June 28 marks the 51st anniversary of the famous Stonewall Riots, which galvanized the LGBTQ+ equality movement. Then, much like now, inequality and police brutality played a key role in the shift from an oppressed group being passive victims to becoming the champions of our own collective destiny. This is the moment when we truly became a powerful force, and for queer people everywhere it was the beginning of a whole new world. For the past fifty years we have collectively worked to become more visible and more focused in our strategies to help unite our varied and diverse community, and to ensure representation in our federal and local governments.
For five decades we have protested, demonstrated, and even committed acts of civil disobedience to draw attention to our plights, even as mainstream society would turn a blind eye to the pain and suffering that has too often marked our collective history. No longer content to hide cowering in the shadows, we stepped uncomfortably and defiantly into the light. We shared our pain and our righteous anger with the world, and we learned how to deploy it strategically, thus reshaping American political activism in the process. And in a sense, it truly began when that first brick was thrown at Stonewall by a Black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson, may she rise in power.
Outside of politics, we who are queer also stepped into the light in other areas of the human experience and made spaces for ourselves. We had always been there, but more and more we simply stopped hiding who we really were. From literature, to medicine, to computer sciences, to journalism, to pop-culture, to spirituality and religion, queer people have contributed to every area of human achievement in some form. We have always been here. And like the time-honored slogan goes, “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.”
And so –little by little—we have gained power and influence culturally as well as governmentally, ensuring us a place at the table, with perhaps the place settings becoming just a bit more fabulous than they were before.
Usually we associate Pride festivities with brightly colored floats and outlandish costumes (or the lack thereof), drag queens, muscle-bears, daddies, twinks, “dykes on bikes,” and everything between, betwixt, and beyond. It is a time of celebration, of “letting our hair down” and enjoying what it means to be queer and among our own people. With everything awash in rainbow symbolism, it proclaims itself a “safe space” for us who are queer, in that – for once — we are in the majority, being able to let down our shields and simply enjoy existing with each other without fear of being targeted with violence for being our true selves, a violence that is inextricably part of our historic struggle.
This year is different. With the global COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, many businesses and group events have been sheltering-in-place. In the San Francisco Bay
Area, we have been on lockdown since mid-March, and while some businesses have been allowed to partially reopen (such as those who are able to now offer curbside service,) the vast majority have not. Being a community well-acquainted with a disease’s effect on a minority group, as well as being versed in how to deal with a botched governmental response, this pandemic has prompted some queer organizers to shutter festivities and move them to a digital format. San Francisco canceled its in-person Pride festivities and moved them online to help stem the rising tide of infections.
As if this weren’t enough, the world has exploded at yet another killing of an unarmed Black man at the hands of police. All 50 US states and several other countries have staged huge ongoing protests against racism and police brutality, which have led to some immediate reforms. Some of these protests have turned violent, but most have been peaceful, and of those that did become violent, there is a deluge of video evidence that in at least several cases the violence was first waged by the police themselves, leading for a larger public outcry for police reform and even a movement to defund police departments and start over.
One might be tempted to see these as wholly separate movements – the Black rights movement and the struggle for sexual & gender equality. But these are two aspects of a more universal underlying sickness within the collective human consciousness, the “egregore” of humanity. When we say “Black Lives Matter” we are affirming that one of the most oppressed groups has value to help counterbalance the message of the larger society, which has said repeatedly through its actions that they do not. It is an act of healing, an act of magic. It is an act of solidarity. “Black Lives Matter” and queer rights are two parts of a singular struggle.
We have seen again and again how those who are bigger will prey on those who are smaller. This is not just about the police, though they are absolutely an enormous part of this larger problem. The very point of having a civilized society is to allow people to thrive, and we can only do that if we are resolute in fighting for the rights of everyone, but particularly those more marginalized groups with whom we as queer people and as Pagans share some level of common experience: we have all felt threatened in some way by the larger society, be it the police, the business sector, or the church.
Those who are deemed “different” are often targeted. While our individual struggles are different, steeped in specific cultures and histories of abuse and disempowerment, we all share in one point in our histories. We would all have been targeted by the powers-that-be. Our history shows this to be true. Our current battles show this to be true.
