Pride protest ignites stormy debate in D.C.’s LGBT community

No Justice No Pride activists end their self-imposed blockade and march down P Street. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The actions of protest group No Justice No Pride, members of whom formed a blockade Saturday evening that required the Capital Pride Parade to be rerouted and delayed by more than an hour, have inspired a wide range of strong reaction from parade participants, long-time D.C.-area LGBT activists, Capital Pride officials, observers and others.

Social media was ablaze Saturday and throughout the weekend with some saying the group, a self-described ad-hoc coalition of activists that “seeks to end the LGBT movement’s complicity in systems of oppression that harm LGBTQ2S (i.e. queer/two-spirit) communities,” ended up doing little more than angering and alienating people who should be their allies while others said the loudest denunciations seemed to come from cis, white, gay men who were mad because their party got delayed.

“I think their parade interruption was ill advised,” said Lane Hudson, a longtime, D.C.-based gay activist. “From what I know about Capital Pride, they are very open minded and welcoming. To suggest otherwise is simply not true. If there is a lack of LGBT, queer and two-spirit involvement, it’s because of a choice (by those folks) not to get involved in Capital Pride. … It’s about who shows up.”

SaVanna Wanzer, a Capital Pride board member, trans woman of color and founder of Transgender Pride (an official Capital Pride event), agrees.

“When we have our (Trans Pride) organizational meetings, it’s the same six people who show up every year along with the executive producer and producer of Capital Pride,” Wanzer said. “I don’t know if any of the protestors have any desire to volunteer with Capital Pride or not, but we’d love to have more trans people of color on the board.”

On Saturday, June 10 about 3:30 p.m., a couple hundred No Justice No Pride protesters held a march of their own on the Capital Pride Parade route walking together while pop songs blasted from a loudspeaker and participants chanted anti-corporate slogans. Later another group joined hands with a chain-like material on P Street between 15th and 16th streets, N.W. in the planned route of the parade. Ten protesters formed a chain, chanting slogans and clashing vehemently with bystanders. Eyewitnesses said they saw no violence erupt though some No Justice protesters say they were kicked and spit on.

The parade was significantly delayed and eventually was rerouted. There was a strong presence of D.C. Metro Police at the site of the protest. No arrests were made.

No Justice No Pride members distributed pink sheets in which they demanded that Capital Pride add more trans women of color to leadership positions, more stringently vet which corporate sponsors are allowed to give money to Capital Pride, prevent uniformed police officers and military personnel from participating in the parade because of fraught histories with these groups and LGBT people and many other issues. A full list of their demands can be found at nojusticenopride.org.

The group found supporters among the D.C.-area LGBT establishment.

“It does seem to be predominantly the cisgender, white gay men who are the most upset these people weren’t dragged away and arrested,” said one long-time local black lesbian activist who is not allowed to speak on the record because of her job. “But D.C. has a long history of allowing protesters to exercise their First Amendment rights. We’re not going to drag people from the street so you can continue to party. That’s ridiculous. This is a backlash against the white gay men from Logan Circle. Did they want this to turn into the next Ferguson? Think a little bit about the pros and cons and check your privilege at the door.”

Others, though, say the No Justice protesters had no interest in having their concerns addressed in a reasonable way and refused to back down. A pre-Pride meeting at National City Christian Church on May 8 was heated on both sides. No Justice No Pride plans a “debrief and forum” on Friday, June 23. Look for the group on Facebook for details.

“There are people out there who are never going to be satisfied, 100 percent no matter what you do,” Wanzer said. “They’re always going to have a complaint, they’re always going to have something to say. They say they’re protesting for the rights of trans people of color, but not all the local trans people of color are on the same page with them. We don’t need them to protest or speak out on our behalf. What they did was inappropriate because it took away from the enjoyment and the feel of Pride. If anything it backfired in a way because it made those of us in Capital Pride more unified.”

Others say the protesters have several good points but did themselves more harm than good with their tactics.

