It’s been a season of pivots for Reclaim Pride Coalition (RPC), the New York City grassroots LGBTQ group that arose last year, in the run-up to Stonewall 50 celebrations, as an alternative to the city’s police- and corporation-drenched mainstream Pride march, overseen by the nonprofit Heritage of Pride.
Fresh off the success of their police- and corporation-free march and Central Park rally last summer, the group was excited to stage, this June 28, yet another march that would be the actual 50th anniversary of New York City’s first organized Pride march, which took place in 1970, the summer after Stonewall. But then COVID-19 hit, and the city shut down all large June events—such as LGBT Pride, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and the beloved SummerStage series of concerts in parks throughout the warm months.
Accordingly, RPC canceled their march, announcing that they’d replace it with several hours of workshops and talks over Zoom. “We figured that at least we’d have a digital presence,” says Jay W. Walker, who is one of the roughly 12% of RPC members who are Black.
But then, says Walker, “We all saw George Floyd being murdered. And our members took to the streets immediately.” And, says Walker, “after a series of phone calls, we unanimously agreed that we all had to be out on the streets and put on a real march”—one that, even more than last year’s explicitly anti-police march, expressed solidarity with the goals of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, such as not only dramatically defunding the New York Police Department (NYPD) but making it more bindingly answerable to citizens.
And, as with last year’s march, RPC will hold this year’s without a permit obtained through negotiations with the city and the NYPD. (Last year, the NYPD informally agreed to let RPC hold their march without a police presence.)
“We’re going to hold this march to highlight all the issues that the current moment demands, to the exclusion of other issues,” says Walker. “And we’ll be reaching out to both queer and straight Black-run organizations, including BLM Greater NY, to participate and advise us in our planning.” The march would pass by former sites of police brutality against Black and queer people, adds Walker—“almost like a tour.”
RPC’s decision comes at a time when Pride organizations nationwide—previously anticipating a relatively quiet, mostly virtual Pride season due to COVID—are suddenly scrambling to figure out how best to align with a #BLM movement kicked anew into high gear after the recent murders by cops and vigilantes of Black people, including Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
And many of them, being mainstream and largely non-Black-led LGBTQ organizations not founded (as was RPC) on a basis of police opposition, are struggling to figure out how to do it in a way that feels truly in allyship with Black anti-racist leadership in their cities, and not merely as a gesture of shallow performance, while also wondering how far they should go in attacking their local police—and potentially alienating Pride-goers who want the event to be more celebration than political action.
Already, there have been flubs. On June 3, Christopher Street West (CSW)—the organization that produces Los Angeles Pride, which had shut it down this year due to COVID-19—announced that they would in fact hold an IRL march on Hollywood Boulevard the morning of June 14, in solidarity with BLM.
Estevan Montemayor, the organization’s president and a Latinx gay man, told the L.A. Times, “We have been told that it is safer at home—and that is absolutely true. ... But as we reflect on what is occurring, I think it is very fair to say that it is absolutely necessary that we leave our homes and speak loudly and clearly about this injustice and peacefully protest.”
But in the following 48 hours, CSW got backlash not only for negotiating with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for a permit—which many said was antithetical to a march in solidarity with the goal of shrinking, if not altogether abolishing, police forces—but also for not sufficiently consulting with Black-led groups before announcing the march. On Friday, June 5, the group announced on its Instagram that it was reevaluating its plans:
“We would like to apologize for missteps in our rush to create the June 14th solidarity march meant to rally against the systemic social injustice the Black community faces every day,” read the post. “In that truly well-intentioned effort, we realized that we did not first collaborate with enough key leaders and activists in the Black community that have been fighting on the frontlines. For that we offer our sincerest apologies.”
Additionally, Jeff Consoletti, an event producer who was working with CSW on the march, withdrew his involvement, posting on Instagram, “CSW assured me they had the support of the Black queer community for their event, but it has become clear that is not entirely the case. ... I apologize and now see that these actions demonstrated the type of privileged, passive, and systemic issues that permeate society today. Our desire to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement was not carefully thought through.”
And a few days later, CWS announced they would be stepping back completely from organizing a June event—and that a June 14 protest would be managed by an advisory board of Black LGBTQ+ leaders and would not be billed as LA Pride, but as “All Black Lives Matter.”
No surprise, then, that various Pride organizations nationwide responded carefully and tentatively when asked by TheBody how, if at all, they planned to address and incorporate the #BLM movement into their Pride season this year.
San Francisco Pride replied that its president, Carolyn Wysinger (who is Black), had kicked off Pride Month with Mayor London Breed (the first Black woman elected the city’s mayor) in moderating a conversation called “Pride in Defense of Black Bodies.” More programming would soon be announced, they said.
In New York City, Heritage of Pride, the nonprofit that has long managed the city’s mainstream Pride events, has not announced that any of its COVID-sparked virtual events would have explicit billing around BLM or police violence issues. But on a June 10 phone call, David Correa, the group’s interim executive director, noted that the group’s June 26 digital events would be hosted by Black transgender figures Ashlee Marie Preston and Brian Michael Smith. He said that as a gay Puerto Rican man married to a Black man, “The last week or so has been extremely triggering. These are not new conversations we’re having.”
He also said that the group hoped to talk to Black Lives Matter reps in New York about further possible intersections, but had not yet. He also said that Heritage of Pride would not more explicitly link itself to BLM goals if they did not hear back from BLM.
