from Javon Egyptt, Madison St Claire, and Jonathan Chulo; a performance art piece by Kiyán Williams; a burlesque number by Foxie Squire and a DJ set from Sabrina Harewood.
Parties and protest have always made likely bedfellows within the LGBTQ community Padilla says, and Saturday’s ninth annual Bushwick Pride promises to have plenty of both—with the emphasis being on protest, then party. The corporatization of NYC Pride Month, which occurred in June, is a prickly point for the organizers of Bushwick Pride. Padilla says all that glitters is not necessarily gold during the city’s other demonstrations, as the party element of Pride is starting to overshadow the activism it was formed around in the first place.
“Even the idea of Pride as a celebration is a little contentious as something that’s been sort of up for debate,” Padilla says. “When we trace the history of why, for example, we have all these celebrations in June, people make direct links to the riots of Stonewall Inn. So, many people take that time to point out that all of these celebrations, all of these parties and marches and parades, began when people were fighting police brutality at the intersection of homophobia and transphobia.”
Padilla says hosting Bushwick Pride the month after the city’s other major events is about avoiding a scheduling conflict, not making a political statement, though, it does inadvertently allow the neighborhood’s demonstration to stand out on its own, giving people another opportunity to be loud and proud every summer.
“Bushwick Pride we contextualize as being part of that more radical social justice-based framework. We are definitely about celebrating—we have a lot to celebrate—and, it’s actually, I feel, like a tradition of LGBTQ people to bring celebration even into protests.”