No Justice No Pride protests across the U.S. | Source: No Justice No Pride/Facebook
In 2017, a group of activists descended on the Capital Pride parade in Washington, D.C. Queer, trans, people of color, native two-spirit, and gender non-conforming people decided that a parade which celebrated corporations that take advantage of them would not stand. Pride is built on a history of resistance and was started by a group of trans women of color who fought back against police brutality in their communities. In 2017, a group of activists in Washington, D.C. honored that tradition. They put their bodies on the line for that tradition. They celebrated and danced in the streets. It was quite a scene.
Pride is an odd holiday. But oh, it’s a holiday. It happens at roughly the same time every year. People gather around their traditions — whether they be parade or festival or brunch — to celebrate being different from the norm. There’s a defined color scheme. And people are very passionate about their traditions; they get quite angry when someone disrupts them.
Growing up, Pride was a festival that my dad and I stumbled upon in downtown Charleston, West Virginia. We were drawn to the tables; curious about a street festival we hadn’t heard of. At least 3 years in a row, we walked through the space until I felt something amiss. The people looked… different. Everything was rainbow-themed. Every year, my dad would ask someone what this was all about and upon the declaration — “It’s pride!”— we would scurry back to the car. My dad amused; my face bright red with embarrassment. It’s not that I thought being gay was wrong, but I knew this was a space of Others and that I wasn’t interested in being Other.
“The first vivid memory I have of Pride is when we were at Key West during Key West pride, and this older gentleman in a thong and a pink cape rides a bicycle past us. And I was like, ‘What is that?’ And my mom and sister together said, ‘That’s pride.’”
– DeLesslin “Roo” George-Warren
But that was earlier. Later, I moved to D.C. and I yearned to attend Pride. It was to be the ultimate reckoning and recognition of my queer identity. But when I finally built up the courage to go to the parade, I was shocked at what I found. This was no queer paradise. There were no go-go dancers. There were no naked people. There were hardly even beads being thrown into the crowd. Instead, I stood in the hot July heat and watched float after float of advertising churning down the street. Was I interested in getting married? Because the Marriott float steamed ahead with a multi-tiered white cake complete with two grooms chastely smooching on the top.
I stopped going to Pride after that. Sometimes, I would check out a Pride-themed after party or go over to friends’ for Pride brunch. I couldn’t imagine subjecting myself to the boredom and disappointment of the parade once more.
One of the powers of the queer and trans community is our ability to exist outside of a society that historically rejects us. Commercializing Pride dilutes that power by weakening the message of resistance and change and commodifying the event instead.
Then, in 2016, a horrible man was elected to the office of President of the United States. Although he claimed to be one for the LGBT’s, it was clear he was not one for the black and brown folks, the indigenous folks, the poor folks, the women folks, the anyone-but-himself-and-people-like-him folks. Activists scurried around organizing for various causes. Making sure the man in office knew that we stand up for our communities — all of our communities — and we do it in the streets.
“My first Pride was when I was 16, and me and my best friends took the train up to Chicago. I had always wanted to go because, mostly, I didn’t see queerness in my community, so I needed to be in a place where that was more visible. It was really exciting and a little nerve wracking because you’re nervous to be around folks. It’s terrifying and anxiety inducing. It’s exhilarating, but also like a panic attack.”
– Ale Jacinto
In the weeks after the election, a march was announced. First, it was called the “Gay March.” Which, if you don’t know, is a horrible name for a march that brands itself as any sort of inclusive. “G” is far from the only letter in LGBTQ2SA+. Then the march organizers changed the name to the “Equality March,” to be held the Sunday after the Capital Pride parade.
Meanwhile, Capital Pride carried on as scheduled. The itinerary was not to be changed. This was not a political event. I couldn’t comprehend it. The LGBTQ+ community has always been one for political and social activism. Look at any of the social and political advances in the past 20 (although one could certainly look further) years! And yet, no, the parade was to continue. The Marriott cake would stand! One of the powers of the queer and trans community is our ability to exist outside of a society that historically rejects us. Commercializing Pride dilutes that power by weakening the message of resistance and change and commodifying the event instead.
I showed up to my first Pride with trepidation and excitement. I was deflated when I saw that it was a showcase of national corporations decked out in rainbow.
And not only would the parade continue, I learned from friends that Wells Fargo would be marching in the parade. Wells Fargo, the bank that funds the Dakota Access Pipeline. The same place where Two-Spirit activists and their relatives were sprayed by water cannons for their attempts to protect the water. Wells Fargo, the same bank that funds private prisons and detention centers and supports the deportation of undocumented citizens. They were to march in the parade. I was outraged. It wasn’t as if I had plans to go to the parade anyway. I’m crowd-averse and again with the Marriott cake. But how could anyone go when Wells Fargo would be marching? Were we supposed to cheer as they marched by?
No Justice No Pride protest against Wells Fargo | Source: No Justice No Pride/Facebook
I then learned that the D.C. police would also be marching in the parade. As would Lockheed Martin, the weapons manufacturer. There should be no police and certainly no human-killing weapons in a queer paradise.
“This must’ve been when I was 13 and I was with my parents in New York City […] And we’re from Russia, where there are no Pride parades. And it’s very strange to people who are born and raised in Russian culture to see people out and about talking about one’s sexuality and one’s gender […] But we went, we totally did go and some leather daddies hit on my dad, who was totally into it and it was great. And I had a lovely time feeling lost in a sea of people who may or may not have had some shared life experiences with me.”
