Just*in Time: July 2017: Reflections on Pride

Photo by Don Harris © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved.

It was a typical day at Washington D.C.’s Pride parade, the sun was out, people were smiling, cheering and…..protesting? When I’m in the parade you can usually catch a glimpse of me in the leather contingent on my motorcycle. I live about forty minutes outside of the D.C. area, a little bit of a schlep for some. If you are in the Pride parade, in any Pride parade, you can expect some delays, but during this year’s Capital Pride, there were several.

A major delay was caused by #NoJusticeNoPride, which, according to its Facebook event page, is “a collective of organizers and activists from across the District of Columbia. We exist to end the LGBT movement’s collusion with systems of oppression that further marginalize queer and trans individuals.” They were protesting Capital Pride for several reasons. Their demands were to honor the legacy that trans women of color played in the history of Pride by adding more transgender women of color in leadership positions; more stringently vet which corporations serve as sponsors of Capital Pride; and prevent uniformed police officers, including the LGBT Liaison Unit of D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and military personnel from participating in the parade. They were chanting “We shut shit down” and “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”

At first I was a little puzzled by it all, maybe because I don’t necessarily identify as trans or queer, maybe because I, myself, even though gay and black, understand that how I was raised makes me privileged—I’m not sure. The parade was delayed for about ninety more minutes than expected, which cost the city of Washington, D.C., a pretty penny. Also, the parade was rerouted three times in order to bypass protestors who had chained themselves together in order to interrupt the flow of the parade.

I understand their demands listed above. Having representation of all of the LGBTQ community is very important in the parade. I also think that the leadership that represents us should be strong, competent, knowledgeable, intelligent, and articulate, to name a few requirements. But I do have some questions. Have they themselves come up with a better vetting system than the vetting system that Capital Pride already has in place for its sponsors? Isn’t the last demand, of preventing uniformed police officers, including the LGBT Liaison Unit of D.C. Metropolitan Police Department from participating in the parade, a little farfetched, considering they’re for our protection? There have been incidents when police have protected the LGBTQ community from harm during pride parades and festivals. As far as military, talk about exclusionary—I myself have marched proudly as a member of the military member, a 9/11 disabled veteran, in uniform.

I’m all for raising one’s voice when there are injustices and everyone should have the right to protest. Pride itself once was a protest. The first gay marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago on June 28, 1970, to remember the anniversary of the Stonewall riots and those protests turned into Pride parades.

Online supporters of the group #NoJusticeNoPride compared the protest to such actions as the Stonewall Riots and ACT UP protests. But, no, I will not compare #NoJusticeNoPride to either. Stonewall and ACT UP were clear instances of a group of people fighting against institutions that criminalized us and left us to suffer and die. Stonewall happened because the community had been constantly harassed, jailed, and beaten by police. ACT UP started because people were dying of AIDS every day when there were little to no fucks given about those who were dying by the federal government and others. The Pride parade has not become such an institution.

Yes, the parade had corporate sponsors, but it also had community resources. Rerouting the parade meant there would be little to no attention given to the community resources that are there to help the trans and queer community or any other community for that matter. People who come to watch the parade sometimes learn about resources or organizations they didn’t know about. If I were a Latinx gay man or trans woman and didn’t speak or understand English, I would need to know where to go for resources. In the D.C. area, there are places that can help, like La Clinica del Pueblo, that provides resources to the LGBTQ Latinx community. Also, their mission is to is to create successful life stories among Transgender, Genderqueer and Gender Non-conforming, Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people. So, by protesting, I feel #NoJusticeNoPride may have thwarted the individuals, especially young people, it claims to represent from being informed about the resources they need.

And information about resources is needed. According to statistics from the D.C. Department of Health among the 246 transgender persons diagnosed with HIV, 96.3 percent were linked to care, with fifty percent of them becoming linked to care within three months of diagnosis. Nearly three-quarters (72.8 percent) received any care in 2014, and, out of those, 68 percent were found to have received continuous care in 2014. Of all transgender persons diagnosed, 62.2 percent achieved viral suppression at last lab in 2014.

There are several ways of getting one’s message across, but this form of protest may not be effective. However, I refuse to protest the protestors. Divisiveness among a minority only allows a majority to conquer them.

Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Presently, he is working toward his doctorate in public health. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].