I have walked across the sticky floor of the darkroom at Faces untold times carrying DJ equipment through…nasty; and I have had to replace a broken toilet in the second floor restroom at the Loading Zone on a busy Saturday night – more than once – because some of you thought having sex there would be cleaner than the floor or sink…nasty. Most of you don’t know me, but I have worked in more than half a dozen of the bars in this community over the past two decades, in a number of roles, and I have had to deal with the nasty that goes with that. But I have never met anything so nasty as what I’ve seen from this group of people like I have the past couple of weeks.
Full disclosure for those of you who don’t know me – my name is Terry Willits and when I’ve been actively involved in the community it has been mostly with Pride or PAWS events. And, I transitioned from female to male last summer. This may give me a unique perspective from some of you. This take on both sides of the issue has not been an easy road for me. As some of you know, one of my contributions to past Pride events has been in building parade floats. During many of those early years, some of the volunteers who helped build the Novak’s floats were members of law enforcement and are people I care about and respect. Unfortunately, they do not represent all members of the SLMPD.
So many of you have been calling for conversations and unity as a community. Let’s talk a minute about your pretty package now that you believe you’ve put a bow on it. The SLMPD does have an LGBTQ+ Liaison in the department. His responsibility is to work with our community to better improve communication and relations. Sounds great, right? Sure does! Admittedly, I do not know if he was appointed or volunteered for this duty, but he has been in the role for well over a year. The first communication received by the Metro Trans Umbrella Group from this Liaison was in the form of a tweet. Not exactly an inviting message and why did he wait to reach out until after it had been announced that the police would be marching in civilian clothes? Where has he been?
I recently attended a meeting with members of our community where we were able to meet with and hear what the Liaison had to say. This officer, who identifies as a gay man, and claims to be able to competently represent the entire queer community referred to Stonewall as “an experience” rather than a riot. Let’s hope he is prepared to better educate himself if he is to truly represent the trans women of color and the entire community.
Yesterday I attended the press conference in the Mayor’s office for the announcement of the decision reversal. A request was made by one of the Pride St. Louis board members of everyone in the room asking that we schedule the first date to begin work on building that bridge of community between law enforcement and the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ people. MTUG and Pride were willing to pull out their calendars, but not one person from the City would commit. Not exactly promising as they were immediately dismissive and stated that we would have to wait for our Liaison to return – he was out of town. Set your clocks, people. Let’s see if he reaches out…or tweets us.
So…where do we go from here? Many of you have the parade you wanted. You bullied your way to get what you wanted. Yay, you! You should be so fucking proud of yourselves. Your biggest concerns on parade day might now be: how much glitter do I need to spray on so I don’t sweat all of it off? …or topping off your cocktail before the ice has a chance to melt in the bottom of your glass. I don’t begrudge you a day of community and fun at the festival. I really don’t. I was looking forward to that myself. I get it. I do. This was to be my first year in the parade since I transitioned. I’ve participated many years, but this year I was going to witness a year when community truly lifted up community. It was to be historic and incredible.
But, we won’t see that this year. The Grand Marshal is a designation of honor and respect and for the transgender and non-binary community that was a strong message from Pride St. Louis that they were actually being seen and heard. You took that away from them.
Over the past 24 hours, I have witnessed bodies physically shaking from pain and anger. I have seen tears and heard voices trembling as they struggle to communicate how hard it is to hear that the same people who claim that we are all one community haven’t even enough room in their hearts to give them 2 hours of celebration down Market Street without having to face their oppressors.
I sat vigil as phone calls were fielded, cigarettes were smoked, pizzas and pop ordered, and people comforted each other. The similarity to a funeral did not go unnoticed or unmentioned. The question of the day, “what do we do now, how do we protect our own?” We are still not safe.
Many of you have refused to listen to what so many of your trans and non-binary family have been trying to tell you over recent days. If you hear nothing else, please understand this: while you are watching the men and women dressed in blue parade down Market Street with your chests all pumped up and proud of yourselves for making it happen, know that by doing so you just green lighted the actions of someone in that rank and file to harass, mis-gender – or worse – one of the humans that you claim are part of your family. Yes, you did that.
How proud you must all be. Happy Pride, St. Louis.