Zach Gibson / Getty Images
This past Sunday morning in Washington, DC, almost all of the people at the Peet’s Coffee by Logan Circle were decked out in rainbow. It was one of those nice, small moments you come across during any Pride weekend: people in unicorn onesies and multicolored tutus and glittery body paint going about some banal, everyday activity — in this case, ordering coffees and eating their breakfast sandwiches.
One of the few patrons at Peet’s who was dressed unremarkably asked a couple of fully rainbow-fied guys what was going on. “I thought the Pride parade was yesterday,” she said, confused.
“It was,” they explained to her. “Today’s the Equality March.”
She had reason to be a little puzzled. The people gearing up that morning for the Equality March, a mass protest planned to address LGBT persecution and discrimination, did look very much like the Pride revelers from the day before (same onesies, same tutus, same body paint, same knee-high rainbow socks) — except many now carried protest signs that have become ubiquitous on American streets in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.
LGBT people and supporters take part in the Equality March for Unity in Washington, DC, on June 11, 2017.
Andrew Caballero-reynolds / AFP / Getty Images
Back in January, according to the Washington Blade, a 42-year-old Brooklyn resident named David Bruinooge was at home watching the Women’s March on Washington unfold on television when he was inspired to create a Facebook event for a gay spinoff march during Pride weekend in DC. As Bruinooge started conversations with organizers at the Capital Pride Alliance, who run DC’s Pride activities, his Facebook event page — originally titled Gays on the Mall — was renamed the National Pride March, before eventually becoming the Equality March for Unity and Pride. The updated event page quickly attracted over 150,000 people interested in participating, tens of thousands of whom would show up to march on June 11.
Over the past few months, the event ballooned into an international grassroots movement endorsed by virtually every major LGBT advocacy group. As more people got involved, and more cities signed on for sister marches, Bruinooge was joined by 11 other queer and trans national co-chairs representing those in the LGBT community who have been “actively silenced and neglected.” At the same time, the Equality March’s place in the Pride weekend lineup has grown steadily more fraught. According to Catalina Velasquez, one of the national co-chairs and a senior director at Casa Ruby, the Equality March was not really intended to be a Pride event at all.
“There’s lot of collective trauma — lots of folks in the community who don’t feel particularly represented,” she told me over the phone, a week before the event would kick off. “What can you celebrate when you’re still fighting to breathe and walk unapologetically in your truth?”
“What can you celebrate when you’re still fighting to breathe and walk unapologetically in your truth?”
While Velasquez said that she and the other national co-chairs were “working with Capital Pride to build synergy,” the march would be its own separate event, one that would not rely on corporate sponsorships, in order to foreground “people, not organizations.”
Queer joy has always had a radical role to play in the face of institutional violence and neglect. From the ballroom scene to the basements of dyke bars, queer people have carved out their own spaces for community-building and celebration in spite of a world that has refused to make room for them. But now, when rights for middle- and upper-class white, cisgender gay men and women seem much more assured than those of the community’s most marginalized members (including trans women of color), some LGBT people are asking whether we have much to collectively celebrate, and questioning the role that Pride events could, or should, play in the larger political #resistance movement. Protesters demanding an end to corporate pinkwashing and police involvement in Pride events have been disrupting Pride parades from Phoenix to DC, while some cities have decided to do away with Pride parades altogether — like in Los Angeles, where organizers ditched the corporate floats and replaced them with a #ResistMarch.
Two years after the Supreme Court’s historic marriage equality decision and barely five months into Donald Trump’s presidency, the national LGBT movement is grappling with whether Pride should be a party or a protest, and whether it could possibly be both. And Washington’s Equality March, billed as an international call to arms on behalf of the queer and trans people who have been left behind by the mainstream gay rights movement — an event technically separate from Pride, but smack dab in the middle of a Pride weekend — put those questions to the test.