– Anna Kark
To you, I say, we had to do something. And by we, I mean me. Because up until this point, I believed Pride had let me down personally. It hadn’t celebrated me and my identity and my journey of self-acceptance. I showed up to my first Pride with trepidation and excitement. I was deflated when I saw that it was a showcase of national corporations decked out in rainbow. The parade didn’t represent my interests. But it wasn’t until the election that I had to grapple with how self-involved my critique of D.C. Pride had been. This parade made me feel uncomfortable but to those who were being personally victimized by corporations and police in their communities, the parade was completely alienating.
“I want people who have previously had the experience of being complacent to see that they can no longer be complacent […] I don’t just want justice for myself. I want justice for everyone. None of us are free until all of us are free.”
– Anna Kark
On the Friday before the parade, I joined the No Justice No Pride Night March through the city. There was no permit. We took to the streets with signs and whistles and lights and joy and anger. We chanted “no justice, no pride” until it was a song and the beat propelled our feet forward. My favorite part of the march was when we stopped at Vapiano, a local restaurant, to stand in solidarity with workers there who were on strike. A woman stood up and gave testimony over the bull horn and shared how she was fired after speaking up and asking for a regularly scheduled lunch break for her and her coworkers. As we walked away, both of our groups waved goodbye and cheered each other.
The next day was the parade, and the sun blazed down.
Before the Capital Pride parade was set to begin, I joined a group of No Justice No Pride activists for the Day March. The chants were similar, but this time we marched the parade route, pushing aside barriers and handing out hot pink flyers about why we were demonstrating. I felt powerful shoving our position papers into reluctant hands. I made eye contact with people waiting for the parade until they turned away. I was a presence and a body saying, “No, this parade, this event does not represent my interests or the interests and needs of my community.”
“The first time I came out to a larger group of people I was in Vancouver, and I was flirting with this French Canadian guy. I think that it was Vancouver pride when we all went out on one night. Or it was just a gay club, maybe. Oh, either way, I realized, this is what Pride feels like.”
– DeLesslin “Roo” George-Warren
I didn’t lock down and block the Pride Parade. That honor was reserved for a brave group of Indigenous and Black and Trans and people of color activists who put their bodies on the line and physically stopped the parade. I’m very proud of them. They waited at strategic points along the parade route. They designated “carers” to make sure everyone was drinking water, using the restroom, not letting the overwhelming anxiety of action weigh them down, and ensuring everyone’s needs were met.
Source: No Justice No Pride/Facebook
At three different points, activists moved barricades back, entered the parade route, and, with their hands connected inside PVC tubes, they sat down. I hear there were jeers and taunts of “no one cares” screamed from fellow queers. At least one water bottle was thrown. A group of parade goers streamed onto the parade route and began to physically intimidate the demonstrators.
“I’m a member of NJNP, but that’s not to say that there aren’t Pride events that I don’t think are meaningful. For example, the trans youth ball every year is a very meaningful way to take back some of the corporatization and violent ways that pride has been used. And reflect back on what is needed in the community.”
– Anna Kark
There was also caring. And making sure everyone felt safe. Indigenous activists burned sage.
There were people who were very angry. And then there were people who became less angry after hearing what the protests were about. There are still many angry people who decided that the protest was about them and an attack on “their” pride. There’s a War on Christmas I hear; no holiday is exempt from its purists.
So what changed as a result of Pride 2017? Well. First, a lot of people’s minds were changed. Not just those who witnessed the actions and had a change of heart. Their minds are changed when they see the commitment of those organizing, when they sit down for a conversation and share their views and opinions and feelings. Second, because of the hard work of No Justice No Pride activists, Casa Ruby — a shelter and community center for LGBTQ+ youths experiencing homelessness — led the parade. NJNP also led a Trans Night of Healing the evening after the parade, continuing an enduring tradition of caring within the queer/trans community. Lastly, probably a multitude of other things. Try not to quantify change.
For me, this was the year that I told my dad, who I had participated in Pride with so many years ago, that I went back to Pride and disrupted some shit.
What is Pride?
“It’s about community. It’s about reinforcing ideas about who we are and who we stand with and what’s important to us. And from there, taking action. Pride is political and it always has to be political until everyone is free. I think the point is, anyone that heteronormativity leaves out systematically deserves a space in pride. And that’s where the big intersectional conflict is, because some people say, ‘Oh, everyone should negate their differences, a.k.a how they’re different from whiteness, when they’re coming to Pride,’ but I say like, ‘No, instead this should be a space where everyone can come together exactly as they are and see each other as like siblings in this specific way and build solidarity from there.'”
– DeLesslin “Roo” George-Warren
Thank you to those who spoke with me about this essay including: DeLesslin “Roo” George-Warren, Anna Kark, Ale Jacinto, and T. Chase Meacham. Your thoughts and words were beautiful and helpful in crafting this.
To read more about No Justice No Pride and donate to the cause: http://nojusticenopride.org/
Assorted media coverage of the June protests:
- Can a Pride Be Proud with Unethical Corporate Sponsorships? – Vice News
- Protesters Disrupt D.C. Pride Parade, Seek a ‘Different Vision’ For the Event – Huffington Post
- No Justice No Pride protesters disrupt Capital Pride parade – Washington Blade
- Pride protest ignites stormy debate in D.C.’s LGBT community – Washington Blade