The calendar has finally flipped over to June and we know what that means - it’s Pride Month.
I have a complicated feelings towards this time of year. Admittedly, it’s not all that different from how I feel about Sydney Mardi Gras in many ways. As a bi person, I have felt excluded from Pride events more times than I can count. I’m sick of giant corporations trying to convince us they actually care about LGBTQIA+ rights by selling things with rainbows on them. I’m fed up with the cis-man, white, gay, able-bodied, neurotypical lens that is pushed in order to make the LGBTQIA+ community seem more palatable to straight people.
In a month where I am “supposed” to celebrate, I’m just tired.
So, in an effort to revitalise myself and remember the meaningful history of Pride, here’s a tribute to one of my favourite bicons. Brenda Howard.
Born in the Bronx in 1946 and raised on Long Island, Howard lived a life of fiery passion for activism and unapologetically embracing her identity. Credited with the quote, “Bi, poly, switch—I’m not greedy, I know what I want”, Howard was a proud presence for those whose experiences fell outside of social norms. A fierce advocate for the nontraditional, she embraced what many regarded as the “wild side”–proudly sharing her experiences, desires and needs with the public. In doing so, she helped create a space for others to explore their authentic and true selves.
During her lifetime, Howard was a phone sex worker, nurse, and successful community organiser. Throughout the 1960’s she was a vocal participant in anti-war and feminist movements, however one of her most celebrated accomplishments is reflected in what emerged following the Stonewall Riots.
Howard made a conscious effort to ensure that the Stonewall Riots and those who participated were not forgotten (shout-out to the ever important Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera - trans activists of colour whose leadership against police brutality is crucial in LGBTQIA+ liberation). Her role as a key organiser for the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, which took place on the one year anniversary of the riots, gave way to her nickname the “Mother of Pride”. This March is considered the world’s first Pride event and is said to have further inspired others to organise similar events, setting an important foundation for Pride marches, rallies, and parades across the United States and globally. Howard’s keen ability to channel liberation, passion, and determination for human rights is something that continues to resonate with so many people today.
As a proud bisexual woman, Howard also made tremendous strides for the bi+ community, shedding an important light on an identity that is often ignored, disregarded, or shamed. In 1987 Howard co-founded the New York Area Bisexual Network which, to this day, is a central hub for bisexual and bi-friendly groups in the New York and tri-state region. In 1993 Howard was an acting member of the delegate group who lobbied for the inclusion of bisexuality in the March on Washington, which had traditionally focused on gay and lesbian identities (she also served as the co-chair for the leather contingent!). In the later years of her life, Howard also founded America’s first Alcoholics Anonymous groups specifically for bisexual identifying individuals.
Thank you Brenda Howard.
It’s these kinds of stories that make me feel Pride. Not rainbow capitalism. Not tokenism. Not whitewashed, cis-centric, able-bodied, narrow ideas of queerness.
The good news is we can reclaim what Pride truly means for our rainbow family. There are people already doing this work. Look to grassroots community-led groups, learn from anti-racist movements, and use frameworks of decolonisation. To those of us who hold any sort of privilege: we have a lot of listening, learning, and work to do.
The spirit of Pride should reactivate our passion and desire to achieve liberation for each and every one of our community members. Remember that we honour the work that came before us, but we need to carry on that legacy too.
Written by Amber Loomis (they/them). Amber is a bi activist with a passion for advocacy and community building. They are the founder and president of the Sydney Bi+ Network.
Check out some of our awesome Pride Month t-shirt ranges here.