The chants were deafening, as the crowd anticipated the arrival of headliner Miley Cyrus for the Capital Pride Concert last Sunday evening.
When the superstar emerged, wearing a pair of jeans bedazzled with “I ♥︎ Washington DC” and clutching a heart-shaped American flag purse, the roars became ear-shattering. It was a pinnacle moment in the ongoing history of the Capital Pride Festival, and one that capped a weekend that, while not without challenging moments, was the biggest and best celebration in the event’s 42-year history.
Debuting her newest single, “Inspired,” Cyrus said, “I’d like to dedicate [it] to everyone here today, and everyone around the world that’s ever felt like they weren’t treated fairly because of their gender, or their sexual orientation or how they identify, or maybe ’cause they felt different or looked different.
“I’d like to dedicate it to all those people, because I’ve been there, and I know how it feels. And to have all of y’all here right now, supporting me — I hope you know I support you with everything inside of my little bedazzled heart.”
Cyrus, founder of the Happy Hippie Foundation, which encourages “young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable populations,” next blazed through several of her biggest hits, including a heartfelt rendition of the Dolly Parton classic, “Jolene” and the thundering “Party in the U.S.A.”
“This song is perfect for today,” said Cyrus, who identifies as pansexual, introducing the hit “We Can’t Stop,” “because it’s all about we can’t stop and we won’t stop fighting for our rights, loving each other, fighting [against] injustices everywhere. I’m so happy to be part of this amazing family.”
It was a sentiment echoed by other Capital Pride attendees throughout the weekend, whether at Saturday’s parade, Sunday’s festival, or the Equality March for Unity and Pride held earlier that morning.
“I work in an organization that is pretty conservative,” said 27-year-old Annie Truslow, of Waynesboro, Va., who attended the festival with her girlfriend, Tali Ramo. “I often go through this experience of packing pieces and parts of myself away that I actually love and want to celebrate, for the sake of showing up to work and being professional and getting my job done.
“I live in this space in pride events, or anytime I’m not at work, where I’m very intentional about living in my authenticity, whether that means I’m talking about my queer identity, or my relationship, just really embracing the experience of being queer in Trump’s America.”
For Ramo, 25, who only recently came out as bisexual, the weekend offered a new perspective on Pride.
“I’ve attended many festivals and pride parades before as an ally,” she said. “It feels entirely different to be here as someone who’s finally identifying and being at peace with who I am. It feels more emotional. There’s a sense of belonging. I think it’s really powerful to be here among a group of people who see you for who you are.”
AS WITH ANY FAMILY, spats occur over any number of issues. So it came as no surprise when a discordant note struck on Saturday, as the Capital Pride Parade was interrupted by the recently formed group, No Justice No Pride.
Over the past few months, No Justice No Pride has taken issue with Capital Pride’s lack of board diversity, its reliance on corporate sponsorships — in particular, its association with defense contractors, and banks that invest in private prisons, immigration detention centers, and fund construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The group also objects to the presence of the Metropolitan Police Department’s LGBT Liaison Unit, due to allegations of police brutality toward communities of color, particularly transgender women of color.
The parade, which drew an estimated 150,000 spectators, started its usual route through the Dupont, but as it moved closer to the reviewing stand near the intersection of 15th and P Streets, three different No Justice No Pride gatherings targeted specific contingents within the parade. One group, focused on police brutality and profiling, blocked MPD’s LGBT Liaison Unit on P Street NW. Another, comprised of anti-war activists, targeted Lockheed Martin at the intersection of 17th and P Streets NW. Finally, a third, led by indigenous, two-spirit individuals, targeted Wells Fargo at R Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW. The activists stood their ground until the parade was diverted. No arrests were made.
Reaction to the protest was mixed. Some agreed with NJNP’s goals, but a substantial number of people objected to stopping the Parade. At 17th and P, several onlookers hurled empty water bottles and catcalled protesters from nearby balconies. Many of those in attendance, however, were simply confused by the stop-start flow of the parade, unaware of NJNP’s actions.
