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Pride originated as a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots — a groundbreaking moment of rebellion against state violence, with trans women of color and low-income folks at the forefront.
Today, Pride has become an institution. Corporations eager to market their products to affluent LGBTQ people have stepped in to provide funds that promise to make each coming Pride celebration larger, more elaborate, and more expensive than ever before. In exchange, corporations and state institutions get to wrap themselves in the rainbow flag and showcase their “allyship.” But in pursuing “bigger” and “better,” Capital Pride has abandoned the principles of freedom, liberation, and self-determination that make Pride a tradition worth celebrating.
Today, Capital Pride colludes with forces that actively oppress large swaths of the LGBTQ and two spirit community. Last year, our parade included members of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; weapons manufacturers and border “securitization” contractors; banks that profit from mass incarceration and pipelines that desecrate indigenous land; and people who helped Donald Trump get elected and today serve in his administration. Corporations that spend millions of dollars lobbying for policies that keep our people impoverished and imprisoned do not belong in Pride.
Ironically, Capital Pride has also come to include the police — the very entity responsible for the violent raids on Stonewall that started it all. The presence of uniformed police officers in Pride makes it fundamentally unsafe and unwelcoming to members of our community who face discriminatory policing — like that which drove our ancestors to rebel at Stonewall — every day.
Celebrating police officers as “allies” without addressing the vast injustices carried out by the police as an institution puts Capital Pride on the wrong side of a critical issue. LGBTQ people — especially those who are black, trans women, immigrants, undocumented, Muslim and Latinx — have been at the forefront of fights to end mass incarceration, police violence, and disruptive deportations for years. Whether Pride is a protest or a celebration, by welcoming these law enforcement agencies, Capital Pride is turning their backs on these efforts.
Certainly there are some LGBTQ police officers, and some do genuinely seek to do well by our community. But those individuals’ experiences cannot erase the fact that choices made by the MPD have pushed D.C.’s incarceration rate off the charts, allowed officers to harrass and kill members of our community, and left young LGBTQ people to die in our jails. At a time when dog whistles like “law and order” and “blue lives matter” are being used to intimidate and further criminalize black and brown people, and the abuse of trans women by police is well-reported, we must demand more from institutions who want to share in our “Pride.”
How can Pride stand for any of us, if it doesn’t stand for the most marginalized members of our community? Capital Pride has been asked on many occasions to recognize this fact by rejecting sponsorship from Wells Fargo and other harmful corporations, not partnering with police and immigration enforcement, and making their leadership structure more representative of D.C.’s queer and trans community. These actions would demonstrate that Capital Pride is about something more important than big crowds, glitter, and consumerism. These actions would demonstrate that Capital Pride stands for justice for all LGBTQ people. So far, Capital Pride has refused to take action.
Whether or not Capital Pride decides to adhere to our demands and return Pride to the people, the community that has come together under the banner of “No Justice No Pride” is not going away. Across the country, a movement is growing rapidly within the LGBTQ community. Lines are being drawn between those who value their own comfort, security and privilege, and those who recognize that the pursuit of justice and freedom for LGBTQ people is inseparable from the pursuit of racial, economic, and social justice for all. It’s time for all of us — especially Capital Pride — to choose a side.
Angela Peoples is the Executive Director of GetEqual and a member of the No Justice No Pride Coalition. What are your thoughts? Please share them in the comments below.
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