“For us to try to put our stamp on that without their approval would be unfair,” he said. “If I were to come across something branded as [Heritage of Pride] and they were not connected to us, or in line with our messaging and mission, I would be offended.”
In Columbus, Ohio, Gerry Rodriguez, the president of the board of trustees of Stonewall Columbus, which organizes Pride there, emailed, “While nothing has been announced yet, we are fully committed to working in support of #BLM and uplifting Black LGBTQ+ voices and leaders. ... We are working closely with black leaders in our community, including Black, Out & Proud ... to enable their voices to lead the discussion right now.” (In an email to TheBody, the board of directors for Black, Out & Proud confirmed that “We are conversing with these organizations and exploring opportunities to center Black LGBTQ voices and experiences.”)
In Portland, Oregon, Debra Porta and Megan Reno at Pride Northwest emailed that the group was “committed to ensuring that actions we take are based on how the black queer and trans community wants and needs for us to show up. We are pivoting all of our virtual Pride efforts to center and lift up black LGBTQ+ voices and experiences this month, including an LGBTQ+ white call-in effort,” which Reno described as “dialogues and teachings that focus on the white community as the intended audience/participants” and that “generally revolve around white allyship and dismantling white supremacy in each other and in our communities.”
Reno added: “Anything we do regarding a separate LGBTQ+ march will only be done with the leadership of and in collaboration with black-led organizations and black queer and trans organizers. We are currently having those conversations.”
In Denver, Joe Foster at The Center on Colfax wrote: “The Center on Colfax stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and with everyone in our community who is heartbroken and outraged by the murder of George Floyd. As we celebrate Pride this month, we are also working to determine how best to honor George Floyd and the BLM movement within the safety guidelines we must all follow during the coronavirus pandemic. Those guidelines prevent us from obtaining a permit for large gatherings. While we explore other options, we welcome suggestions from community members.”
In Houston, Lo Moton-Roberts, the first Black woman president of Pride Houston, wrote, “Pride Houston will be announcing a [June 27] March/Rally to align with Black Lives Matter with an emphasis on Black Trans Lives Matter. However we do not do this alone. I have as well as many on my team reached out to individuals of Black Lives Matter, Black trans activists, Black activists, and so many more to join in on the efforts to amplify a message that has for far too long been suppressed.” When it came to such planning, Moton-Roberts continued, “Transparency is key, and the willingness to have an open conversation is the first step.”
In Oakland, Carlos Uribe, cochair of Oakland Pride, wrote, “We have encouraged our followers to engage locally in protests, rallies, and demonstrations and we feel that is the best way for the LGBTQ community to show our support and solidarity. We do not have a planned march or demonstration slated for June.” (Oakland’s Pride is actually in September.)
And on June 12, Boston Pride released a statement saying that, because it sought to “commit to an intentional focus on Black, Latinx and Transgender communities who have been disproportionately affected and to support and increase transgender visibility, voice and leadership,” it was “supporting the Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts (TEF) and the Trans Resistance Vigil and March that will be held on Saturday, June 13.”
Pride organizations that did not reply to an email from TheBody, or that said it was too early for them to say anything, were those in Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, and Milwaukee, among other cities.
How to Proceed
How far should mainstream Pride organizations go in allying with the goals of BLM without explicit consent or collaboration from leaders in BLM or other Black and/or Black and queer groups in a given city? Without such consent, which might be hard to come by at a time when BLM chapters are preoccupied with multiple daily street protests, is pushing forth a bold show of allyship—or does it risk appearing presumptuous and appropriative?
“I think it’s all performative unless [Pride orgs] are listening to demands led by grassroots Black activists on the ground,” says Emmelia Ruiz Talarico, the white and Puerto Rican organizing director for Washington, D.C.’s No Justice, No Pride, which three years ago severely disrupted mainstream D.C. Pride to protest its ties to the police and to corporations. “Here in D.C., we have Capital Pride, which has been grandstanding on their commitment to diversity and promoting M4BL [the Movement for Black Lives], but they won’t promote their demands. If you’re not [doing that], it’s just more optics for media.” Capital Pride did not respond by TheBody’s deadline.
Similar sentiments were expressed in the email from the board of directors of Black, Out & Proud in Columbus: “Non-Black-led Pride groups should not enact BLM solidarity statements or events without at least consultation with their local BLM or adjacent groups,” they wrote. “While attempts at solidarity are appreciated, ‘sense of urgency’ is a habit of white supremacy that non-Black-led LGBTQ organizations need to dispose of. ‘They didn’t get back to us on our timeline’ is simply not a valid reason for failing to exercise patience and grace with Black leadership that is obviously overwhelmed with taking care of their people in these times. If Los Angeles and other organizations intend to truly center Black lives, they shouldn’t demand adherence to white supremacist standards.”
To white-led Pride organizations nationwide, Jasmyne Cannick, a Black queer political strategist and journalist in LA who criticized Christopher Street West (CSW) over its (reversed) decision to hold a BLM solidarity march, says: “I don’t want you marching for or with me until you can honestly admit you’ve been racist all these years and you’re willing to make a change.” Cannick says that CSW has a long history of racist behavior, including, decades ago, not allowing Black booths to set up at Pride events and, last year, canceling the event’s hip-hop stage.
“Let me know you’re not just trying to co-opt this movement for yourselves,” says Cannick. “You need to start with letting us Black queer folks know what you’re going to do internally to make sure that, going forward, there will be no anti-Black behavior [from] you.”