On Pride Sunday: Reflections on Racism and Homophobia

Today is gay pride in New York City and it marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.   What comes to mind when you think of gay pride?  If you’re like most people, it’s an image of white, gay men.   Just as in the dominant straight culture, image-making in the gay subculture has been dominated by white men who have constructed their own images.   The reality is that there were Black and Latina women at the Stonewall on June 28, 1969, although you rarely hear about them.   One of those people was Sylvia Rivera, a transgendered Latina (image of Sylvia Rivera, Fall, 1970 from NYPL Digital Gallery).  Rivera, who identified as a “street transvestite” in the days before the neologism “transgendered,” was always clear about the connection between homophobia from straight society and the racism and class privilege within the gay community.  See her, for example, this video interview.


When Sylvia Rivera passed away in 2002, her dying wish was that her community of faith, Metropolitan Community Church of New York (MCCNY), reach out to homeless LGBTQ youth.  Today, MCCNY Charities maintains an overnight shelter, 365 days a year, for homeless queer youth in New York City.  The shelter is called Sylvia’s Place and is part of Homeless Youth Services at MCCNY.

Since January of this year, photographer Josh Lehrer as been chronicling the lives of some of the transgendered teenagers that call Sylvia’s Place home. In a project he calls “Becoming Visible,” a series of 80 16-by-20-inch cyanotype portraits of these young people. Some of the photos are featured on The New York Times’ photography blog, Lens, and it’s worth your time to click through and look at the slide show.  Are these the people you think of when you think of gay pride?  Perhaps not until now.


  1. Randy

    Being a recipient of white straight privilege, it is difficult for me to really comprehend discrimination, prejudice, and racism in American society. I know it is there, and like to think that I did not contribute to it. In fact, I like to think I have I stood against it. But because I am who I am, I doubt I will ever really know for sure. I have never walked in a mile in a colored man’s, woman’s, or homosexual’s shoes.

    With that, I am totally confused about why some of those who have fought so strongly for civil rights for colored people, seem to quiet greatly when it comes to speaking up for civil rights for homosexuals. How can you believe in civil rights for one, but not civil rights for all? It all seems a little ironic and completely illogical.

    And I am a guilty myself. I have been torn in my feelings about the gay marriage issue and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. But after spending time discussing these two topics with a gay friend of mine, I did come to a few conclusions.

    Kevin will never be straight and he did not choose to be gay. Just like I will never be gay, and I did not purposely choose to be straight. No religion, law, hope, or belief is going to change that. Gay is not a Lifestyle, it is a life. If you believe in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, than you cannot be against letting these people have the same rights and privileges as everyone else in this society. America may not be ready to hear that, and I am sure more than a few will respond to this post. But if this straight white male with all the privilege that comes with it can come to this conclusion, then so can a few others.

Leave a Reply