A trio of Atlantans near the 17th and P blockade offered a perfect range of reactions to the demonstration. Jeff Raider, 44, was trying to read a double-sided, neon pink flier that NJNP had distributed, in order to explain the group’s mission. “I’m trying to read about it and process it,” he said. “I think they need to be heard.”
Billy Heaton, 51, lamented the division that the protest sparked among members of the LGBTQ community, adding that it was unfair that NJNP was allowed to interrupt a peaceful Pride parade.
“I’m a little bit frustrated, because hopefully, tomorrow, we would all be able to come as one,” he said in reference to the Equality March. “I don’t know why they necessarily have to ruin the parade.”
But Scott Golden, who was initially upset at the parade being disrupted, had changed his mind after finding out about NJNP’s requests of Capital Pride. “Had I known about this in advance, I would probably be there protesting with them,” said the 37-year-old.
Drew Ambrogi, one of the central organizers of No Justice No Pride, declared the group’s actions, which included several rallies and marches, triumphant.
“We demonstrated that there is more broad community support for an alternate vision of Pride than Capital Pride would have folks believe,” he told Metro Weekly. “And that people enjoyed themselves celebrating the true legacy of Pride, and having an outlet to do that without feeling they were at a corporate festival.”
Despite the alarming hostility of some passersby — several people reportedly spit on protestors and used the “n-word,” while others chanted “Go to jail!” — Ambrogi felt that people were overall receptive to the group’s message and tactics.
“We accomplished a variety of things. We continued to get our message out there in a way that was impossible for people to ignore and our blockades did get the attention of Capital Pride.”
Ryan Bos, executive director of Capital Pride, expressed frustration at being unable to successfully convince No Justice No Pride to call off its actions. Yet, he remains hopeful at the prospect of future discussions with
“I hear the demands that they are placing on us as Capital Pride, but these are things that impact our entire LGBTQ-plus community,” said Bos. “It’s being talked about in a way that we don’t understand or respect them — and we do. Confronting us [using] this tactic is not a way to bridge divides and to get to solutions. There are real issues in this conversation, and that’s what unfortunately getting missed, because I think people who need to hear it are turned off by this tactic.”
THE NEXT MORNING brought a united front as people took to the streets, marching through downtown D.C., past the White House and onto the National Mall. While opposition to the Trump administration ruled the day, the overall tone of the Equality March was lighthearted, with marchers donning rainbow flags, often pointed placards, even costumes.
Laura Lewis, a 38-year old ally from Charlottesville, came dressed as “Wonder Woolen,” a crocheted Wonder Woman costume with a rainbow cape. “I started crocheting the costume shortly after the election, because I realized I wanted to go to a lot of marches, and be present, and make my voice heard,” she said. “So I created this character of ‘Wonder Woolen’ that I wear to different protests, to draw attention to the fact that justice and heroines go hand-in-hand with sticking up for the rights of people who are being oppressed by our society.”
Wearing a rainbow zebra costume, Joshua Baumgardner, 31, of Fairfax, and his partner, David Craig, stood on the National Mall holding signs reading “Love will Prevail” and “Make America Fabulous,” the latter with a picture of Donald Trump dolled up in drag. They marched because of a general sense that LGBTQ rights are slowly being eroded under the Trump administration.
“I think of this administration almost like a pebble,” said Baumgardner. “If you throw one pebble at someone, it might hurt a little bit. But a few months in, you’re loaded with thousands and thousands of pebbles, and you’ve killed people. That’s what I think with this administration: It’s one thing after another after another after another.”
Kevin Morris, of Springfield, Va., participated in the 2009 Marriage Equality March and the 2000 Millennium March on Washington, but the 41-year-old says there’s a more immediate urgency now, because many fear Republicans will undo progress made on LGBTQ rights.
“There’s just this sense of non-acceptance,” he said. “There’s this sense of threatening legislation from local governments, state governments. There’s a sense of empowerment for those political views. And four years of that could be dangerous for the LGBT community.”
It was Scottie Craver’s grandchildren who provided the motivation for the 51-year-old and his partner to travel from Richardson, Texas.
