By ANN MONTAGUE
This is a pivotal year for the LGBTQ movement and particularly for Pride events around the country. While we have seen some victories, the most important have remained beyond our grasp. We still have no federal nondiscrimination law that bans employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Democrats use it to campaign to our community on it and once elected let it languish, never to be heard of again.
On top of this basic hole in the equality map, we are facing state rollbacks of protections we have gained and threats to move to rehearing settled cases such as marriage equality. We also are experiencing increasing numbers of acts of violence against lesbians, gay men, and especially trans women of color.
Most recently, on July 26 in Phoenix, police were looking for a man who was caught on videotape walking into an LGBT youth center carrying a gas can, pouring its contents on the floor, and leaving. Seconds later the room went up in flames. The following day in Cleveland, a group attacked a transgender resident with a brick, a wooden plank, and a helmet and then posted it on Snapchat. Two men and two women hit, stomped, and kicked the 20-year-old victim at an apartment complex. A family member said that a group had terrorized the victim for months prior to the attack.
The spirit of Stonewall
Most Pride events are celebrations of community and visibility that begin in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall uprising. This was a defining moment in the modern LGBT rights movement when a tired, angry, and oppressed community took to the streets. The early Pride marches were all about “Gay Liberation” and “Gay Freedom”. As we are moving towards the 50th anniversary of Stonewall in 2019, it will be inevitable that we look back at where we have been and where we are now.
For years now, many have complained about what Pride marches have become. Some have quit going, while others grumble about the Stonewall memories fading, and often there is a lone group marching with a sign, “Remember Stonewall.” Others have complained not about the marches and celebration of our victories but how our community is now treated like a marketplace where corporations are rebranding themselves to appear LGBT friendly. Pride became a place where insurance companies and major corporations would hawk their wares. Some wondered how we got there from a celebration of an uprising of an oppressed community.
Just exactly how terribly pervasive this had become was exposed for all to see in 2013 when the San Francisco Pride Board overturned the normal process of picking Parade Marshals and rejected the choice of Chelsea Manning. This was a symbolic gesture since at the time Manning was in custody at a military prison in Kansas awaiting court-martial for leaking government documents to the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks. Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who in 1971 leaked classified information about the Vietnam War (The Pentagon Papers), had agreed to participate on Manning’s behalf. Despite the rejection by the board, 2500 LGBT community members marched behind the banner “Pride In Our Whistleblower.”
As a result of this high profile struggle in the LGBT community, many activists in cities and towns around the country were surprised to hear that not only did the largest LGBT gathering in the country have a board of directors who made all the major decisions but that there was actually such a thing as an SF Pride CEO. So much corporate money was involved in San Francisco Pride that they created a CEO position!
When most people think about the Stonewall uprising they think it was just one isolated night when LGBT patrons of a bar fought back against police harassment. But it continued for a number of days with organizing, posting leaflets during the day, and confronting the police at night. This was not an isolated event but took place in the midst of an ongoing student radicalization, antiwar movement, and growing Black liberation and women’s liberation movements. There was a reason that one of the first organizations after Stonewall was called the Gay Liberation Front.
Pride was different this year
We are once again entering a time of resistance, so it should not be a surprise to anyone that Pride should be different this year. In many cities around the country there were new discussions about solidarity with all groups who are under attack. Struggles against racism, sexism, immigrants, and Islamophobia all include LGBTQ individuals.
In New York City, with one of the oldest and largest Pride marches in the country, demonstrators who opposed police involvement in the march filled the streets around the Stonewall Inn, the site of the historic LGBT uprising in 1969. This protest was affiliated with the group “No Justice, No Pride” and describes itself as a “local coalition of queer and trans folks working to end the LGBTQ movement’s complicity with systems that oppress.”
A current lawsuit alleges that an NYPD cop beat up a gay man while yelling anti-gay slurs at him during the 2014 Pride Parade and just last year Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the NYPD did not have to apologize to the LGBTQ community for police brutality during the Stonewall uprising.
In Washington, D.C., people blocked the march in protest against the corporate sponsorship of Wells Fargo because of its funding of the Dakota Access Pipeline. No Justice, No Pride DC said they had unsuccessful negotiations with Capitol Pride trying to get them to stop banking with Well Fargo. Jen Deerinwater, a Two Spirit member of the Cherokee Nation, told NBC, “I cannot understand why Capitol Pride would work with an organization that is actively causing harm to our community members.”
One exception was LA Pride, which changed its name to #ResistMarch to reflect the inclusive nature of their Pride 2017 plans. The first march in Los Angeles was in 1970 and it was to show solidarity with the Stonewall uprising and to protest ongoing police brutality against the LGBT community.
To emphasize that this year was a protest march, Brian Pendleton, one of the Los Angeles organizers, issued a statement when they changed their website and replaced LA Pride with #ResistMarch: “This year the LGBTQ community is lending our iconic rainbow flag to anyone who feels like their rights are under threat and to anyone who feels like America’s strength is in its diversity. The political climate we find ourselves in has driven us to galvanize and unite.” Tens of thousands of people responded with one of the biggest marches of 2017.