Metro Weekly

Capital Pride executive producer resigns after outcry over controversial 2016 election post

"No Justice No Pride" coalition demands Capital Pride take further actions to support marginalized LGBTQ groups

Wells Fargo float at Capital Pride Parade

An executive producer with Capital Pride has resigned following outcry over a blog post he wrote for right-wing website RedState.

In the post, Bryan Pruitt made insensitive arguments about parties’ election strategy surrounding LGBTQ issues that critics have characterized as “transphobic.”

No Justice No Pride, a coalition of LGBTQ activists formed out of activist group ResistThis, first brought to light Pruitt’s article on the political strategy embraced by LGBTQ supporters during the 2016 election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In the article, Pruitt argued that the LGBTQ community, and Democrats seeking their support, had moved too quickly and were potentially turning away voters on issues such as transgender people being able to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

“There is not an epidemic of trans people being denied access to public facilities,” Pruitt wrote. “Trans people safely use bathrooms every day, mostly because if they are truly trans, other folks don’t even notice.”

He refutes the charge that his words represent transphobia.

“I am not transphobic, and I resent anyone even pretending to say that I am,” Pruitt tells Metro Weekly. “I’ve always been supportive of the trans community. A political blog post from over a year ago on election strategy in 2016 is exactly that: an opinion about political strategy. So it has nothing to do with my opinion or my support of the trans community, which has always been 100 percent and unwavering.”

Pruitt also had words for the activists who had called for him to be fired from his position. 

“Those people don’t know me. They’ve never approached me, they’ve never contacted me, they’ve never volunteered for Capital Pride — as far as I know,” he says. “To indicate or to say anything that I am somehow ‘anti-trans’ because of a political post — I happen to be conservative, I’m a gay conservative, but just because of my political views, that doesn’t make me anti-transgender.”

He also said he stepped down in order to prevent his involvement serving as a distraction.

“I’m a big believer that staff should never be the story,” adds Pruitt. “When staff, whether its volunteer or otherwise, becomes the story, we’re losing. If we were to spend the next month with this group agitating against me, and trying to make Bernie and Ryan and Rob miserable every waking moment because of my official involvement, that doesn’t get us to a great Pride celebration. And my goal, whether as a volunteer or an attendee, is to have an absolutely amazing Pride weekend.”

After the article was brought to its attention, Capital Pride announced via Facebook that Pruitt had been asked to resign.

“As soon as the Capital Pride board was made aware of the May 2016 RedState article written by Bryan Pruitt, a Capital Pride volunteer, we immediately asked for his resignation,” Capital Pride wrote. “The Capital Pride Alliance board, staff and volunteers have zero tolerance for transphobia in any form and remain committed to supporting the trans community through our work and programs.”

In response, No Justice No Pride issued a statement demanding that Capital Pride take further actions to sever corporate ties and make itself more accountable to, and representative of, the LGBTQ community — particularly marginalized groups like transgender people and people of color.

“By firing Bryan Pruitt, Capital Pride is beginning to recognize they have a problem,” the statement reads. “Pruitt should never have held a position as part of Capital Pride’s staff. His views are widely known, public, and he has been a part of Capital Pride for many years. While we recognize this as a victory for the community, Capital Pride’s work is not done.”

No Justice No Pride also argues that members of the Metropolitan Police Department’s LGBT Liaison Unit should not be allowed to march in the parade, because individual officers have assaulted and harassed transgender women of color and black youth.

The organization highlighted Terrence Sterling, a Fort Washington man who was killed after ramming his motorcycle into a police car, and an incident in which MPD “fired 6 shots into a car full of trans women.” That is a reference to the case of former MPD officer Kenneth Furr, who was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon and solicitation of prostitution, but received a suspended sentence and was placed on probation.

The group also takes issue with police presence in general at the march, and plans to ask Capital Pride to consider community policing alternatives, such as having civilians doing crowd control in lieu of MPD officers, to whatever extent that would be possible.

“We’re a large coalition, so different folks within our coalition have different demands, but one of the things we all agree on is that the police shouldn’t be marching in uniform or celebrated as part of the parade,” says Drew Ambrogi, a spokesman for No Justice No Pride. “If Pride is truly about being inclusive, they need to recognize that having a heavy police presence at Pride fundamentally makes the space unsafe for a large part of our community.

