Barjon is one of the organizers of Reclaim Pride Coalition, a New York City-based organization that hosted its first “Queer Liberation March” from the Greenwich Village to Central Park in June 2019. The unofficial slogan of the inaugural event, which drew 25,000 attendees, was “No Cops, No Corps, No Bullshit,” protesting what organizers saw as the encroachment one of the world’s largest LGBTQ pride events by police and corporate interests.
According to Barjon, New York City Pride has become a “cis, white, muscly gay man parade.” As of 2016, businesses like Facebook and Walmart spent a combined $1.7 million to sponsor Pride, while more than 100 police vehicles line the parade route each year. “It’s not about the people who started it,” Barjon tells Rolling Stone, referring to the work of activists such as Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera in helping to lead the 1969 Stonewall Riots, the powder keg for what would become the Gay Liberation Movement. “It’s not about the trans women who fought for all of us to have any of these rights.”
Although Reclaim Pride initially intended to cancel its in-person march in favor of a virtual event following the COVID-19 outbreak, everything changed after a video showed Floyd, an unarmed black man, being fatally suffocated by a police officer on May 25th. The footage, in which former Minneapolis patrolman Derek Chauvin kneels on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, triggered nationwide protests against police brutality.
For Barjon and other organizers, the protests were a reminder of why the Queer Liberation March was created and also why it was necessary to continue fighting for justice, even in the face of the pandemic. Reclaim Pride decided it would hold a march on June 28th in solidarity with protesters, renaming the event the “Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality.”
“We did this march to center black and brown trans people,” she says. “Even more so this year, it’s so apparent and it’s so obvious that we need systemic change. We need to listen to black people, black trans people, and black LGBTQ people who have been speaking up for decades and haven’t been listened to.”
Reclaim Pride is just one of several organizations that are refocusing their events during LGBTQ Pride month in alignment with the movement for racial justice. In June, over 100 advocacy organizations — including GLAAD and the Trevor Project — signed onto an open letter calling white supremacy “as defining a characteristic of the American experience as those ideals upon which we claim to hold our democracy.” LGBTQ organizations from Austin, Texas to Kalamazoo, Michigan and South Orange, New Jersey have held rallies in support of Black Lives Matter, the activist group which has been spearheading many of the police brutality protests across the country.
In Baltimore, more than 300 activists and community members gathered on Friday for a first-of-its-kind rally at City Hall to protest the death of Tony McDade, a Black transgender man who was killed during an altercation with Tallahassee police on May 27th. The event was organized by Baltimore Safe Haven, a service organization which provides resources to homeless LGBTQ people, in partnership with the Baltimore Mayor’s Office.
Jabari Lyles, director of LGBTQ affairs in the Baltimore Mayor’s Office, says the demonstration was intended to call out the “methodical and systematic dehumanization that’s happening to trans people all over our country.” According to data compiled by the Human Rights Campaign, more than two dozen transgender people were killed in 2019, whether by law enforcement, intimate partners, or others. According to Baltimore Safe Haven Executive Director Iya Dammons, a trans person has been killed in Baltimore “every year at least for the last 10 years.”
“Trans folks are criminalized and targeted simply for existing in the street,” Lyles tells Rolling Stone. “To organize this space right on the front lawn of our city government, it’s symbolic. It’s to show that we are here. We will take up space, and we will be heard.”
LGBTQ organizations and Pride groups which cannot gather in person because of COVID-19 are turning to online spaces to organize in response to police brutality protests. Following the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death in her bed by Louisville police officers on March 13th, the Louisville Pride Foundation raised $50,000 for The Bail Project — which is providing bail money for jailed activists — through a Facebook fundraiser. The campaign, which exceeded its goal in less than a week, was so successful that Louisville Pride launched a Social Justice Fund on Friday to provide additional grants to local civil rights groups.
Others are raising funds to benefit police brutality protesters by hosting virtual Pride events that benefit racial justice organizations. Wynwood Pride in Miami, Florida is throwing a festival on June 13th through Twitch that will include DJ sets on four virtual stages and performances from queer musicians like Big Freedia and Orville Peck. Suggested donations collected during the livestream will benefit groups like Color of Change, Equal Justice Initiative, and Impact Justice.
Miss Toto, a drag performer who will have her own channel at Wynwood Pride, has already raised $30,000 for 15 different organizations. She said the protests surrounding Floyd’s death felt intensely personal as a queer black person who has experienced discrimination and been called racial slurs throughout her life.
“I was living my life thinking that’s how things are,” she explains. “If a cop pulled up behind me, this could be my last moment on earth. When the protesting started, I didn’t feel like I was safe on the front lines. What I ended up doing is trying to mobilize myself, and having the Wynwood Pride team on my side to push forward with this festival and make it very black-forward has given me hope.”
Other events organizaing in support of racial justice include Porch Pride, a social distance friendly event held on June 20th to benefit groups like the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition and Homeless Black Trans Women Fund, and A Queer Pride, which has already raised more than $10,000 for black-led organizations in Chicago. In the face of criticism that it has strayed too far from its radical roots, New York City Pride is hosting a virtual rally on June 26th hosted by activist Ashlee Marie Preston and actor Brian Michael Smith, both of whom are black and trans. New York City Pride’s website also includes resources and tips for protesters.
But the organizers behind A Queer Pride — which will cap its fundraising series with a virtual dance party at the event of the month — hope to see LGBTQ groups continue stepping up their commitment to black communities after Pride month ends. Bambi Banks-Couleé, a Chicago-based drag artist, says that the event was created after organizers witnessed “a lot of inaction” from mainstream LGBTQ spaces “other than posting a black square or sharing a brief statement.”
“A lot of the organizations that put on Pride events are backed by white club owners and white organizers,” Banks-Couleé says. “These events are set up in such a way that they do not welcome black people. It is institutionalized in Pride and what we’ve allowed Pride to become.”
Abhijeet Rane, a co-organizer of A Queer Pride, says the most critical thing the LGBTQ community can do is to keep providing “sustained support” to organizations centered on racial justice, rather than “just a one-time type of financial support.” According to Rane, there are several ways to do that: Pride groups could consider making monthly donations to groups aligned with Black Lives Matter, while club owners and festival organizers should invest in anti-bias training for staff and volunteers to ensure people of color feel welcome at their events.
“It’s about making sure the people who work at your establishment are trained to have adequate language and [engage in] actions that are not antagonistic toward black people,” Rane says.
While Barjon is “grateful for this moment” in which LGBTQ groups and allies to the fight for racial justice are asking what they can do to help, she remains “cautious” in her optimism. It’s too easy, she says, for people to “pat themselves on the backs for reading a book about white supremacy or white fragility” and forget that “we are dealing with racism within the LGBTQ community and outside of it.” As soon as they “get the right to marry and get their right to adopt,” too many white LGBTQ people stop caring about the oppression that others in the community still face, Barjon adds.
“You would think the thread of oppression that we have experienced would bind us together,” she says. “But sometimes white LGBTQ people don’t know how to step back and uplift others. It’s a condition of their whiteness and it’s a condition of how they were made to be. But if we’re actually going to have systemic change, all non-black people need to reckon with themselves and what society they want to live in.”