“It remains to be seen if tactics like disrupting Pride parades engage or alienate the community and allies,” said Dave Kolesar, a local white gay man. “And with regard to corporate sponsorships of Pride, there was a time not that long ago when finding corporations to sponsor events was nearly impossible as a conservative backlash would inevitably follow. So while it is always a legitimate concern to be able to strike the right balance between corporate and grassroots involvement, I would be cautious about pushing corporations away.”

Hudson agrees.

“Most of the corporations they are targeting have 100 percent ratings on the (Human Rights Campaign) Corporate Equality Index. While intersectionality is much needed, it cannot always require purity. Life, including activism, is a set of choices. Progress isn’t always perfect and it can always be built upon.”

Others say the No Justice No Pride protesters don’t understand the long and tangled history the D.C. LGBT community has with some of the groups they targeted. Cathy Renna, a longtime activist who spoke on behalf of Capital Pride this week, says she knows of trans folks who worked for defense contractors Northrop Grumman, one of the groups No Justice said was not an appropriate Pride sponsor, when they couldn’t continue their military service with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” still in effect.

And to tell military and police they weren’t welcome at the parade, Renna says, was unrealistic.

D.C. Pride protest, gay news, Washington Blade

No Justice No Pride protesters in action on Saturday (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“I think there was a good faith effort during and after the community forum to try and address some of these concerns, particularly with the police contingent but Capital Pride was not going to exclude them because they did not want to exclude any groups,” Renna said. “Most people understand the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit has a long history working with our local community and anytime you have a crowd of any size like that in D.C., there’s going to be a sizable police presence.”

“I have a lot of mixed feelings,” said Ruby Corado, a long-time D.C.-based trans activist who runs Casa Ruby, a local LGBT community center. “While I acknowledge that some of their issues are valid and I think there’s value to what the group is saying, I struggle with how they’re doing things. … I really do think shutting down the parade for three hours was a little bit too much, I really do, because there were a lot of people there, lots of trans and queer people of color, who’d worked really hard and were there to celebrate. Yes, sure, do hold Capital Pride accountable, but everyone needs to be held accountable, not just Capital Pride.”

Yet accounts of exactly what happened, how the protest was handled and who exactly was behind it differ based on whom you ask. Several local trans residents declined Blade requests for comment for fear of angering No Justice protesters.

Renna spotted a group of about 50-75 people carrying a tri-colored banner that said “No Justice No Pride — Queer & Trans Resistance” on Friday on 14th Street, N.W. and said it appeared to be a significantly different group than those who protested at the parade. Emmelia Talarico, a No Justice No Pride senior organizer said she had no knowledge of who that group was.

“As far as I know, that didn’t happen,” Talarico, a trans woman, said. “If some folks did that, they did not meet with us as representatives of No Justice No Pride.”

Talarico also denied other rumors circulating this week that some of the protesters at the Saturday parade were paid. She said the reality was quite the opposite.

“That’s not at all true,” she said. “We did pay for about six or seven people, black trans women, to perform at the healing space we had but that was because we felt that they deserved to be paid for their work like anyone else would be. No one who was in the blockades who took action in the street were paid. Some of us even emptied our bank accounts to make this happen.”

She also said assertions by some that the No Justice folks were far-left radicals who are out to destroy Pride in D.C. and in other cities is wildly inaccurate.

“We don’t want to destroy Pride, we want to make it better,” Talarico said. “It’s not about destroying Pride, it’s about making it into something that’s more representative of all of us and honors those of us who are struggling at the margins. A lot of this is coming from fissures that have been boiling beneath the surface for decades. The reason people are reacting so strongly is because we’re forcing them to see it for the first time in a long time.”

Accounts also vary as to how much dialogue happened in previous years about some of these issues and whether concerns were brushed aside and if Capital Pride was given a reasonable amount of time to address their concerns this year.

