The theme of this year’s LGBTQ Pride Parade was “Defiantly Different,” but when activists from Reclaim Pride, a group I’ve participated in, organized Wristband Resisters to challenge the requirement from the parade organizers, Heritage of Pride (HOP), that all marchers register and obtain wristbands from them, the organizers pushed back, sought the aid of the NYPD in keeping bandless people out, and ultimately surrendered to hundreds of bandless people who wanted to march in the Resistance contingents to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion.
About 50 rebels gathered on West 23rd Street and marched to the entry for the Resistance contingents on Eighth Avenue and 17th Street. Mark Milano, the lead organizer, said, “Almost 40 years ago, the first act I took as a then-closeted gay man was to spontaneously join the Gay Pride Parade. That same thing has been done by thousands of others and now it can no longer happen because we are required to wear wristbands and stay behind barricades. Pride is supposed to be all about inclusion, not exclusion.”
Emmaia Gelman of Irish Queers, there with her wife, activist Staci Smith, and their kids, expressed frustration at the refusal of parade organizers to “respond to queers that are made to feel unsafe” by the presence of uniformed police in the parade. She said organizers “are supposed to hold this [the honoring of the Rebellion] in stewardship and they fuck it up.” She called for boycotting HOP’s event next year and leaving it to the corporations that overwhelmed this year’s event, joining many others in calling for an LGBTQ civil rights march next year with no floats or corporations.
When the Wristband Resisters arrived at the checkpoint, Heritage of Pride was prepared to let the 50 in, but the Resisters launched a successful effort to remove the barricades altogether from the entrance to the street, allowing hundreds of others who didn’t have wristbands to enter 17th Street and join the parade. Heritage of Pride representatives on hand called upon the NYPD to assist them in keeping people out, but the police relented as well.
Jeremiah Johnson of Reclaim Pride voiced concern about the collusion between NYC Pride and the NYPD, “but there were no arrests and that’s positive,” he said. “Having to fight to get people inside is ridiculous and demoralizing.”
Randi Weingarten, the out lesbian president of the American Federation of Teachers, was at the head of 17th Street welcoming the new marchers.
“This is a pride parade and a civil rights march, and they need to make sure that groups engaged in civil rights issues” are given more prominence, she said.
Waiting to step out with the Resistance was Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York who called the police presence “oppressive.”
“The fact that they are enforcing the wristband thing is indicative of the way they treat marginalized groups,” Newsome said.
“White groups and mainstream groups are given unlimited freedom,” he said, citing parades such as St. Patrick’s, “but at the Puerto Rican Day Parade the police presence is intrusive.”
Some marchers reported that HOP enforcers tried to remove some participants who did not have wristbands on.
The parade kicked off at noon, led by the Sirens on motorcycles and followed by the grand marshals, but Heritage of Pride lets elected officials step out right behind them, hogging prime slots. In the early post-Stonewall Pride Marches that culminated in rallies, elected officials were forbidden to speak.
As in past years, HOP failed to efficiently run the parade on anything remotely like an on-time schedule. While Resistance contingents were positioned near the front last year in the wake of the Donald Trump’s election, they were shoved toward the back this year — told to assemble at 3 p.m. for a 3:30 step-off. These contingents did not get out onto Seventh Avenue until past 5 p.m. and did not finish the short march, now restricted to Chelsea and the Village and trailing off in the Flatiron District, until well after 7 p.m.
Waiting to step off, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum from Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, who is married to the AFT’s Weingarten, said her synagogue was founded in 1973, “one of the oldest LGBT groups in the city. And it’s 4:15 and we’re still waiting to march.”
When the Wristband Resisters arrived at the HOP reviewing stand on Fifth Avenue at Eighth Street, they threw chains of plastic wristbands at the feet of the organizers to protest the new restrictions.
“I’m angry at being barricaded in and over-policed,” Milano said. “It’s dissipating my real message today, which is against the horrible Trump administration.”
Allen Roskoff, who — with the Gay Activists Alliance that included the late Jim Owles — participated in organizing the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March in 1970, kept his Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club out of the event this year and did not march himself.
“With Donald Trump in the White House, having a parade is uncalled for,” he said. “It needed to be a march. There’s really nothing to celebrate or dance about.”
Reclaim Pride is determined that Stonewall 50 will not be a repeat of this year’s parade. Open community meetings will hash out a strategy.
“Let’s ensure that World Pride in NYC next June shows the world that we are still fighting for our rights and those of all oppressed people, not simply offering corporate America a marketing platform,” a flyer from the group read.
The next organizing meeting is Saturday, June 30 at 1:30 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center. Information is available at ReclaimPrideNYC.org.