“Pride was originally a protest against the police, and the LGBT community has an important role to play in advocating for police accountability and criminal justice reform,” adds Ambrogi.

No Justice No Pride is also demanding that Capital Pride sever ties with Wells Fargo, a sponsor of the event. According to activists, Wells Fargo’s role in funding the Dakota Access Pipeline and its investment in private prisons and immigrant detention centers make it an unacceptable partner to do business with. The organization has also asked for the resignation of Wells Fargo employee Jesse Bonales, a member of Capital Pride’s board.

“We think it’s in Capital Pride’s best interest to eliminate this blatant conflict of interest on the board. We’re also very curious how Jesse Bonales got on the board, and the true extent of Capital Pride’s relationship with Wells Fargo, especially at a time when the D.C. Council is considering in divesting from Wells Fargo, cities across the country are divesting from Wells Fargo, and everyone seems to recognize Wells Fargo’s role in funding the Dakota Access Pipeline and profiting from private prisons,” says Ambrogi.

“A lot of our community is indigenous, and I think that we, collectively, as LGBT people, have a role to advocate for the most marginalized among us, and by supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline, we are throwing indigenous LGBTQ and Two Spirit people under the bus,” he adds.

The activists are calling on Capital Pride to implement a transparent, “democratic” structure that will keep it accountable and allow for the removal of board members who aren’t serving the LGBTQ community’s best interests.

The coalition would eventually like to see the severing of ties with corporate entities, turning Pride into a much less commercialized, and more people-centric, celebration.

“If the Capital Pride Board was more diverse, and if it actually included voices from across the community, these kinds of issues wouldn’t be a problem in the first place,” says Ambrogi. “We believe that we should re-envision Pride in a way that it is supported and brought about by the community, and not by corporate interests who shape Pride, depending on their need for publicity and advertising.”

Bernie Delia, president of the Capital Pride board of directors, tells Metro Weekly that Pruitt resigned of his own accord so as not to detract from the overall message of Pride. He has also responded to No Justice No Pride’s criticisms of Capital Pride.

“The Capital Pride Alliance was not contacted by [No Justice No Pride] prior to the distribution of a press release last night,” Delia said in an emailed statement. “The press release includes many inaccuracies and they are engaging in oppressive tactics that do not align with the very essence of what they claim to seek. Capital Pride is extremely mindful and thoughtful of our role in serving the entire community and growing our events in a way that fosters pride and community.”

Delia has rejected the idea of disinviting the MPD’s LGBT Liaison Unit, noting that some are members of the LGBTQ community with ties that go back years. He tells Metro Weekly that the Liaison Unit will continue to have a contingent at the front of the Capital Pride Parade, as they have in past years.

“With regard to community policing, we have to take a very realistic view of the safety concerns that are present in this city for an event of this scale and size,” Delia says. “Last year, we had the murders at Pulse nightclub after the parade had finished and on the eve of the festival and concert. We are very grateful to our city and their federal counterparts for providing the type of security that they did last year. We just don’t believe we would be able to have those resources duplicated [by civilian policing].”

Delia adds that security will be particularly necessary this year, given that the weekend will also feature a national LGBTQ equality march in addition to the parade and the festival. He expects anywhere from 300,000 to 350,000 people to come to Washington during that weekend, which means they’ll need additional officers for crowd control.

He also says that the Capital Pride Alliance will not be severing ties with any corporate partners or asking Bonales to resign.

“Jesse [Bonales] was recommended many years ago by one of our former board members,” he says. “And he’s been on the board for several years. He’s been a great colleague to work with. He’s given us great ideas, and his participation has been excellent. There’s no reason, just because he works for Wells Fargo, for him to resign, nor is there any credible reason for him to do so.”

As for the support of corporate partners, Delia says: “The booths are not staffed with corporate people. People happen to work for those corporations. Those individuals are largely members of the LGBTQ community or allies. They want to be there. They want to participate. They take pride in their work, and that their work supports them through Capital Pride. They have just as much right to be a part of this as anybody else does.”

“It has been with the support and resources of our diverse sponsors and corporate partners that Capital Pride has been able to grow and thrive,” he adds.

UPDATE: This article was revised to include comments from Bryan Pruitt.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com