Corporate sponsorships of Pride parades have long been a sore spot for many queer people. The first Pride march in New York City, in 1970, marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, an uprising led by trans women of color like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson in response to a 1969 police raid on the historically queer Stonewall Inn. But over the years, as (white, cis, safely domesticated) queer people have become more easily assimilated into the mainstream, Pride events started to become less explicitly about rising up against oppression and more about joy, visibility, affirmation, and celebration in the face of that oppression — which had started lessening for some, but certainly not for all. Plus, Pride marches turned parades eventually became advertising opportunities for liquor brands, hotels, and banks, whose big, flashy floats make their way down Pride parade routes in cities around the country every year, alongside the oftentimes more modest floats of LGBT nonprofits and community organizations.
The Marriott float in this year's Capital Pride Parade on June 10, 2017.
Paul Morigi / Getty Images
This year in DC was no exception. The Capital Pride Alliance produces one of the largest Pride events in the country, which includes a parade, festival, and concert. On Saturday, the day before the Equality March, Washington's official Pride Parade kicked off from Dupont Circle, featuring thousands of marchers representing groups that ranged from McDonald’s to the local Star Wars costume community. It was a beautiful late afternoon, and the mood was light and cheery as spectators caught branded stress balls and sunglasses tossed down to them by people dancing on the sponsored floats. But the parade was interrupted — not once, but three times — by an ad-hoc collection of local organizers going under the name No Justice No Pride.
“We came together specifically to address Capital Pride and its exclusion of queer and trans people of color,” Ntebo Mokuena, one of the action participants, told me. No Justice No Pride targeted three floats in the parade: the Metropolitan Police Department, according to Mokuena, because of “policing and police brutality” that disproportionately affects queer and trans people of color; Lockheed Martin, a defense contractor, for manufacturing “drones, jets, and different weapons that are used against black and brown people here and abroad”; and Wells Fargo, for “participating in Native genocide” due to its involvement in the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as its predatory lending practices targeting people of color.
No Justice No Pride protesters at the Capital Pride Parade.
Paul Morigi / Getty Images
“Mainstream liberal queer and trans folks want to whitewash our history,” Mokuena said. “I think it’s really important that marginalized voices are lifted up and not ignored — it’s the responsibility of organizations with power and money to elevate our voices. We’re following in the footsteps of all of the amazing trans people of color who fought for us in the late ’60s.”
Mokuena was a part of the group that waited at the intersection of 18th and P to blockade the Wells Fargo float, where they successfully forced the parade to reroute. “One person on the Wells Fargo float was curious what was happening — they said they didn’t even work there – and they joined us and started chanting with us,” she said. About a hundred or so people participated in the blockades, and hundreds more joined the group in a pre-parade march.
But not everyone was happy with the disruptions. Though many on social media supported #NoJusticeNoPride, there were others online who were furious at the “far left for blaming fellow progressives for their woes.” At the event itself, protesters were booed and yelled at by spectators who were unhappy with the parade’s delays, one of whom (according to Zack Ford, a reporter at Think Progress) started shouting, “Fuck you for ruining a nice parade!” before attempting to start a counter-chant of “No respect, no pride,” which did not catch on.
After the parade was rerouted, Mokuena said she and the other protesters waited while the protest leaders spoke with the police and with Capital Pride officials. “One of the Capital Pride organizers called one of our lead organizers a terrorist and said, ‘We don’t organize with terrorists.”
No Justice No Pride protesters disrupt the Capital Pride Parade.
Paul Morigi / Getty Images
A spokesperson for Capital Pride, Cathy Renna, confirmed that yes, “that was said by a board member. And it is absolutely unacceptable and it is being addressed.” Renna, who has worked in LGBT advocacy and communications for 25 years, said that the Capital Pride protests started a “firestorm” in Washington’s queer community “unlike anything I’ve seen before. And it’s heartbreaking to watch.”
