New York will host this year’s World Pride event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. But those who attend the annual New York City LGBT Pride March know that the often 9-hour long affair is now stuffed to the gills with corporate floats and may not always feel welcoming to some due to the over-policing of the event.
There’s now an alternative for those who want to celebrate pride while also feeling the original spirit of the event: a political protest called the Queer Liberation March. The Reclaim Pride Coalition is a group of New York City activists bucking the usual antics of the parade and throwing a smaller event that takes the parade’s original route — starting in the West Village’ Sheridan Square, heading uptown, and ending in Central Park — attempting to inhabit the march’s original spirit. Out spoke to Reclaim Pride Coalition member and ACT UP alum Ann Northrop about the logistics of planning another parade on the same day as New York City pride, why it’s time for an alternative to the actual parade and how you can get involved.
Can you tell me a little bit about the impetus behind creating the Reclaim Pride Coalition and the upcoming Queer Liberation March?
I don’t know what you know or feel about pride parades, but if I ask anyone in New York that question, the answer is 100 percent, “I never go to that, I hate it.” And that’s a very widespread feeling because of the way that the parade has evolved over the years. It started as a community event of people marching marching for their rights. It was a political protest. It has evolved into a corporate Mardi Gras. This year the pride parade will have 150 corporate floats. That is not what many of us are looking for.
There has been a walking away from the parade from people who are most deeply involved in the politics of the community. When Trump was elected in 2016, there was an immediate call for a resistance contingent in the parade and people went to Heritage of Pride and Heritage of Pride was not thrilled about the idea. There was pushback. After some to and fro and after the Pulse massacre when Gays Against Guns formed right before the pride parade, there was a decision to allow a resistance contingent and let them be prominently featured toward the head of the parade.
It was a large contingent and included many groups. That was also the year 2017, when LA turned over its entire parade to a political march. Resistance in New York was just squeezed in. In 2018, we again wanted to do a resistance contingent and they were much less friendly to that. There was an even bigger battle over it and Heritage of Pride was doing things like making anyone who marches in the parade wear a wristband when historically the marches had been open to everybody. The slogan was “Off the sidewalk and into the streets.” It was just in the streets, celebratory. You’d wander around the march and see your friends. It was a true community event. Now it was being regimented; people were being prevented from entering the parade. You could only get it in if you had a wristband that was pre-registered.
In 2018, the resistance contingent was scheduled to march five hours into the parade. The parade itself takes nine hours. I was part of the resistance contingent last year. I showed up to the lining up area. You have to stand on a side street for hours and I got disgusted by the whole thing. I left before the group got into the parade. After all that, which was a debacle, we who were in the resistance got together and talked. And we really wanted to make a concerted effort for Stonewall 50 to make the whole thing a much more political people’s event. We wanted to talk Heritage of Pride into that. We scheduled meetings with them. We spoke with them several times over a history of months. We educated them on the history of the march. Most of them have not been around that long and don’t know about that. They have a few old timers, but not many. We had very civil talks, it was polite and friendly, but in the end Heritage of Pride did not want to budge from their model of having a grandiose scheme for Stonewall 50 that includes 150 corporate floats.
We agreed corporate support is nice, but said that the parade should not be handed over to corporations. We agreed to go our separate ways and said if this is what we want, we’re going to take responsibility for organizing it.
Since last fall we have been working on organizing a Queer Liberation March, just people in the streets, no uniform cops in our parade, no corporate floats and universal access for everybody to join. We’re going to model it after the first marchets, starting in Sheridan Square and going up Sixth Avenue into Central Park for a rally on the Great Lawn.
And that’s on the same day, at the same time, as the Pride Parade?
It’s going to be the same day and we’re going to start a little earlier, because we don’t want to interfere with the Heritage of Pride march. We’re not looking for any collision. We want to get out of their way and get up to Central Park by early afternoon and do a rally for maybe three hours and be finished by late afternoon/early evening. We are still negotiating with the Police Department for the exact start of the march. They want us to start a little earlier than we would like, so we have a meeting to talk about the details of that.
Who is a part of the Reclaim Pride coalition? I know you from ACT UP — what other groups are present?
It’s basically a lot of individuals, several dozen individuals who are doing the main work on this. We have a list of over 100 organizations that have endorsed us and are getting involved. If you look at the website over endorsements, the list of organizations is growing everyday. We have a number of international, national and local endorsements. God’s Love We Deliver just endorsed us. The Tegan and Sara Foundation just endorsed us. Taylor Mac just endorsed us. It’s a long list and its growing every day. That’s one of our tasks is to reach out and let people know and get their support.
We have long time veterans like me or Bill Dobbs or Eric Sawyer, people who have come out of organizations like ACT UP or Queer Nation, people who are active in groups like Rise and Resist and Gays Against Guns and the Democratic Socialists of America. Just individuals who hear about it and come in. We have a lot of younger people who are getting involved. And we have a guy from the People’s Power Assemblies who is taking a main role. We are quite a diverse coalition. It’s a new coalition and we’re all getting to know each other, but it’s amazing how we bring various experiences and strengths into this and can make use of those. Leslie Cagan is a major member of this and she helped organize most of the first major marches on Washington and the Stonewall 25 March, 25 years ago; lot of big peace marches and environmental marches.
What do you think the message is that Reclaim Pride is trying to send and how is it different from the one that the Pride parade sends?
I think Heritage of Pride sees this as an opportunity for a celebration, a party. And I think what Reclaim Pride is doing is a political protest. We certainly in our march will celebrate our ancestors of the movement and the victories we have won along the way, but we are very committed to publicizing and talking about our current and ongoing struggles and I don't think that comes through as clearly in the Heritage of Pride plan.
We will be highlighting the fact that the United States still does not have a federal anti-discrimination law and the fact that LGBTQIA2SNBGNC+ people are still under attack in countries around the world, subject to the death penalty and attacked on a daily basis. We will be highlighting the fact that the New York Police Department is arresting trans kids on the street for existing. Or a trans woman who got arrested for walking home across the park and was arrested in handcuffs and held overnight for 24 hours. I co-host the Gay USA TV show and every week we have two dozen more stories of either violence or discrimination — or all the bad laws being proposed in Tennessee and Texas. We have a big fight on our hands still. We might have an out gay man running for president, but just as the election of Obama did not solve racism, the prominence and attention to Pete Buttigieg will not solve all the issues that confront us. We still have a fight on our hands and we think the community needs to pay attention to that and get involved. We will be out their marching for liberation and justice.
Is this just a one-time alternative to New York City’s World Pride or would you like to see this happen every year going forward?
Oh, we expect Heritage of Pride to hand the whole thing over to us next year because we do a great job and there’s such a demand! You know, we definitely hope to proceed with this beyond this year and we really think that this is the true spirit of what should be happening for pride every year. It should be a community event, a people’s event and a pride event. It should bring both pride and anger, glitter and protest to the streets. The Radical Faeries are very involved in planning the event. There will be plenty of joy involved with this but it’s a really political event and we think that’s what should be happening. If you look around and see things like Toronto deciding not to have politice or have corporate floats in their main march as of next year and in Australia they’ve done some of that this year and we are hearing as we talk to people around the world that this may be a new movement. Because I think people, everybody likes a party, but if we’re going to have a significant acknowledgement of Stonewall every year, isn't it appropriate to look at the community and where we stand and what we need?
Where can people go if they believe in this mission and want to donate?
Send them to the Reclaim Pride website — reclaimpridenyc.org. We’d love their support and the involvement of anyone who wants to come work with us. But we could use any donations.