This month, the social justice group No Justice No Pride (NJNP) disrupted the Capital Pride parade in Washington, D.C. The protest attracted a lot of coverage, including some high-profile endorsements of the collaborative’s demands, which focus on ending Pride’s general complicity with corporate and state institutions that criminalize, harm, and exploit queer and trans people. Just as the D.C. group, of which I am a member, was inspired by recent actions in Phoenix and Toronto, groups across the country have picked up the NJNP baton and are now protesting at the local level.
The D.C. action has prompted some commentators to promote false claims about the history and present realities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual, and two-spirit (LGBTQIA2S) communities. This article corrects those myths.
MYTH #1: Pride is a celebration, not a protest. Our community has no battles left to fight.
FACT: Pride marches commemorate a rebellious insurgency against police brutality and exploitation at the hands of bar owners who colluded with the police. The 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City was led by trans women of color, and it sparked a movement. Even though “gay liberation” has evolved into “LGBTQIA2S rights” over the past 60 years, power within “our community” has been overwhelmingly consolidated in the hands of white, cisgender men.
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A “community,” by definition, is only safe when all of its members are fully safe. We are not safe. We have many battles to fight, especially with #45 in the White House. People who do not recognize that fact hold a set of privileges that protect them from the daily harms faced by LGBTQIA2S and non-binary people who are also immigrant, Black, Latinx, Muslim, indigenous, disabled, low-income, and/or homeless. It’s time to get educated.
MYTH #2: Having police in the parade makes Pride safer.
FACT: The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington, D.C., has a long history of violence toward the LGBTQIA2S community, in particular our Black, Native, Latinx, low-income, trans, and gender-nonconforming members. Police profiling of LGBTQIA2S people, particularly people of color, is endemic. In D.C., members of our community are routinely criminalized for “driving while Black” or “walking while trans.”
According to 2015’s National Transgender Survey, 58 percent of all trans people who had interacted with the police within the past year reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or assault. A staggering one in five Native transgender women reported having been “physically attacked, sexually assaulted, and/or forced to engage in sexual activity to avoid arrest by a police officer” in the past year alone. As D.C.-based poet and educator Bianca Vazquez eloquently explains: When Capital Pride invites armed, uniformed police officers to march in Pride, they force LGBTQIA2S people to walk with and publicly praise their oppressors.
As for the claim that an increased police presence at Pride promotes safety, after the Pulse massacre queer and trans people of color repeatedly explained that increased policing at Pride made them less safe, not more. Native women agreed. Black Lives Matter refused the organizational grand marshal role in San Francisco Pride in 2016 for the same reason. We cannot stop the MPD from policing Pride in the name of “public safety.” We can, and must, refuse to celebrate an institution that brutalizes our communities.
MYTH #3: Corporations have been at “the forefront” of the LGBT rights movement. They are our allies!
FACT: LGBTQIA2S people have fought for our rights, including within our places of work. Corporations are not people. Corporations joined in only when “equality” became profitable. This is not a revelation. Corporations have been remarkably honest about why they chase the “pink dollar.”
During the first AIDS crisis, for example, people created pill buyers clubs, mutual aid societies, housing organizations, and soup kitchens. People campaigned ceaselessly for justice. Corporations? They fired, demonized, and exploited us. More recently, pharmaceutical companies with “100” ratings on the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Index have been associated with predatory trials on homeless people, fined billions for illegally marketing drugs, and found to have unduly influenced medical research. Workplace anti-discrimination policies do not excuse such violence.
“Allies” do not support us only when it is profitable to do so, or in exchange for brand rehabilitation. Allies do not only support some of “us” while profiting from evicting, exploiting, imprisoning, deporting, or abusing others.
MYTH #4: Pride is expensive to run, and the organizers need corporate sponsorship to keep the event free.
