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Janet Mock on the Parallels Between the George Floyd Protests and the 1969 Stonewall Riots (Exclusive)

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While June has become known as Pride Month, typically marked with parades and events celebrating the LGBTQ community as a whole, it’s important to remember that Pride started off as a protest. And for Janet Mock, the Emmy-nominated producer behind Pose and one of ET’s LGBTQ entertainers of the year, that’s something that hasn't escaped her mind, especially amid the ongoing Black Lives Matter rallies and demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality all across the country.

“For me at least, there’s never been a sense of celebrating Pride without really thinking about our foremothers and our forefathers who were there that night,” she tells Denny Directo for the ET special, Live With Pride, referring to the 1969 Stonewall riots that were a result of ongoing police raids of New York City’s Stonewall Inn, “one of the only safe spaces where LGBTQ people could come and gather in community.”

Mock also thinks that young people forget that before what happened more than 50 years ago, the events that would eventually spark the gay liberation movement and an ongoing push for LGBTQ rights, “you were an outlaw.” At the time, the police could arrest people for as little as not wearing what was deemed gender-appropriate clothing. 

“So on that fateful night in 1969, when they [rose up] together to say, ‘We’re tired of this policing. We’re not going to take another raid on our lives. We’re not gonna be surveillanced anymore,’” Mock says of the two transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, and others there that night who fought back -- and fought for their lives. “That was the igniting of the change for LGBTQ people and largely that charge was led by people of color, poor folk who lived on the street, trans women, drag queens, butch lesbians who [were] out there. They were fighting back because they were the ones who were often most policed, most surveillanced, most put into jails.” 

One of the things that stands out to her about those riots is the way Johnson and Rivera put themselves out there, in front of the police. “That monumental moment of self-sacrifice, the fact that you would literally put your body and your own well-being on the line for the collective good, has created a model for activism -- across all movements,” Mock says, adding that “one of the great things about them being recentered as part of the narrative” is that it has created “this intersectional approach to how we should do activism.” 

Now, over 50 years later, the LGBTQ community as well as people of all races, genders and sexualities are now protesting in the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd as well as Tony McDade, a black transgender man who was also killed by the police. His death is a stark reminder to the mainstream gay and lesbian movement not to forget or leave behind bisexual people, transgender people or gender nonconforming people. 

After gaining major victories with marriage equality and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, it’s time to “recenter and refocus our efforts on those most marginalized, which are gender nonconforming folk, black and brown queer and transgender people, and homeless youth,” Mock says.

Furthering Mock’s point, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis says that the “LGBTQ movement really caught fire [with] allies coming on. We need black voices leading this, and we need the activists who have been leading this for years and years and years to point us in the right direction... I think this is an enormous moment in time to see real substantial systematic progress.”

While there’s still a long way to go -- calls for defunding the police around the country still have yet to be addressed by state and local governments -- Mock is cautiously optimistic. “Everyone’s consciousness has been risen. We’ve had people who probably have never really uttered the term, Black Lives Matter, when it was created,” she says, using her own social media platforms to enlighten her followers about the works of Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and to share with them a blueprint of how we should move forward. 

“Now we’re having less conversations about why we should center black lives in this conversation. So in that sense, I am deeply hopeful by the work that everyday people are taking to challenge conversations at their own dinner tables,” she says, believing those changes could lead to a larger cultural and political shift that leads to millions of dollars put into police departments directed to other, much-needed programs, like schooling and healthcare. “In that sense, I’m super hopeful about how this consciousness-raising has elevated to a mainstream level,” Mock says, before concluding with a message for the transgender community:   

“We helped ignite this movement and we deserve space in this movement and that this movement is also ours. So what I would say to them, in this time period, is to refocus yourself in this. To think about the narrative of where you’ve come from and where we’ve come from and to realize that starting exactly where you are, your kitchen table with your family, your community, your chosen loved ones, that you have those conversations there. And then from there, you build more and more and more to be an activist or to be a co-conspirator in our movement. We have to be active, we have to be consistent and we have to do the uncomfortable work of checking and challenging conversations.”

 

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