“You get to an age where it’s like, ‘I’m done with all the crap.’ I want this stuff to be equal for everyone,” says Craver. “I want to make sure my grandchildren live in a world where they are paid and treated equally just like everyone else.”
Craver scoffs at accusations from conservatives that the march is just the political left refighting the last election.
“This is a march for our rights,” he said. “Where I go to work, I used to be in the closet, and not be able to talk about my partner. I go to work now, and they ask me, ‘Are you married?’ And I say, ‘I have a partner.’ I don’t have to worry about some bigot boss man at work who’s going to fire me because of who I am, not based on what I do.”
Lena Hernandez, 34, of Clinton, Md., attended the march with her wife and her 22-month old daughter, who was twirling a giant rainbow flag. Hernandez teared up as she spoke of her hopes for her daughter.
“I should have worn waterproof mascara,” she said, wiping her eyes. “I want my daughter to grow up and be happy. I want her to have a good education. I want her to fall in love. I want her to be proud of us. I don’t want her to be ashamed of having two moms because society tells her that it’s not okay.”
STEPS AWAYS FROM the Equality March’s end point, an estimated 400,000 people gathered throughout the day on Pennsylvania Avenue for the Capital Pride Festival and Concert. Bernie Delia, president of the Capital Pride Board, says the crowd was larger than he had ever seen.
“When Miley performed, there was a crowd stretching in each direction as far as you could see,” Delia says. “And they stayed.”
A sense of protest from the morning’s march lingered throughout the day.
“We saw a lot of cattiness and bitchiness about the protesters interrupting Pride yesterday,” said Seth Gaye, of Washington. He carried a rainbow sign emblazoned with some choice words for the current president. “Their demands were a little bit unorganized, some of them spot-on, some of them a little bit outrageous, but I wish they had more effectively gotten their message out. That’s why I kept my message simple: ‘Fuck Trump.’ There’s literally not a goddamn thing he has done that is in the right direction. It’s all backwards. And it’s just not the direction we should go.”
Arissa Brown, a 25-year-old from Harrisburg, Pa., who marched with Planned Parenthood in Saturday’s Parade, admits that Pride takes on a new meaning under the Trump administration.
“We’re going to be here,” she said. “We’re going to be loud. We’re going to be gay. We’re going to be proud. And you can’t put us back in the closet.”
To other attendees, being visible was the most important aspect of the Capital Pride Festival.
“Pride means to me living without fear, living genuinely, living your best life,” said 28-year-old Eric Morgan of Dupont, sporting a rainbow tutu. “I’m unapologetically proud of my femme nature, and my tutu-wearing, makeup-swirling, high heel-strutting self.”
Miller, 29, of Southeast D.C., took the opportunity to celebrate her identity and cultural heritage, sporting a Bahaman headdress with rainbow colored feathers and a rainbow flag draped around her shoulders.
“I’m from the Bahamas,” she said. “So this is what we do: we have festivals in the street. I’m very proud, and with the change in administration, I’m very afraid as well. So I wanted to come out and be bold, and just express myself the best way I know how.”
Andy Hackbarth was celebrating his first official Capital Pride since coming out to his friends last year. “It’s pretty incredible, actually,” said the 26-year-old from Arlington. “I did not expect it to be this wild. It’s amazing. It’s what I want it to be.”
Reflecting on the past year, Hackbarth, who joined the D.C. Gay Flag Football League to meet new people, has been able to make friends and gradually get more comfortable with being “out.”
“Being part of the community this year is the happiest I’ve ever been,” he says. “I’m really proud to be part of everything that’s going on here.”
Jessica Crouse came dressed as Xena, the warrior princess. “I’m a lesbian, so I’m always at Pride,” said the 31-year-old as she strolled the festival grounds. “And I always wear my Xena costume to Pride, because Xena belongs here too.”
Asked what makes her ‘unapologetically proud,’ Pride’s theme for 2017, Crouse smiled.
“I just am who I am. I’m not ashamed of it. And I’m not going to hide it.”
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