“We know our community is not immune to sexism — I’ve experienced it myself — or racism, or classism, or transphobia,” she added. “There are issues in our community we should all be working on, and Capital Pride should be working on it. But I’m not sure how much this really helps the discussion.”
“Mainstream liberal queer and trans folks want to whitewash our history.”
The thorny subjects of corporate sponsorships and the inclusion of police and the military in Pride events “are not new issues — we’ve been talking about these issues forever,” Renna said. But she argues there are two sides to the coin.
“The politicians are not gonna do anything for us, especially now. But even over the last several decades, we still don’t have workplace protections. It was corporations who said we are going to protect our employees, who took money out of North Carolina after HB2.” Since she figures we’re stuck with a capitalist society for the foreseeable future, “Do we work with folks to make them more responsible businesses, or do we completely reject them? Do we work with LGBT liaisons at police forces so the abuse we’ve seen happen slows or stops? This is really, at the end of the day, about tactics.”
“And this isn’t just about Capital Pride, or just about Pride,” she said. “It’s about our whole movement. And not even the LGBT movement, but the progressive movement. We’re all struggling with this.”
On Sunday morning, in the wake of Saturday’s parade and protests, tens of thousands of people poured into downtown Washington in the blazing heat for the Equality March, dressed in their Pride-meets-Resistance best. On I Street and 17th, the slowly gathering crowds buzzed excitedly as block after block filled up. The energy was slow to build; it was 10 a.m. on the morning after a major Pride night, and more than a few people were nursing hangovers, chugging Gatorade. There were Pride flags galore, a smattering of trans flags, and friend groups that had come wearing matching shirts. (“I’m totally straight,” written in bubble letters exploding with stars and glitter, was a popular one.)
Equality March participants outside the White House.
Andrew Caballero-reynolds / AFP / Getty Images
The only thing that made the scene look different than your typical Pride event were the signs, hoisted as far as the eye could see. According to national co-chair Catalina Velasquez, the Equality March was not technically, or at least not exclusively, an anti-Trump protest — but you might think otherwise based on the event itself, which was a veritable sea of anti-Trump protest signs (“Resign, sweetie”; “Fags hate Trump” in the style of the Westboro Baptist Church’s “God hates fags”; seemingly endless Drag Race references).
“Trans people have been murdered, and this is not new,” said Velasquez. “We’re fighting for the opportunities to make our pain public.” Chalking all of the LGBT community’s issues up to Trump would “not be helpful to communities facing violence prior to him.” Of course, Valasquez added, the Equality March was intended be “a sign of resistance to current bigoted messages and strategies” from this administration. “But we would be remiss not to mention that the previous administration deported the largest number of people in the history of the United States.”
The Equality March’s official platform is wide-ranging, covering everything from disability rights to indigenous/two-spirit rights to reproductive and racial justice. People marched on Sunday for reasons that ran the gamut. On some people’s minds: love and marriage.
“This isn’t just about Capital Pride, or just about Pride. It’s about our whole movement.”
Many queer people were worried immediately after the election that the administration could potentially overturn marriage equality — some even rushing to get married before the inauguration — but that possibility remains extremely unlikely. Last fall Trump said he was “fine” with the Supreme Court’s marriage decision, calling it “settled law.” Regardless, the LGBT movement’s extraordinarily successful campaign for marriage equality — which was cemented in part by the 2017 Equality March’s predecessor, the National Equality March in 2009 — has continued to build momentum even now, two years after the Supreme Court’s decision. Love and marriage have always been some of the LGBT movement’s most lucrative selling points.
“Love Wins” and “Love Is Love,” slogans popularized by the fight for marriage, have now become synonymous with the LGBT rights movement. Those slogans were everywhere on Sunday, along with the newer, more cross-movement “Love Trumps Hate.” And even though same-sex couples across the nation won the right to marry two years ago, many were marching to make sure that right remained protected.
“Love Is Love” signs were abundant at the Equality March.
Carolyn Kaster / AP