I joined in at the Queer Liberation March this year, attending the protest instead of NYC WorldPride. My heart, at the same time, was filled to the brim and…as I walked home, broken once again.
Pride month has long left us. Happily richer, the corporations have since painted over the rainbows they were sporting, leaving the queer community with the same guarded white walls we’re used to having thrown up in our face.
However, the love, power, passion, and anger of the LGBTQIA+ community lives on.
This year, my fiancé and I attended the Queer Liberation march. We both have a bit of a sordid history with Pride parades, but knew we wanted to be in New York City in commemoration of the 50thanniversary of the Stonewall Riots. We weren’t sure how we were going to show up to honor our community’s history in a way that felt right.
…Then the Queer Liberation March popped up. Meant to be a people’s march to reclaim Pride, it was a counter-march to the Parade that sported no corporate floats or police presence. What other way is there to honor Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major, Stormé DeLarverie, Larry Kramer, the Mattachine Society, the Daughters of Bilitis, Frank Kameny, the Gay Liberation Front, Et All? What other way is there to commemorate an anti-police riot that lasted days after our rights had been violated so deeply and so unwaveringly?
We met up with a friend in Bryant Park to join the March at its mid-way point. The energy just in the park itself was electric. Throngs of people dressed in both black, pink, and gold (the colors of the march) as well as bright, fantastic outfits. It felt like every single person in the park had a purpose – and in a lot of ways, perhaps that is true. Each and every person who showed up to the Queer Liberation March made a purposeful decision to attend the March instead of the Parade. Therefore, each person’s body became a powerful statement against the corporatization and pink-washing of Pride. Each person purposefully became a part of a new wave of the continued street presence of Queer protest and riots. By making the choice to be here, just a few blocks away from there, they became a part of a grand testament to the strength and resilience of queer activism. No one was there because it was “fun”. No one was there because it was something to do. No one was there because they were being paid to be there. Everybody was there because they knew they needed to be.
And that’s exactly how I felt when I watched the parade flood into the streets before my eyes – chanting, singing, banging on drums, and waving their signs, beckoning everybody on the sidelines to join them. I felt like I needed to be here. Tears welled in my eyes as I watched, frozen in shock, as the ocean of people continued to flood in. It was larger then I ever imagined it would be. The minute I jumped in I felt like I was a part of something bigger. I felt safe, even though I knew just by being so visibly queer and in a crowd in public I was painting a very shoot-able target on my back. I knew, somehow, that everybody around me had my back as much as I had theirs.
I gave glitter to our neighbors in the parade and if we ever slowed down because we needed to give our feet a rest or had to communicate something, people easily swerved around us and gave us space. Someone stood over a corpse of a dead bird and urged everyone to go around them so they wouldn’t step on it. We joined at the end of the parade where somebody had a clip board and was shouting out information about the busses that had been organized for disabled persons to reach the rally. The march was unlike anything I had ever experienced. In fact, the community I felt marching those streets has only been matched by one other experience in my life – the candlelight vigil that was held in my hometown after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016 (an experience I write about in depth here). I felt like we had come together as a community in a time of need to take care of each other in a way only a community could.
At one point, the march split in two to wind itself through Central Park. A volunteer was splitting the line with a booming voice, stating that those who were disabled or tired should go one path while everyone else took another, longer one. It dawned on me how there had never been space made for disabled people before at a Parade before. In fact, I remembered talking but a week or so earlier to a friend who was marching in the Pride Parade about being worried if their wife, who would have trouble walking the full pride parade, would be able to be accommodated. I’m sure that she was able to spend a portion of the parade riding safely on a float…but I realize now, looking back, that this should not be an issue at all. A community event should be entirely accessible from the first stages of planning. If it isn’t…is it really for the community at all? Not only did the rally and march have b that uses took those who couldn’t walk to the rally – it went out of its way to make space for everyone to be able to participate in their fullest. Sign language interpreters interpreted the entire rally. There were ADA compliant portable restrooms, water stations, trained street medics, and CART captioning on the screens projecting the rally.
At one point, an ambulance parted the crowd to get to a fallen citizen. It climbed its way through the park no problem as the crowd yelled to move to the side to make way for the emergency vehicle. A few moments later, a police car tried to make its way through the crowd. It was not allowed to move. The crew that I was walking with had a collective laugh at this juxtaposition. That was because for the first time in a long time – and in my lifetime, perhaps ever – it felt like the queers had the power. We were a united and unbreakable chain reaction that had created a force to be reckoned with.
