This June, with an array of vibrant Pride flags and booming, upbeat music, the Stonewall Memorial Drag March in Madison was a dramatically different look from what transpired outside of The Stonewall Inn over 50 years ago.
The 1969 Stonewall Riots were pivotal events in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms in the United States, spearheaded by queer activists of color. Since then, Pride marches have celebrated the freedom to spread love, both for yourself and for others.
The Stonewall Memorial Drag March in Madison this year aimed to do just that on June 28. Organized by local activist Sunshine Raynebow and her team, the march was dedicated to the work of activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two key figures in the Stonewall Riots in New York.
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The event began with a march that stretched from the Social Justice Center to the Wisconsin State Capitol, and was a march for Pride and Black Lives Matter. At the Capitol Square, there were speakers sharing their stories and calling for action. Among them was Rep. Francesca Hong, D-Madison. This was followed by a line up of drag performances inspired by the Stonewall Riots and the themes of spreading love, kindness and self acceptance.
Raynebow, the host of this march, started activism when she was 17 and has been working ever since. As a Black queer trans woman, Raynebow said she’s been fighting for her life since she was born.
“I’m tired of the system not benefiting me. I’m tired of this system thinking it can kill us and erase us and think that it’s okay,” Raynebow said. “Activism is not something I just randomly decided to do. Activism for me started the day that I was born.”
For her, activism is a way to build a world for everyone.
“I continue to fight for change so that young queer people, young Black people, young women and young men … young nonbinary people … can walk out of their houses and feel like they can just be free … not worry about anything,” Raynebow said.
It is of paramount importance to discuss that the Stonewall Memorial Drag March was not only about Pride, but about Black Lives Matter and Black Queer Lives Matter.
The lack of institutional protections for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC individuals in the United States results in the deaths of thousands of people every year. An important element of social justice and activism is in both solidarity and intersectionality.
“The reason I emphasized that Black Queer Lives Matter is because I wanted people to know that Black lives always mattered, and Black lives continue to matter,” Raynebow said. “The system needs to wake the f*** up and realize that they can’t keep killing us.”
Raynebow also had advice for youth and allies who want to get involved. She suggested the first step would be to step out of your comfort zone, or spaces you are accustomed to. There are many educational resources from activists of color and queer activists available online.
Social media is a vital tool for communication and organization. Information on protests are often posted on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Her final advice was to continue to come to protests and continue to do whatever you can to change the world.
“The world is made for all of us, it needs to benefit everyone that lives in it.” Raynebow said, stressing the importance of fostering an environment that allows kindness and healing to thrive. “When I started loving myself and being who I am, I felt like I needed to spread that love that I had for myself around to others so other people can know it’s okay to love themselves, it’s okay for them to be who they are and not be afraid of it.”