FACT: Permits for “parades” and “block parties” are expensive. Permits for political marches and rallies (which can include sparkly pop performers) are free. MPD will turn up in either case, as established. Real “allies” would donate to Pride without demanding wall-to-wall branding. This happens elsewhere. In Reykjavik, for example, Pride bans corporate logos, “to keep the focus on the cause.” Vienna Pride caters to over 100,000 people, with no registration or entry fees, and featuring a tiny number of vetted commercial floats.
Many Capital Pride fringe events charge entry and participation fees, despite sponsorship. Capital Pride Executive Director Ryan Bos claims that funds raised by Capital Pride are “earmarked for the community.” Yet even small, local, nonprofits must pay $725 to join the parade and festival, and local reporters have inquired about how much money raised by Capital Pride actually reaches the community.
Ultimately, budgeting choices reflect priorities: Right now, we’re selling out our community for Miley Cyrus and a pool party. Claiming this is the only way displays a sore lack of imagination, and a complete disregard for LGBTQIA2S people’s concerns.
MYTH #5: But mass incarceration, immigration detention, militarism, police brutality, indigenous rights, redlining… these are not LGBT issues!
FACT: LGBTQIA2S people face extreme, institutionalized discrimination, prejudice, violence, and wildly disproportionate incarceration rates throughout the criminal justice system and at the hands of immigration “enforcement” agencies. The result? One in five young people in juvenile detention are LGBT or non-binary people of color. Transgender adults are eight times more likely than the general population to be jailed. LGBTQIA2S people are also far, far more likely to be forced into poverty, homelessness, and low-wage labor, and to face workplace harassment.
Capital Pride celebrates corporations that invest in, lobby for (sometimes illegally), and profit from: mass incarceration and immigration detention; redlining and predatory mortgage lending; environmental degradation; Native genocide; border walls and “securitization” policies; drone strikes; war; arms sales to violently homophobic governments; and reductions in minimum wage and labor protection laws.
During the NJNP protests, some angry parade-goers screamed “We don’t care!” at an indigenous-led blockade of the Wells Fargo float. That may be true. Claiming that the harms caused by Wells Fargo (HRC Equality Index Score: 100; Ethical Score: 0) are not LGBTQIA2S issues? Entirely false.
MYTH #6: Barring corporations and violent state institutions from Pride discriminates against their LGBT employees, who have a right to march. Participation criteria is a slippery slope toward unfair exclusion.
FACT: NJNP believes that people should be able to march regardless of their employer, not because of it. Capital Pride currently discriminates against all LGBTQIA2S people whose employers are unwilling or unable to pay extortionate participation fees. Pride sponsorship deals increasingly include “exclusivity agreements,” which in some cases have outright banned competitors’ employees from parades. Capital Pride has offered exclusivity agreements. Pretty ironic.
Organizations should not be able to buy our implicit endorsement and pinkwash their harmful practices. Most folks agree that some organizations have no place in Pride. Opinion just differs over which, and why: Gays Against Guns members cannot condone small arms manufacturers, but are okay with bomb-makers marching in Pride. Charlotte Pride banned Gays for Trump, and few are complaining. (Meanwhile, Trump’s “key ally” is a high-tier sponsor of Capital Pride.) Is Milo Yiannopoulos welcome at Pride, if he pays the fee? Or Turing Pharmaceuticals, which hiked HIV drug prices by 5,556 percent?
Pride must have principles, otherwise it is meaningless. The most privileged among us do not get to define them, because they clearly do not recognize who, and what, harms our community.
MYTH #7: No Justice No Pride is creating divisions within our community.
FACT: NJNP has revealed deep-seated and longstanding divisions within LGBTQIA2S communities; it has not created them. “Unity” is illusionary. Large NGOs poured resources into marriage equality, promising: “We’ll get to trans issues later!” After the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act, wealthy donors walked away from the fight, seeing their battle as won. Racism and transmisogyny is rife on dating apps. A high-ranking Capital Pride volunteer published transphobic and dog-whistle anti-Muslim tirades without sanction. While Pulse is whitewashed into “an attack on all of us,” LGBTQIA2S Latinx are told to be quiet when speaking out on injustice.
