This week, Somersworth became the first city in New Hampshire to raise the Juneteenth flag. Juneteenth, also called Liberation Day or the Day of Jubilee, marks the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation — two and a half years after it became law — in the final state of the union. Since it is also Pride month, and there are two flagpoles at Somersworth’s Citizen’s Place, the Juneteenth flag now waves next to the rainbow Pride flag, where they will wave together for a week (the Pride flag stays up all June long here in the Rainbow City).
This visual symbolism of intersectionality — the flag of Black liberation flying next to the flag of Queer liberation — is not lost on me. It brings to mind so many justice seekers throughout our history who knew that the struggle for LGBTQ+ liberation and Black liberation were joint struggles.
Bayard Rustin was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest advisers, and a major historic figure in nonviolent protest. Rustin was a gay Black man who often spoke of his joint identity as a gay man and a Black man — and as a Quaker, which informed his peaceful values.
Pauli Murray was a trailblazing Black and queer woman lawyer who also influenced Dr. King. Murray was the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, and was one of the first lawyers to argue that the Equal Protection Clause (which was written to address racial discrimination) should apply equally to gender-based discrimination.
Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were trans women of color who were leaders at Stonewall, two women who many credit with throwing those first bricks that brought the movement for queer liberation to the forefront in 1969.
Intersectionality is a framework or lens that we can apply to understand how various forms of oppression, when combined, result in not just an increased, but a fundamentally different experience for the people who hold those multiple marginalized identities. In short, it’s a recognition of humans as complex, whole people. Aspects of our identity cannot be separated from each other. And our fight for liberation should not be separated, either.
Audre Lorde, a self-described “Black lesbian feminist warrior poet,” in her essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” said, “To survive in the mouth of this dragon we call America, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson — that we were never meant to survive. Not as human beings. And neither were most of you here today, Black or not. And that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute, forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.”
I’m proud that we are not afraid to speak, that we are not afraid to raise these flags — that visibility which is the source of our greatest strength.
This month, we also mark two historic anniversaries of marriage equality: the passing of LGBTQ+ marriage equality on June 26, 2015; and Loving Day, celebrating the Supreme Court decision on June 12, 1967, that ended the unconstitutional prohibition of interracial marriages. Our struggle has always been a collective struggle.
It took two and a half years for the Emancipation Proclamation to be enforced in the final Southern state. This year, 156 years later, our governor is poised to sign into law a budget containing language that would prevent teaching our collective history. Attacks on trans students are unrelenting in our state legislature and across the country. Our Senate passed recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday, but has yet to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act or the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
As we celebrate both Pride month and Juneteenth, let’s recommit ourselves to the work of ongoing emancipation — our collective liberation.
Crystal Paradis is a city councilor at-large in Somersworth, secretary of the New Hampshire Stonewall Democrats, and director of strategic communications and community engagement for the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation. The views expressed are those of the writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.