Patrick Herning and Dillon Peña Honor the Pioneers Who Started the Movement
In the dawn hours of June 28, 1969 in New York City, a movement was sparked. The legendary Stonewall Riots arose at the Greenwich Village bar, The Stonewall Inn, as a significant moment in the gay rights movement.
The demonstration marked a turning point for the LGBTQ community in the decades long fight for equal rights. This month and always, we celebrate Pride to acknowledge this important history, the activists who have been fighting for fair treatment and rights. The work continues, every day. To ensure everyone in the LBGTQ community is seen.
As activist Marsha P. Johnson stated, “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”
Here, Patrick Herning, co-founder of thirteen lune and celebrity makeup artist and founder of beauty brand Leland Francis, Dillon Peña chat about honoring the history of the gay rights movement in order to meaningfully move forward and embrace the true spirit of Pride.
When I think about the gay community it really is through the lens of the AIDS crisis. I’m 48 and growing up, you knew about it. I grew up outside San Francisco, and you knew, even at the age of 11, 12. 13...you just knew it, right? So there was a tremendous amount of internalized homophobia obviously growing up that if you’re gay, you get AIDS and die. That was certainly the correlation that I made in my head. So when I think about my experience with Pride and gay history, it very much is through that lens.
I grew up in rural Oklahoma in a small farming town. My mother was a minister. So I grew up in the church. There's three boys, three girls. My father is Mexican. And my mother is Cherokee, Indian and Irish. My family was the only Latin family in the area.
I was deeply involved in the church, because when you're in a small town, that's what you do. I didn't know I was gay. And if I did, I was so deeply hidden. I graduated with 25 people in a consolidated school. There were definitely comments from the kids about me being gay, which did hurt at that point. But now I look back and actually, it was a blessing to have lived that.
And then you were talking about the AIDS crisis. I had a cousin, I don't know how much older than me he was, but he had “the cancer” and his family is still in denial about him being gay and dying of AIDS. That's how deeply rooted the shame runs especially as part of a Latin family. There is a machismo-ness and somebody being gay within their family was very looked down upon. And it still is.
Today, there are 3 gay kids in my family. My older brother actually came out earlier than I did. And my mom stood up and said, "This is my child. He's not going to hell," So I saw my mom take a stand for her children. And at that point, she never really ever returned to the church again. My siblings, we're all very, very close. And we speak every day. My brothers have been the saving grace as well, because we can talk to each other about anything.
As far as my reflection and education about Pride and gay rights, it must have been one or two Prides ago that I found out the story of Stonewall, reading the story of Marsha P Johnson and her pivotal part starting the gay rights movement. For me, when I read that story, I realized how modern day Pride is very white washed. The history of Pride and why I share the AIDS context is that, that was the movement. The movement wasn’t pretty. The movement that started at Stonewall was on the backs of the Black trans queer community. Act Up, Gay Men’s Health Crisis - those weren’t pretty muscle queens - those were a different archetype in the gay community. And so for me, what’s important is really highlighting the true pioneers of the movement and even taking it a step back, what is Pride? It’s not celebrating being gay. It’s about a movement that started to liberate gays to have equal rights. That was started by the Black trans community.
There needs to be an homage to that community.
It’s true though. I think that it goes back to not forgetting where you came from. If you forget the roots of a movement, then you lose sight of where the movement needs to go. So when the first brick was thrown to start the riot that lasted I think a week in New York City, you have to look back and say, those people, Marsha P. Johnson, the black and brown and trans communities are the ones that started it for Pete Buttigieg to be where he is today, if you look at it that way. So you have to look back at the history, you have to look back at the people that started the fight, and honor those people.
It can't just be rights for some, it has to be rights for all. And it comes back to being an ally. It's one thing to be a privileged white gay man. But it's another thing to be a non passing black trans woman. Those are two very different experiences that fall under the LGBTQ umbrella. And the acceptance of a privileged white gay man versus the acceptance of a non passing black trans woman, that is not a shared experience. And so in my humble opinion, it is the job of an ally who has obviously made great progress and acceptance, like everybody has a white gay best friend, it feels like. It's very acceptable and on trend and almost a cliche at this point. But there should be no difference between acceptance of that versus the other people that fall under the LGBTQ umbrella.
Exactly. Pride is looking back and saying, "Okay, so look, I'm definitely passing and I feel very privileged to live the way that I live. But I also know that there's people that don't have that privilege as well." You have to look back and see who started that and honor those people and still realize that those people are the ones that actually are still struggling more than the people that didn't throw the brick. For me, that's what it was.
Coupled with my experience growing up gay in Oklahoma, that's the reason when I thought to do a Pride candle, I wanted to take something that I was called when I was younger, and “Pansy” was one of the things that people always called me. I'm just going to take ownership of it.
The net profits from the Pansy candle go to benefit GLSEN.
I love that. The candle is beautiful. And agreed, you can't stop fighting just because you cross the finish line. You've got to continue to advocate for those more marginalized than you. And again, that goes back to my own personal experience, which is obviously very different from yours Dillon, which for the most part was all fine. I have to take that privilege and that platform and I have to be an ally. I acknowledge that I am where I am today because of the work those people did. So then how am I not advocating while others are still struggling? it has to circle back to who started it in the first place, which is the black trans queer community. That’s the piece of it that I think it's really, really important to acknowledge, where there is so much work to do. We rise together and that to me is the meaning of Pride.