“I can honestly say that we as a team, and I’m speaking as a board member of Capital Pride, we are working as a team to better all or at least most of the issues they’re protesting,” Wanzer said. “But it can’t be done overnight. It’s an ongoing effort and we are taking steps and working on it.”

Wanzer said she finds it interesting that No Justice seemed to have no issue with Transgender Pride this year.

“The fact that there even is a Transgender Pride doesn’t fit their narrative, so they just ignored that,” she said.

Sgt. Brett Parson of D.C. Metro Police, a long-time spokesperson for the department, said no arrests were made because “it was a peaceful event,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Blade.

“As long as a First Amendment assembly is peaceful, MPD makes every effort to facilitate that expression of rights while also ensuring the safety and security of the community,” he said.

Talarico said that’s not true.

“I was not surprised but I was very disappointed at the way several folks, mostly cis, white gay men, were treating the activists,” she said. “We had bottles chucked at us, trash dumped on us, I got punched, shoved, kicked and spit at. We brought our own de-escalators. We came peacefully and with people trained to make sure this would be a non-violent protest.”

In a post-parade official statement, Capital Pride organizers said they were “troubled by reports that some onlookers responded to the protesters with verbal and physical harassment.”

There’s also confusion as to the degree to which GetEQUAL, an advocacy group that fights for LGBT issues “through confrontational but non-violent direct action” is intertwined with No Justice No Pride. GetEQUAL Director Angela Peoples has been active with No Justice. Talarico said the two groups have been working together.

No Justice No Pride’s list of demands of Capital Pride (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“We really respect them and love working with them,” Talarico said. “I definitely commend them for all the help they gave us. I would say they are a very good group.”

But as to rumors GetEQUAL may be behind similar protests in other cities, Talarico said she had no knowledge of such actions. Peoples did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We are aware of actions that have happened in Tel Aviv, in Boston, Pittsburgh and we know that there are actions being planned in Philadelphia, New York, somewhere in Washington and in San Francisco. Some of those folks have been reaching out to us asking for tips, advice and support.”

Talarico said she is unaware of any single group spearheading the efforts, though.

“Some of the narrative we’ve been pushing seems to be resonating with people across the country on their own issues and I think a lot of the grievances are shared,” she said. “A lot of these Prides have a lot of corporations that are trying to exploit trans and queer youth and a lot of those grievances are shared. I would like to see a lot of these cities work tightly with their local communities that are under attack and address their own grievances.”

Another recurring theme in some of the No Justice criticism is that the group has lost sight of who the real enemy is. Renna, a longtime activist who formerly worked with GLAAD and was around during the ACT UP AIDS protests in the ‘80s, says she’s never seen the LGBT community at this level of internal conflict before.

“We’ve certainly had disagreement in terms of tactics, but it’s just a bit heartbreaking to feel like people are now attacking other people personally and that has not happened in the past. There’s been such a complete lack of any benefit of the doubt or any sense of community negotiation that both sides understand in terms of the bigger picture and trying to do things realistically. Some of these demands are so overreaching and just not true.”

Deacon Maccubbin, who started Capital Pride in D.C. in 1975, said No Justice’s actions show ignorance of Pride history and are a disservice to the trans and LGBT people of color who enjoy the parade annually.

“There were so many disappointed people at the parade,” he wrote in an online post to a GetEQUAL social media comment that he gave the Blade permission to reprint. “There were kids of all colors and gender expressions who practiced for weeks to make their contingents, their dance routines, their signs and placards be something they could be proud of. Shame on you. There were huge numbers of people of color, joy visible on their faces, their voices strong and proud. … You stomped on their day of celebration. You had no consideration for what they may have gone through to be there and what sacrifices they may have made just to survive until 2017. … Today’s action was a total fail. There was nothing to be proud of in it.”

Capital Pride organizers said they will continue to “encourage a robust, civil and healthy conversation within the community about all of the issues that impact us … in the days, weeks and months ahead.”

The Blade’s Michael Key and Lou Chibbaro Jr. contributed to this report. 


Source: DC