opinion

Forcing Us to Decide Between Pride & Protest Was a Mistake

Both Washington Pride and the Equality March would have been more successful if they didn’t coincide with one another

After a brief standoff with protesters, the Washington, D.C. Pride Parade festivities finally began filling the streets with music and cheer. It kicked off a weekend of celebration about how far we, the LGBT community, have come. The weekend was also about Protest. A March about how fragile this progress has turned out to be under the current administration, therefore we must rise up.

Washington DC Pride March 2017

Initially, the plan was to supplant the pride parade that was typically on the Sunday with a protest. Back in the day, Pride marches were very political but over time that changed. They began to be celebrations as times and attitudes changed. So it made sense to return Pride to its political origins in this particularly difficult time in our nation’s history.

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As the weekend grew closer, the celebratory parade was added on the Saturday afternoon, one day before the Protest. So on that afternoon, we gathered to show our pride. The streets were filled with people from all races and walks of life: straights, bisexuals, gays, lesbians, transgenders, and everyone in between across the spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities Cis and trans joined together to cheer on all the parade participants as they made their way down the streets of Washington D.C. It was a joyous afternoon, and a blast to be there with so many of my good friends celebrating our advances as a community. And celebrating our survival.

The protesters that stalled the celebration had goodness at their center. The group, “No Justice, No Pride” were expressing frustration with the leadership, focus, and certain sponsors of the event’s organizers, Capital Pride. The demands of the group are the following:

“– Unseat and Replace Capital Pride Board with members from historically marginalized communities, Shift power around LGBTQ+ rights from D.C.’s elite to historically marginalized communities, and allow campaigning around critical issues.
– Change the narrative that D.C.’s government and MPD are doing “right” by our communities.

– Create a community of resistance and radicalism around LGBTQ folks.

– Correct the falsehood that Pride would not be possible without corporate sponsorship and branding, and bar from participation all industries that profit from war, detention and incarceration, environmental destruction, evictions, and community displacement.”

Many of these complaints have value and are indeed things we need to have an active dialogue about. They believe that the organization that was handling the weekend’s pride and march were selling themselves to corporations that were not supportive to the cause, and the protesters also felt marginalized within the elite of the organization.

As it is in the history of our movement, when we feel unheard and unseen, we protest. And this group did just that. The protestors blocked the parade three times, including in front of the floats of Lockheed Martin and Wells Fargo. Lockheed Martin is a large defense contractor and Wells Fargo has faced controversy for its investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline project. And rightly so, I believe. In my humble opinion.

The protesters handled themselves and their cause as respectful as one group could be to another, from what I am told. They missed the larger and, I think, more important picture of showing a strong front and a great sense of unity in a very threatening polarized America but their complaints have validity. They did the right thing by being transparent and vocal to the parade organization allowing them ample opportunity to create an alternative route if and when the protest began.

They did block the road but the police and the organizers already had their detour route planned, so the delay wasn’t as disastrous as it could have been. The protest was met with anger by participants and spectators alike who felt their blockade was disrespectful and dismantled a show of unity. It did change the next day’s headlines from something positIve to something quite different. Unity is what we needed to show the world, but that was not the case in regards to the headlines in the next day’s papers.

Me and Rob

This distraction bothers me a great deal but it is a complicated story. One that I’m sure I’m not as educated about as I should be. I felt sad for those parade participants who waited and waited in the hot sun to begin parading down the street, only to find the crowds had dwindled once they finally got out onto the parade route. The heat and the delays had beat the crowds down and although the parade continued well past 9pm, most of the spectators had made their way home to clean up, eat dinner, and gather themselves together to continue the celebration in all the bars and restaurants of Dupont Circle and beyond.

The Equality March was really the reason I found myself in D.C. this weekend. Pride doesn’t interest me as much as the protest. I am as proud as proud can be, but at this moment in time, I find that I am more angry and that I need a release for that emotionally upsetting place I find myself. So I came to D.C. to protest all that is wrong within our current political climate. And I wanted to march with others that were as angry and frustrated as I am.