Larry Kramer spoke and the crowd fell silent.
I listened to some of my idols and favorite artists, such as Mx Justin Vivian Bond and John Cameron Mitchell & Stephen Trask as we all took a moment to heal together with art.
The rain washed over us at one point in a flash storm as Olympia Perez of Black Trans Media shouted, sending chills up my spine – “If you don’t know how powerful black trans women are, look at the sky! Look at the spirit!”
Keinon Carter, a survivor of the Orlando Pulse shooting spoke to us, begging us for a better future with tears in his eyes and compassionate in his heart.
People were laughing and dancing as much as they were crying, screaming, and chanting. We were fucking untouchable.
On the way home from the march, my fiancé and I had to cut through the main parade to get to our train home. The stark difference between how the main Pride Parade operated and treated the streets and how the Queer Liberation March operated was deeply jarring. Police were at every intersection. At one cross, a small group of gay folk were trying to cross the barricade to get with their sanctioned float. The police refused to let them through, demanding some sort of identification. Each person in the group clearly sported a T-shirt that had some sort of unified business logo on them. The streets were littered with trash. Piled high with wrappers, beads, corporate paraphernalia that had been lobbed off of the floats, cups, food in every crevice of the sidewalk. People were shoving each other to get a better view, refusing to let people pass, and generally interested in making a space meant for personal, not community, consumption. My heart broke, which had just been filled to the brim with hopeful, reawakened passion, broke for my community.
Let me be clear, here: I hold no grudge against my queer family who chose to participate in the Parade. I remember my first time at the NYC Pride March. It was life changing and awakening for me. There were people marching with amazing organizations that do amazing works for the community the day I decided not to go. I know people who dedicated their entire life to making the world a more livable place for queer people who grand marshaled the parade. Do I think of them as any less? No. Because I get it. Being part of this community should not mean having to become radical. Or an educator. Or an activist. Plenty of my friends will disagree with me on this – and I totally understand where they’re coming from too. But sometimes, you just want to be seen. To be tailored to. Catered to. Have fun wit people like you. See your favorite celebrities and drag queens atop the floats. It’s more complicated than our politics. It’s more complicated period. I don’t have the correct words to explain why I feel the way I do because, at the end of the days, queer people are family and I treat them the same way I would treat any blood relative: I hold those that do right by me and others close and I adamantly refuse anyone who doesn’t, no matter how close in relationship they are to me.
It’s just strange to feel like the divide was so natural and I think: has it come to this? A community so easily, so casually divided?
Looking back on the juxteposition of how I felt walking past the Parade to how I felt marching reminded me that without unity, we are missing an integral key to picking the lock to our own freedom. I had forgotten what unity could do until I was reminded of what it looks like in a large scale. I can’t help but think about the unstoppable protests happening in San Juan, Puerto Rico and beyond demanding Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resign after grossly inhumane messages sent by the governor were leaked. #RickyRenuncia saw the downfall of their rejected governor because the people of Puerto Rico united for two weeks of nonstop community-led protest. They flood the streets, bang their pots and pans every night and in their street in their cacerolazos, blocking roadways, waving their flags, closing their banks and malls – standing strong against the tear gas and rubber bullets.
Half a million Puerto Ricans, and they’re still going strong at the time of my writing this. That is galvanized, unbridled strength born from unstoppable passion and a refusal to take “no” for an answer.
What does a community look like when they become a collective? What are they capable of? What are we capable of?
We underestimate our power as a collective because we are constantly told by the powers that don’t want us to succeed that it won’t work. Clearly, it does. The Queer Liberation March was a clear example for all of us who are too young to have experienced it first hand during the Stonewall Riots in 1969 or the organizing done by AIDs activists such as ACT UP! In the 80’s and 90’s that collective action works. We are a forced to be reckoned with when we combine ourselves that no oppressive power structure can match.
We just have to find a way to unite. Really, truly, unite.
I don’t know yet.
But I think the world is brewing us a storm big enough that we will all be forced under the same roof once more – and in that time of forced cohabitation, I think, perhaps, we will learn to become one shelter – one home – again.
The Reclaim Pride Coalition, who organized the Queer Liberation March, meets every Wednesday at The People’s Forum in NYC.
Raine (he/him/his) is Queeries Blog founder and 27 year-old playwright, director, and WGSS/Theatrical scholar whose work focuses on theatre as a form of social activism. He continues to use his “out and proud” attitude to educate people on LGBTIA+ rights and visibility.