The battles we see on our TV screens are also our own, for we are all fighting right now. We are playing out the evolutionary process of the egregore, or “group soul,” for all of humankind, determining the fate for all of us. Consciously or not, we are part of this process, and its outcome is not yet decided. Though as Martin Luther King’s famous saying goes, “the arc of the moral universe” may “bend toward justice,” still, we are not assured a happy fate. We must fight for it. Every day. Now perhaps more than ever. In the rest of King’s quote, we can also find some solace in knowing that this arc is long – a stark reminder that we might not get to see the as much progress as we so desperately want or need in our lifetimes, yes, but also a marker of hope in the form of a promise that we will eventually get there. When we want to give up (and we will want to give up, at times) we must remember what it is that we are fighting for, and how important it is. We must be resolute. Even with maybe no end in sight, we must be relentless.
As we stand now on the edge of predictability, gazing aghast into the maw of the unknown before us, we must remember our roots – that which makes us different also gives us power, which we use to help us tap into even more streams of power from the world around us. The collective actions of these protests, of these online debates, is all feeding into that egregore, but maybe we can “sweeten the milk” with a little magic and help turn the tides of power toward equality and justice. And since we can really only effectively change our own actions and behavior, this is a spell to help us become more aligned to that arc that bends ever toward justice. This is a spell and a celebration of what it means to be queer.
This is certainly not how I imagined we would be celebrating Pride this year. But part of the wisdom learned from being in both the queer and Pagan communities is that we must be able to adapt if we are to survive. So, in that spirit, let us adapt and celebrate in a new way. This solo ritual can easily be adapted for a group working, perhaps via Zoom or Skype.
A symbol of the rainbow (can be a picture, a rainbow flag, a sticker, etc.)
Three candles, red, blue, and yellow
An historic photo from the Stonewall Riots (find a selection here)
A photo of Marsha P. Johnson
A photo from a more recent Queer Pride celebration
A sigil for intersectional equality and justice (or use mine – full color below, b&w here)
A much beloved beverage of any type
A fancy glass, chalice, drinking horn, or mug
Arrange photos on the working area in a pleasing way, with the candles forming a triangle around them all. The sigil should be placed in the center with the drinking receptable placed within it.
Ground and center. If the practitioner normally casts a circle or performs some other preliminary rites, do so now. When ready, affirm three times:
“I’m here. I’m queer. I’m proud.”
Light the yellow candle and reverently say,
“I light this fire to remember:
The fires of Stonewall,
The fires of passion,
That broke with our anger
The chains against freedom.”
Now light the red candle, and excitedly say:
“I light this fire to invoke:
The fires of justice
The fires of freedom
Give voice to the voiceless
and balance the scales.”
Light the blue, and calmly say:
“I light this fire to affirm:
The fires of healing
The fires of spirit
That lives in us all
And gives life to the world.”
Now, the practitioner should allow themselves to become open to the struggle going on right now in the heart of our collective souls. Allow oneself to feel the pain, and the rage, and the fear, and the hopelessness that are being experienced by so many people right now across this country and the world, but also the defiant hope that fuels the uprising of so many oppressed groups coming together as one, finding strength together. Black. Latinx. Asian. Indigenous peoples. Queer. Trans. Women. Immigrants. Children. The homeless. The poor. The ill. The dispossessed.
If the practitioner has shied away from the disturbing images and stories on television and internet, give them a space now. We will not turn a blind eye. We will use our empathy, as well as our anger, to fuel this fight.
Feel these varied emotions as they all flow together, forming a great tide. Breathe through it and imagine riding that tide, gaining momentum with the following chant, building power:
Together as one.
Bending toward justice
We’ve only begun.”
Begin to repeat it faster and with more emotion and power behind it. Imagine oneself as part of that great tide of powerful change that is encircling the world right now. When the chant gets to a somewhat fevered pace, and it feels as though its power can longer be contained, it may be sent it into the cup as a release, calling out the final line now changed as:
“The arc is now won!”
Imagine and feel the release of this power into the beverage, which now takes on this magical charge. Imagine it completely infused with these intentions, as well as the power to help bring them into reality. Take hold of the cup and reverently drink it down, imagining the charge of this rite now infusing one’s own body, a potion to make the drinker a more ready agent for positive change in the world, bringing the drinker further into alignment with the powers of true justice. Through this alignment we work toward the alignment of the collective egregore.
This is our true work: to heal and empower the world we must first do so for ourselves.
Now, flip on some of the queerest music you can think of and pour another drink. Maybe donate to a good cause while we are celebrating our victories, even as we plan for the many other battles ahead of us.
Fight the good fight.