I was at the big LGBT March on Washington in 1993

I remember being here in 1993 for the big LGBT March on Washington. I was involved in a company, Don’t Panic!, that was all about being ‘out’ and ‘proud’. We all came to the protest in support of the cause, and to sell Don’t Panic t-shirts that had slogans boldly printed across the front that read “Nobody Knows I’m Gay” and “Everyone Thinks I’m Straight”. We were there to demand attention to our cry for equality, visibility, and acceptance within the political world and also some support and acknowledgment for a community that was being destroyed by AIDS.

We were demanding action from an administration that at least had an aura of hope and support around them. It felt like the Mall was filled with rage and anger, but overall, we felt powerful and empowered being amongst the masses of like-minded others.

The Equality March 2017 brought people from all over to Washington, D.C. to protest once again. We found ourselves back in a similar situation that required us to demand to be seen and heard. There were and are so many reasons to be marching on the White House and the Capital building. Our Rights and our advances are threatened and although this hateful and hate-filled administration may try to turn back time, I hope and have faith that the majority of Americans won’t and can’t step backwards. I hope that we have achieved enough that the new normal is solidified and can’t return back to the old.

So we gathered in D.C. in front of the White House once again. Filled with anger and concern for our safety. And it was thrilling to start the march directly in front of the White House. We were energized and we were angry. We were united and we were many. That image of thousands strong and united against the current administration will be the defining moment for the whole weekend.

The blazing heat singed the life out of the protest

But something didn’t go as planned after that initial surge of excitement. Somehow, connecting a protest march; the March for Equality, with Pride took away its strength and sense of purpose. The energy just wasn’t there. After we marched past the White House, the crowd seemed to soften. It was the politest protest, I heard someone say. The intense sun and heat seems to weaken our resolve.

We marched but we did not claim the middle of the streets as we have done before, but retreated to the shady sidelines. We stayed out of the brutal sun’s rays and walked in shade when we could find it. And in the end, once we arrived near the Capital, we needed to recover in the shade. The sun had sapped us of our protest energy and we needed to cool down.

Combing the protest march with Pride was a mistake

Many didn’t brave the heat. They had danced at Pride parties until all hours of the night/morning and never showed up to march. Others filtered away to the (poorly conceived) Pride Festival a few blocks away.

The protest had started off energized at the White House but as it made its way to the Capital, it had lost its protest power, and instead of gaining in size, it dwindled. The Mall should have filled up like a glass of water fed by a stream of Marchers. But the sun’s heat sent everyone scampering for shade or to their home air conditioners. So the mall and the podium that hosted speaker after speaker never grew in size, but felt deserted and ignored. It was not the photo-op that we had wished for.

Many ran off home to get ready for the Pride concert with Miley. Or went to other Pride parties and celebrated rather then listening to protest speeches. The mood on the streets was celebratory, but in the Mall it was just quiet and reserved, not the anger that a protest requires.

I believe the organizers miscalculated. Combining the two events, Pride and Protest seemed like such a wonderful pairing when it was first announced. It made sense, and felt, as least to me, like the grandest of ideas. But maybe we all were wrong. Maybe Pride is something unique, and something to be enjoyed and celebrated, with a whole agenda that sits outside of what a protest is all about.

The blazing hot sun did not help the situation, but having a Pride festival blocks away from the Protest podium only caused a diluting effect on the Mall, as did the Pride Concert that was happening later that same day. Most wanted to celebrate, and have fun, and not to listen to angry speeches in the hot bright sun. Those white floorboards did not help either. The moment I stepped out on to them I was blinded by the light and heat, making it impossible to stay and listen. So I retreated once again to the shade of the trees on the sidelines.

I have a feeling that in the future, we must realize that a Protest is a singular event, one that needs to be taken care of and nurtured in its own unique way. Once upon a time, Pride was more powerful but somewhere along the way, it became a party. I see that as a sign that things were moving in a positive direction, but maybe now, we need to return to our roots. At the Equality March, we needed people to be angry, and stay angry. We needed them to shout and not be distracted by competing events and parties. If this march had happened one month or even one week earlier, the crowds would have had one purpose and only one reason to be there. And maybe it would have been cooler and the chance of getting heat stroke slightly less.

Regardless, it was great to be there and be a part of the resistance. I’d do it again, as I think we all will have to, but next time let’s keep Pride prideful and have an Equality March at another time, one where are frustration can be focused. And then, maybe the world will sit up and take notice.