Why are this year's LGBTQ Pride celebrations different from all other (recent) celebrations? Because they're taking place in a political climate that's among the most hostile we've seen to the rights of LGBTQ and other vulnerable groups, thanks to the election of Donald Trump and the right-wing takeover of Congress and of several states. In addition, many health care options for LGBTQ folks, including people living with HIV/AIDS, are under attack.
That's not to say that things were perfect in the Obama years -- especially after the Pulse nightclub massacre last June in Orlando that killed 49 LGBTQ folks on the eve of Pride season, a crime committed by someone who legally purchased an automatic weapon.
But to reverse an old gay cliché, it's fair to say that we're not in Oz anymore. So no wonder, then, that the old rebellious queer spirit of the Stonewall riots is rearing its fabulous head this year as LGBTQ organizers in three major cities -- Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York -- have decided to turn their annual LGBTQ Pride events into #TrumpResistance rallies, with many openly HIV+ and/or longtime HIV activist queers among those organizers.
"Parades Are for Progress. This Year We Need a Human Rights March."
It started back in January, when David Bruinooge, a Brooklyn-based LGBT activist, was watching the Women's March on D.C. from home and was inspired by its multi-issue, intersectional approach to organize an Equality March for Unity and Pride in D.C. on June 11, the weekend of the Capitol's annual Pride events. It will be organized in conjunction with Capital Pride Alliance, which produces those events.
"I was inspired by all the ... strong women in our country who were kind of taking this to the street and getting their voices heard," Bruinooge told the Washington Blade. Initially, 35,000 followers on Facebook indicated they were going to the march, and more than 117,000 more were interested.
Then, organizers of L.A.'s Pride events decided to convert their usual Pride Parade that same weekend into an anti-Trump, anti-right-wing #ResistMarch.
"Parades are for progress," says Brian Pendleton, one of the organizers. "This year, we need a human rights march, something bigger and more meaningful. People want to make a stand and be louder this year because they're nervous that their rights are going to be rolled back."
Says Robert Gamboa, an openly HIV+ organizer: "It's important to me to be visible so that others can see that people like us deserve better lives. The Resist March is one of those great mechanisms for me to show that we are fighting for health care, immigration, equality and all the other factors that affect us living with HIV daily. We didn't come this far to get pushed back to the periphery."
Threatened Disruptions in "Not Normal" Times
Meanwhile in NYC, activists from such groups as the venerable HIV/AIDS activist group ACT UP, Gays Against Guns, and the new anti-Trump faction Rise and Resist (full disclosure: this writer is a member of the latter two groups) were showing up at meetings of Heritage of Pride, the LLC that produces the city's massive Pride March (the nation's flagship), asking them to cede prominent space at the front of the march to groups that wanted to march in a unified show of resistance to Trump and his rightwing agenda.
The activists threatened disrupting the Pride March itself if they were not accommodated. After a few weeks' delay, Heritage of Pride announced that a resistance bloc would have a prominent space at the front of the March.
"These aren't normal times and Heritage of Pride couldn't possibly just go ahead and use their normal template," says Ken Kidd, an ACT UP veteran who led the push for the Resistance bloc. "Starting with his choosing Mike Pence as his running mate, everything Trump has done so far has negatively targeted our LGBT community in one way or another. His policies on transgender people, health care, seniors, people of color, children are all horrible and it's up to us to do something about this.
"The Pride March started as a celebration of the resistance we showed to oppression at Stonewall. To me, this was a no-brainer."
As of this writing, it doesn't appear that other major U.S. cities are planning overt Resistance elements to their Pride events. However, Boston just announced that in addition to its Pride March on June 10, it will hold a "Stronger Together" rally on Boston Common June 11 in solidarity with the national march in D.C. "Boston Pride calls on all community members to mobilize to fight for equal rights, for everyone," according to a statement. And Seattle plans to make the theme of its June 25 Pride March "Indivisible," which is also the name of a national post-election movement to put pressure on elected officials to resist Trump's agenda.
And as a reminder of how sometimes the consequences of hate actions can leave LGBTQ people paralyzed with grief rather than goaded into anger and action, Orlando will devote much of June not to protesting Trump but to remembering the lives it lost a year ago, according to Jeffrey Prystajko, an organizer there.
"I would not expect a lot of political-type activity to occur around that time," he said.