A Pride Meditation
Classroom of Compassion was born during Pride in 2018 out of the pain of losing 49 of our brothers and sisters during the Pulse Nightclub shooting just 2 years prior. During our original pride install, we celebrated queerness with our Loving Kindness Mantra emblazoned on a pride flag and we mourned the 49 lives that were talking too soon with a memorial piece at the center of the Pride festivities.
For Pride 2020, during a global pandemic and stay at home orders in place, we were determined to go back to our roots -- to find a way to celebrate queerness and celebrate the lives of the victims of the Pulse shooting.
We introduced 49 Crowns -- a communal arts project in which 49 queer artists across Los Angeles created floral crowns as a means to own their story and celebrate their identity.
The practice was rooted in lessons from queer activists during the 1960s, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie and the iconic quote from James Baldwin:
Photo by @blakkcupcake
James Baldwin was one of the most brilliant and insightful authors, essayists, poets, and playwrights in American History.
His work not only gave a transcendent voice to the black and queer communities, it “explored the psychological implications of racism for both the oppressed and the oppressor.”
Baldwin became the best selling black author in the WORLD.
His work was best-selling not only because he spoke to so many black and queer people, but because he spoke to everyone. His work and words were intersectional.
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”
MARSHA P. JOHNSON
Marsha P “Pay It No Mind” Johnson, known for her outspoken personality, generosity, and unwavering advocacy for LGBTQI+ rights, was, of course, part of the struggle during the Stonewall Riots. With her best friend Sylvia Rivera , Marsha helped to found Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)—the first organization to give housing and help to gay, trans, gender nonconforming people and sex workers. Marsha was “a bodhisattva, a holy person, a saint on street corners,” and Sylvia was a nurturing role model and crusader, “[using] her outsider status to help make change.”
Sylvia Rivera was a civil rights pioneer—a tireless advocate for gay liberation, people of color, homeless youth, sex workers, and any marginalized community.
Today we think of Sylvia Rivera among the icons of the LGBTQ movement, but in the 1970s her radical ideals of inclusivity and systemic poverty/racism were too much for the majority.
Sylvia worked endlessly for her queer family using her spirit and voice to continue transforming her community and the world to be more inclusive. Her legacy lives on through the work of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.
Stormé DeLarverie (pronounced Stormy De-LAR-ver-ee), was a performer, bouncer, and volunteer patrol known as the “guardian of lesbians. Few people know the extraordinary history of this queer leader and the vital role she played in the Gay Rights Movement.
In the early hours of June 28th, 1969 the Stonewall Inn was raided, and Stormé was assaulted by police. “Nobody knows who threw the first punch, but it’s rumored that she did, and she said she did.”
Hundreds of queer folk resisted beside her, protected her, and began what would go down in history as a riot. For Stormé and the queer comminuty, “It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn't no damn riot.”
In the Summer of 1969, a police raid of a Greenwich Village gay bar, The Stonewall Inn, led to violent demonstrations against police brutality targeting the queer community. The Stonewall Riots are arguably the most important event for gay liberation and was led by Marsha P. Johnson, a black, transgender woman, Sylvia Rivera, and Stormé DeLarverie. This historical moment led by people of color fighting for their rights would not be the last time in American history that POC would have to fight for their rights.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed during an arrest by a Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. This tragedy sparked mass protests and calls to action across the United States for justice and the end of systemic racism especially after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor earlier in the year.
In solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color, we expanded 49 Crowns to hundreds more.
A Gay individual is surrounded by police during the Stonewall Riots in 1969.
49 CROWNS @ QUEER PRIDE 4 BLACK LIVES
Long Beach, CA
Video by Alex Bohs
There’s still so much more to do in regards to justice for communities of color and for the LGBTQIA community especially where the two communities intersect. As we move towards more progress, we celebrate the stories from 49 Crowns.
The Crowns are the Canvas. The Stories are the Art.
To my Trans and Gender Non-Conforming siblings, I hope you know how loved you are. I’m sorry that during these hard times we have a lot going against us and people continue to harm us. I’m so sorry. I know it hurts, it hurts me too. But please hang in there. Please. Keep. Going. You are beautiful and you are worthy. You are Trans enough. You are Queer enough. And no one can take that from you. Look to your chosen families. Hold them close and remember you are not alone. They love you and I love you. To my Cis allies and accomplices, now is the time to show up. We really need you. Please speak up and show up with us. Listen to us when we are speaking. Correct people when they misgender us. Let us know that you see us and respect us.
As a Palestinian, Syrian, and Amazigh Muslim queer womxn, the heartbreak of the lives stolen at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando tore me up. I was fasting for the holy month of Ramadan when I received the news. I wept and fell to my knees in prayer. Grief. The gut wrench. The queerphobia and transphobia. •
I make this flower crown in honor of the 49 LGBTQ Latinx and Black lives stolen at Pulse. Before I began my creative work, I rooted myself in my spiritual practice. I read Surah Al-Fatiha, an Islamic prayer. I lit the I Hope U Know How Much U Mean To The World candle. Reading each of the 49 beautiful names and ages in remembrance, I paused to cry and catch my breath. I called out Presente and Asé after each name to acknowledge their presence. •
Following the same practice, I read the names of our trans and gender non-conforming community who have had their lives stolen by violence in 2020. I meditated on all of these lives. •
I meditated on Marsha P. Johnson. Sylvia Rivera. Stormé DeLarverie. James Baldwin. Audre Lorde. We LGBTQ+ folks would not be here without their bravery, their struggle, their art, their love. •
I mediated on Sarah Hegazi, a queer Egyptian who was incarcerated, tortured, sexually assaulted, and exiled for raising a rainbow flag at a concert in her home country in 2017. She developed PTSD because of her assault. After receiving refugee protection in Canada, she continued her LGBTQ activism. Sarah died by suicide on June 13, 2020. She was 30 years old. •
As I wove together the flowers, I sang, I prayed, I danced, I cried, I laughed. I listened to @mashrouleila in honor of Sarah. I listen to music that played at Pulse’s Latin Night the evening of their murder. •
May we continue to build our crowns. Infinite love to our loved ones lost. We keep working in your name, in justice, love, solidarity. •
Pride is a Practice: a daily act of self-love and remembrance. Building Our Crowns is an exercise in pride. The crown symbolizes power and its connection with the sacred: Divine power. "your crown is already bought and paid for. All you have to do is put it on.”