A town hall meeting organized by the Reclaim Pride Coalition featured complaining about how Heritage of Pride (HOP) administers New York City’s annual Pride Parade and the commercialization and policing of that event, but the crowd of roughly 70 came to no conclusion as to the steps they will take to see the changes they want realized.
“This is the event that represents LGBTQ issues to the world,” said Jeremiah Johnson, a member of Rise and Resist, an activist group that formed in response to Donald Trump winning the White House. “We need Heritage of Pride to organize with us and not make everything such a goddamn fucking fight all the time… We absolutely cannot continue to ignore the issue of policing. This is the issue for white people to show if they are going to show up for people of color.”
The Coalition spent more than three weeks formulating a series of demands that were delivered to HOP, the NYPD, and the de Blasio administration on April 25. The demands include allowing a resistance contingent in this year’s Pride Parade, limiting the policing during and after the event, and requiring that members of the Gay Officer’s Action League (GOAL) who march in the parade be barred from wearing police uniforms and carrying weapons.
The demands have been endorsed by ACT UP, the HIV activist group, Rise and Resist, and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA), a group that opposes Israeli policy toward Palestinians. The two-hour town hall was held at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center on May 4 and was intended to grow support for the Coalition’s efforts.
The town hall was moderated by Jamila Hammami, a founder and executive director of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, and longtime community activist Ann Northrop. With 30 minutes remaining in the meeting, Northrop suggested that attendees turn their attention to next steps, but they largely did not. Those will be discussed at the Coalition’s next meeting on May 12 at the Center.
Maryanne Roberto Fine, a HOP co-chair, and Julian Sanjivan, HOP’s march director, attended the meeting along with a third HOP volunteer. They did not speak. They had to endure some harsh criticism throughout the meeting as they listened quietly.
“There is a history of the Pride March not being so friendly with those of us on the more radical side of things,” said Kate Barnhart, executive director of New Alternatives, an organization that assists homeless LGBTQ youth.
Last year, some of the groups that comprise the Coalition sought and won a place near the front of the parade as the resistance contingent. The argument was that Trump’s election required such a statement. Like this year, HOP resisted admitting the resistance contingent last year. (It later relented.) It has not responded to the other demands made this year. The critiques of HOP appeared to prompt some town hall participants to soften their language later in the meeting.
“The truth is I really appreciate a lot of what HOP does,” said Jake Tolan, a Rise and Resist member. “It’s really hard to plan an event of this size and they do it all year. I don’t want to take on those responsibilities… I do feel like consistently we’re not being heard.”
The police presence in Pride marches has prompted protests in a half dozen North American cities, including in New York City last year. A dozen members of Hoods4Justice were arrested when they blockaded Christopher Street during the parade just as GOAL was approaching. The protests occurred yards from the Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 riots that mark the start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
Police in Toronto were barred from marching in uniform in that city’s Pride Parade last year following protests by Toronto Black Lives Matter in 2016. GOAL responded by inviting LGBTQ members of the Toronto police to march with them in New York City’s Pride March.
Last year, Hoods4Justice said its protest was against the police and corporations in the parade. The crowd booed the protestors. It is now saying that it acted at the request of Toronto Black Lives Matter.
“The reason we were there that day we were asked by Toronto Black Lives Matter in solidarity to stop the Toronto police to march,” Michael Basillas said during the town hall.
Tolan read a statement from one Hoods4Justice member who was arrested during the protest. That activist was at the town hall, but chose to remain anonymous.
“This activist said, ‘At times, communication may have been lacking as far as what was happening,’” Tolan said. “People on the sidelines didn’t understand that they were protesting police specifically and thought that they were protesting Pride in general.”
Ken Kidd, who is active in Rise and Resist and previously in ACT UP and Queer Nation, was the lead organizer of last year’s resistance contingent. He has not participated in this year’s organizing though he attended the town hall. Kidd said that the focus should be on the 2019 Pride march, which will mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that we’re going to get a lot of the things that we are asking for in the next seven weeks,” Kidd said. “We have an opportunity right now for next year’s WorldPride event, in 2019, the 50th anniversary.”
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