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At the Heart of the Pride Movement

Pride Movement
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50th Anniversary of the NYC Pride Parade Cancelled Due to Coronavirus Pandemic

This past month, the usually packed streets of New York in celebration of Pride were instead transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic into nearly empty ones. This year would have been the 50th anniversary of the NYC Pride Parade, but to the dismay of many, Mayor Bill DeBlasio canceled it back in April 2020 due to the rise of COVID-19 cases, along with other large gatherings in commemoration of Pride. But the lack of parades and street celebrations cannot cancel or postpone the essence of pride; instead, LGBTQ+ activists and allies are left to re-envision the meaning of pride.

Now, more than ever, it is important to understand and to fight against the suffering of marginalized groups. For instance, a study from last year found that black men were 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police officers at some point in their life than their white counterparts, and another study found that unarmed black men were also twice as likely to be shot by police. The fight agaisnt unfair discrimination from law enforcement has gained momentum as Black Lives Matter protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and many other blacks, also victims of police brutality, have spread nationwide. And although coming together to parade for Pride this year was not an option, let us not forget the origin of Pride; a riot against the unfair prosecution of members of the LGBTQ+ community by police officers.

The Stonewall riots were, and still are, a pivotal moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. During the 1960s, gay bars in New York were commonly raided by police, who charged their patrons with “non-gender appropriate clothing” and “solicitation of homosexual relations.”  On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided in the early hours of the morning, when the police started dragging workers and customers out of the bar. Suddenly, an uprising began, prompted by bystanders, neighbors, and other patrons fed up with constant harassment and discrimination from the police force. The violent encounter was followed by six days of protests and set the stage for LGBTQ+ activists to fight against discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity. A year later, the first Pride march in New York City was held in honor of the Stonewall’s anniversary, first referred to as the Christopher Street Liberation March. 

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Pride has always been more than summer parades, drag shows, and parties. The Stonewall riots marked just the beginning of the modern Gay Liberation Movement. No longer were members of the LGBTQ+ community to be silenced. Since 1969, many milestones have been achieved for those in the community, such as the legalization of gay marriage and the legal protection of transgender and queer people seeking jobs. Hence, Pride is much more than the “carnival” some claim it to be.  Pride is about fighting against inequality and defying mainstream values that characterize queerness as anything else than normal. However, the commercialization of the New York City Pride over the years and the heavy sponsorship of companies that use Pride as a way to advertise their business have left many questioning whether it still symbolizes what it once stood for.

Now, because of COVID-19, we have a chance to recalibrate and to finally listen to the voices that have been longing to be heard.  LGBTQ+ advocate and writer, Carmen Maria Machado, wrote in The New York Times, “It feels important, somehow, that a pandemic abolished the old Pride — the one boasting corporate floats and swag and friendly police officers, the one with a schedule and a permit — and gave us a call to action: room to reimagine what it means to be queer, and to act accordingly.”

The Reclaim Pride Coalition was started by activists trying to move away from the heavy commercialization of Pride, claiming to “March against the exploitation of our communities for profit and against corporate and state pinkwashing.” Last year, they organized their first event, the Queer Liberation March, which happened the same day as New York City Pride, but without any corporate sponsorships and less of a presence from the New York Police Department, whose attendance they believe goes against what Pride truly stands for.

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The Reclaim Pride Coalition claims that there is no place for the NYPD at Pride, as LGBTQ+ people continue to be statistically more likely to suffer from discrimination from law enforcement. A study by the Anti-Violence Project found that transgender people were seven times more likely to experience physical violence during interactions with the police compared to their cisgender counterparts.

This year, the group lost hope of being able to march again. Nonetheless, with the Black Lives Matter protests gaining momentum, they unanimously decided to show their support by marching for Pride while also elevating black voices, protesting police violence on the very same streets where the Stonewall riots took place.

Another group of activists also sought to celebrate pride and to bring attention to LGBTQ+ issues that often go overlooked. It all started when West Dakota, a drag performer from Brooklyn, wanted to bring awareness to the disproportionate amount of police violence against black transgender people. She was inspired by the 1917 march organized by the NAACP, which gathered thousands of people dressed in white to protest harassment and violence against the black community. With the help of organizations like the Okra Project and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, on Sunday, June 14, 2020, the streets of Brooklyn were able to safely accommodate 15,000 people marching for black trans lives.

Ultimately, although June 2020 in New York did not go as expected with Pride events due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the spirit of pride itself was as powerful as ever, and it will continue to be, as long that there are those who are willing to fight for the right of people to live safely, to be their authentic selves and to be treated as equals regardless of their skin color, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

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Photo by Craig Elliot from FreeImages.

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