On Sunday thousands of people gathered in Uptown for the 48th annual Pride Parade, but the festivities were halted for about 15 minutes at the intersection of Belmont and Halsted by a group of 40 protesters. They’d formed a circle, hand in hand, and prevented other marchers from passing. They wore bandanas that read “Black Trans Lives Matter” and held large papier-mache heads of Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and a unicorn, each affixed to a stick.
The action was led by the Trans Liberation Collective and other Chicago-based organizations, including the BTGNC (Black Trans Gender Nonconforming) Collective, Black Lives Matter Chicago, Jewish Voice for Peace Chicago, Assata’s Daughters, and Pilsen Alliance.
They announced their intention to shut down Chicago Pride, saying that their “voices had been repeatedly erased.”
“Chicago Pride is focused on white, wealthy, cisgender gay men,” one organizer shouted as the disruption commenced.
In a statement subsequently released by the collective, they denounced the “ever-increasing corporatization, whitewashing, gentrification, racism, and cisnormativity” of the parade and detailed their grievances and political commitments. They declared their support for anticolonial struggles; the abolition of police and prisons; sanctuary and amnesty for all undocumented people; and they announced they would be holding a Trans Pride celebration, in June 2018, as an alternative to Chicago Pride.
Chicago Pride did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
As the collective began chanting, much of the parade crowd joined in, loudly supportive of the slogans that criticized Donald Trump. However, “Rainbow pigs are still some pigs,” a reference to the lesbian and gay cops who were marching in the parade, drew less enthusiastic support.
Officer Bernard Escamilla, who has been with the Chicago Police Department for four years, said he attended Pride the last three years, though this is the first year he’ll be marching with his partner.
Escamilla explained he was marching “to show the diversity and inclusivity of the police department.”
When asked to respond to those who might criticize having police march in the parade, he conceded that for some people it might be intimidating, but “we are here in unity,” he said. “We are not only here to protect all the attendees but also to participate and show that we do care.”
Some of the protesters, however, disagreed. Hannah Baptiste, of Assata’s Daughters, said that Escamilla’s claim that police officers were at the parade to keep everyone safe was “false.” “The institution of policing disproportionately, and actually by design, is meant to [make LGBTQ people of color’s] lives less safe,” Baptiste explained.
She characterized the parade as “a total co-optation of what this movement is actually originally about.” To support this claim, she referenced the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising, queer- and trans-led riots against a police raid, which were commemorated a year later with the first ever Pride marches.
Not everyone, however, felt that the protest was in keeping with the spirit of the day. Chris Hickson, a 20-year-old college student, saw the disruption while watching the parade and thought it was a drag. “You don’t want to see that, especially at a day like this,” he said. “I’m glad to see the parade, otherwise, went well.” When asked why he was sorry to see something like that, he explained, “You want to see this shit go well, you want to see everyone to be happy, you want to see everyone to be equal.”
The protest was “really sad,” according to Hickson, who said that most cops support Pride. “It’s 2017,” he went on. “Even as a cisgender, straight, white male like me, I support it, and I feel that most of my counterparts support it.”
One of the protest’s organizers, Vita Cleveland, a 28-year-old with Black Lives Matter Chicago and BTGNC Collective had something to say to Pride Parade supporters like Hickson. “If they live in a world where they alone can be comfortable, then they’re missing the point,” Vita said. “If they can live in a world where pipelines are being . . . sponsored by banks that are in this parade, and weapons manufacturers . . . and police officers . . . then at some point they have to realize they’re subscribing to colonialism and they’re subscribing to a bastardization of what Pride is meant to be.”
“This validation of police as a part of Pride is literally the opposite of how Pride started,” they added.
Vita went on to point out the location of the parade, in Uptown, was appropriately symbolic of the shift away from Pride’s radical origins, given the gentrification of the neighborhood. Another organizer similarly noted that many in the parade marched by Graeme Stewart School, one of the 54 schools shuttered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013, now being transformed into luxury residential units.
As the disruption proceeded, in a matter of moments a swarm of police had surrounded the protesters, poised as if ready for mass arrest. The collective instead was willingly led out of the main parade route as they continued chanting for several more minutes.
The disruption at the parade was not the only controversy in Chicago at a Pride event. On Saturday at the annual Dyke March several individuals carrying rainbow Israeli flags were reportedly asked to leave the march.
Stephanie Skora, 23, who helped organize the disruption at the parade on Sunday, was also directly involved with the Dyke March controversy. Skora, who is Jewish, says she, along with some Dyke March organizers, spent a long time talking with the individuals who were ultimately asked to leave, explaining that if they no longer displayed the flag they would be free to continue marching. They refused and were then told to leave the march, she says.
The rainbow Israeli flag, Skora says, is a form of “pinkwashing,” a term used to suggest that Israel emphasizes its pro-LGBTQ image to discount or divert attention away from violations of Palestinian human rights. Furthermore, the flag was making Palestinians feel unsafe, she added.
Had anyone commented that they felt unsafe around Palestinian flags, Skora says a similar standard wouldn’t have applied. Dyke March is an event organized by LGBTQ people of color, some of whom are Palestinian, and the march is specifically designated as one of the few safe spaces for them, says Skora. She stressed that the flag carriers were not asked to leave because they were Jewish, and that there were other Jews who attended the march without issue.
With Pride month nearly at its end and the frenetic energy of the festivities winding down, LGBTQ people and their allies are left with some difficult questions that ought to be considered carefully. Are LGBTQ spaces the welcoming and inclusive places they should be? And how can one have such spaces without compromising one’s ethical commitments?