From Sylvia Rivera in 1973, marginalized LGBTQIA2S people have a long history of “interrupting” Pride, of challenging exclusionary practices, and of engaging in debates. Respectability politics has generally won out, with the notable exception of ACT UP (now hailed as heroes). The “community” has largely looked away from urgent issues—bathroom bills, murders of trans women of color, police brutality, harassment of immigrants, homelessness, access to health care—because they disproportionately affect low-income, non-citizen people of color. Far from creating divisions, NJNP is inviting the community to turn back, and to pursue solidarity and justice over individual reward.
Trans and queer rights icon Sylvia Rivera addresses the St Christopher St Day Rally crowd in 1973. Her call to action to defend and support incarcerated community members was met with jeers.
MYTH #8: NJNP demands are unreasonable. They didn’t give Capital Pride any time to respond to their concerns. They should try to change the organization from within.
FACT: “No Justice No Pride” is only the latest group to raise concerns with Capital Pride. People have been making the same points for years, in private conversations and emails to board members and articles in the local press (in 2015 and 2016). They have issued petitions and even interrupted the Wells Fargo float in 2013. This year, we raised concerns as an unified force, at board meetings in April and May. New York and Los Angeles Pride organizers responded to similar calls, on a similar timeline. Capital Pride Board Members dismissed, patronized, and silenced those who reached out.
The board works largely behind closed doors. It is appointed internally, with zero community consultation. It is 72 percent cis male, 78 percent white, and 94 percent cisgender. Only folks who are not discouraged by Old Boys Club demographics find members approachable. It took us repeated, polite requests just to get information about supposedly “open” meetings. At the last-minute “Community Dialogue” in May, the board ignored trans women of color, and sat silently as “supporters” hurled racist epithets across the room.
NJNP’s “Transformative Vision of Pride” is highly achievable. Acknowledge our presence on Piscataway land. Establish a democratically elected board, representative of our community. Center trans women of color. Put community well-being before corporate cash. Follow the lead of major organizations, like the National LGBTQ Task Force, and divest from Wells Fargo. Capital Pride already knows how easy it is to move bank. It did it in 2013, supposedly because “[Capital Pride] supports businesses who support our community.” It’s time to finally make good on that promise.
MYTH #9: “No Justice No Pride” is a small fringe group, not a grassroots effort. It is funded by [insert large national organization] to fracture our community.
FACT: We’re a group of individuals compelled to this voluntary action because of our backgrounds, experiences, and political beliefs. We’re LGBTQIA2S. We’re citizens and non-citizens; folks born and raised in D.C., and people who have made the District our home. We’re Asian, Black, Brown, indigenous, Latinx, and white. A handful of us work for national governmental organizations, or social justice groups, though most are deeply connected to local community projects. We wish we were better funded, but we’re just supported by donations. Around 60 of us participated in blockades. Hundreds more attended solidarity marches on June 9 and June 10.
Local groups supporting NJNP include: Mijente, Black Lives Matter DC, BYP 100, GetEQUAL, Trans Women of Color Collective, Resist This, Restaurant Opportunities Center of Washington, D.C. (ROC-DC), Indigenous Resistance: Crushing Colonialism, and The Future is Feminist, among others. We’re not fringe, and we’re not going away.
MYTH #10: NJNP ruined Pride for everyone!
FACT: NJNP slightly inconvenienced some parade-goers. Temporary disappointment does not compare to the oppressive, often fatal, realities members of our LGBTQIA2S community face every single day at the hands of Capital Pride sponsors and invited participants. NJNP has elevated an urgent, national conversation. And we’re not sorry.
CORRECTION: This piece has been updated with the correct spelling of Bianca Vazquez’s name.