By ROZWELL SIMMONS
— NEW YORK — In the years since Stonewall, corporations have jumped on the opportunity to use Pride as a means of profit; it has been perverted into a cash grab for companies. This corporatization has played a large role in the depoliticization of Pride. Naturally, it is in the best interests of the ruling class to distract oppressed people from engaging in movement building. Of course, separating politics from Pride is completely counter to everything Pride stands for; the first pride parade was a police brutality march in response to the raids at the Stonewall Inn, a haven for queer folks.
The Queer Liberation March, organized by the Reclaim Pride Coalition of New York City, occurred on June 30, the same day as the more popular LGBT Pride March organized by the Heritage of Pride organization. The Queer Liberation March drew over 45,000 people to the streets of Manhattan, recreating the same route of the original Pride march in 1969, which started at the Stonewall Inn and traveled 4.5 miles to The Great Lawn in Central Park.
Following this route was just one example of organizing done to emulate the first Pride. The Queer Liberation March aimed to decommercialize and repoliticize pride, attempting to rekindle the revolutionary spirit that was so vibrant 50 years ago.
From the Reclaim Pride Coalition’s statement on Why We March: “We March in our communities’ tradition of resistance against police, state, and societal oppression, a tradition that is epitomized and symbolized by the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion. We March against the exploitation of our communities for profit and against corporate and state pinkwashing, as displayed in Pride celebrations worldwide, including the NYC Pride Parade.”
Instead of the pay to march and corporate/police diversity celebration of the Heritage of Pride march, the Queer Liberation March represented an organic and open movement of queer people to celebrate their identities on their own terms and to continue the political fight for queer liberation that began with the Stonewall riots.
The militancy and enthusiasm of those involved was inspiring. Marchers held slogans for a broad spectrum of struggles, including immigrant rights, trans rights, against police brutality, pink washing, and for the liberation of Palestine. Chants such as “We have nothing to lose but our chains” and “The people united will never be defeated” echoed in the streets, indicating a consciousness that went beyond gender and sexuality. Many social political issues and oppressed groups were represented, and almost 200 groups endorsed the event. Participants expressed overwhelming solidarity for their comrades as well as a fundamental opposition to the police, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, etc.
After the march, a rally was held on The Great Lawn in Central Park. Speakers included protesters and witnesses of the original rebellion at Stonewall, a survivor of the Orlando Pulse shooting, and a Nigerian queer activist, among many others.
Speaker Staceyann Chin’s stirring words on the hypocrisy of mainstream Pride, as well as the ravaging of the planet and its people via imperialism, brought thunderous applause at every clause. Paraphrasing some of the speech: “What is there to be proud of when the average lifespan for trans women of color is 30 years? What is there to be proud of when corporate Pride marches through the same ghettos where Black boys are swallowing semen to survive, where race and gender-based violence are ignored because too many people think we’re past that?”
Chin’s words reiterated the main point of the march and rally: Pride must be political because queer people are still suffering from the same oppression they fought years ago. To merely celebrate an empty diversity is a slap in the face to people who are still struggling to survive; it is a gross and reckless display of privilege do any sort of celebrating without acknowledging just how far the movement still has to go. A huge banner at the rally stage declared, “None are free until all are free.”
As a queer man, this march made me feel something much more than pride for my identity. It made me proud of my efforts to bring about change, proud to be part of a movement that fights for the liberation of all oppressed groups (not just queer people). It just goes to show the evanescent nature of fulfillment under capitalism one may feel during corporate pride means nothing compared to the pride that comes from fighting for one’s freedoms and winning.
Furthermore, the feeling of being at peace with and accepted regardless of one’s identity and the sense of unity that accompanies genuine community is not something that can be purchased. Corporate pride leaves something to be desired: solidarity and comradeship.
The march made clear two points: One is that the common proclamation that pride should be a celebration and not political is wrong. The queer liberation march made evident that protest can be cheerful and celebratory as much as it can be political. The current pride organized by Heritage of Pride is not as apolitical as it makes itself out to be. To celebrate “diversity” and new acceptance from cops and companies is a political statement. Whereas every other day these organizations are attacking queer people, they deserve no platform to pinkwash themselves during pride.
Secondly, the march represents an extremely conscious, militant wing of many movements, including Black Lives Matter and the struggles for immigrant rights, universal health care, and public housing. It is impossible to participate in any of these movements without recognizing the leadership and work of these activists.
It is likewise impossible to build a movement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter without recognizing the violence that LGBTQ people face. How can we advance the movement against police brutality without recognizing that trans women of color are especially targeted in homicides? If we do not represent those who are the most oppressed, who are we fighting for?
Queer people exist at the crossroads of many movements we participate it, and it should come as no surprise that LGBTQ issues are brought up almost every contemporary movement. The emergence of a renewed political pilotage among the queer community is indicative of a new generation of militant queer activists who have come to recognize the need for change, as well as their capacity to bring about that change. This gives me hope for the future of mass movements.