Interviewee: Liana Harris
Interviewer: Laila Michel
Graphic Designer: Pat Sevikul
Liana Harris (she/her) is a student at Columbia University from Washington, DC. Majoring in Comparative Literature and Society, she is interested in Francophone literature and culture in Africa and the African Diaspora. She has been involved in efforts to uplift queer folks since high school, from starting an LGBTQ support group to volunteering at LGBTQ sexual health seminars.
Liana identifies as bisexual, or as queer more broadly.
When did you know you were bisexual?
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment of when I knew I was bisexual. However, in seventh grade, my best friend came out to me. Although I had definitely experienced girl crushes throughout middle school (what I thought were super fond friendships at the time), it wasn’t until someone else opened up to me about their sexuality that I ever thought to confront my own. A few weeks later, I opened up to my mom about how I felt. She listened to me and told me that though I was young, my feelings were normal and valid. Her reassurance played a huge part in me accepting my sexuality, so I’d say that from that day on I was sure.
What does pride mean to you?
For me, the meaning of Pride has shifted over the years. I honestly knew very little about its political history until I was maybe 16 or 17. I never learned about the Stonewall Riots in school, nor about Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, or any of the pioneering queer activists of the time. I wish that Pride focused more on the historical and continued fight for queer liberation because these days I automatically associate Pride with corporate capitalism. The rainbow flags outside of stores and restaurants didn’t always bother me— I’m not afraid to admit that I once viewed them as somewhat progressive. But as I continue to learn about the history of Pride, they reek of American opportunism and have an almost comical performative energy, rather than genuine allyship. However, this does not mean that Pride isn’t about having a good time—Stonewall was not merely a reaction to systemic queerphobia, but a situation in which queer folks existence, joy, and ability to simply have a good time at a bar were under violent attack. Therefore, Pride is about taking that joy back; that people can wear a full face of makeup and heels to the club regardless of their gender identity; that they can fuck whoever they want to (safely and consensually of course) because queer folks have the right to sexual liberation; that they will continue to create art, perform dances, design fashion, and express themselves in ways that make them feel seen, rather than conforming to white heteronormative standards of beauty and creativity. And though I can say firsthand that NYC Pride makes thousands of queer folks feel seen every year, that freeing energy should be alive in all communities at all times of the year. Pride is the reminder that it is okay to let that spirit
How do you celebrate pride month?
I always have gone to Pride parades, whether in DC or New York City. I remember going to my first NYC Pride in June 2019, the summer I graduated from high school. Two of my closest friends came with me, and we stayed at my uncle’s brownstone in Harlem. I remember my uncle giving me the spare key, putting some blankets and sheets for the couch, and telling us that as long as we were safe and responsible we could stay out for as long as we wanted. Besides, he was celebrating Pride too—he didn’t have time to babysit us while he was out partying! That trip is not only one of my fondest memories of New York before I moved here, but it opened my eyes to the diversity and multiplicity that exists in the queer community. It was colorful. It was sexy. It was joyful. It was kinky. Though I didn’t participate in all the theatrics, I felt so free. Everyone should experience New York Pride at least once in their life.
What issues affecting the LGBT community were particularly on your mind this past month and why?
The police presence at Pride reinvigorated my anti-police and anti-prison beliefs. Though they claim to act under the guise of “keeping people safe,” seeing a long line of armed police officers gated off under the arch of Washington Square Park felt a bit more like intimidation. It was a “You can celebrate for now, but only since we said so. And if we change our minds, we aren’t afraid to put you all back in line” kind of vibe. Disgusting.
The over-policing of all disenfranchised communities is hateful and destructive, but there is something about their overwhelming presence at Pride—a tradition born out of the direct resistance against police violence—that is particularly heinous. I also think about how Black and brown folks who don’t fit into corporate capitalism’s vision of Pride are vulnerable to police violence in a way that rich white gays and lesbians have been able to evade over the years. The power imbalance between white, binary, and wealthy members of the LGBTQ community and everyone else is quite apparent and leads to vastly different experiences with the police and society as a whole.
What can people do to raise awareness about those issues?
Support as many Black and brown queer folks as you can! Whether that means engaging with their content online, participating in mutual aid when able, attending POC-led drag shows, or simply checking in on your POC queer friends—whatever you can think of that is within reach. Supporting people and uplifting their identities can be done in many different ways, but I believe it is most important to do so within your own community.
What's your queer anthem/favorite Pride song?
I would have to say “Miss Temptation” by Raveena. She has quite a few songs about women, but this one gives off a dreamy divine lesbian energy. You should definitely check out her music if you need some more WLW art in your life.
Follow Liana on Instagram!