Reclaiming a proud legacy

Activists opposed to the role that corporations play in NYC Pride events are staging a march of their own

  • Ann Northrop moderates a meeting of the Reclaim Pride Coalition. Photo: Jackie Rudin

  • The Reclaim Pride Coalition objects to the role of corporations in New York’s annual Pride March. This Chipotle float was part of the 2013 parade. Photo: brklyn is over, via Flckr

Fifty years after the Stonewall rebellion launched the modern LGBTQ rights movement, New York City is playing host to the World Pride celebrations. As Pride has grown, it has also changed in nature. What began as a scrappy, community-based political protest has become a mammoth, rainbow-hued festival full of corporate sponsors.

The activists at the Reclaim Pride Coalition want to return Pride to its political roots. To that end they have organized their own Queer Liberation March, an alternative to the official NYC Pride March. Organizer Ann Northrop, a veteran activist, said the first Pride march in New York, in June 1970, “was a political event,” which has been left behind by the “corporate party” Pride has become.

A Dedicated Activist

Northrop got her start in the anti-Vietnam War and women’s rights protest movements in the 1960s and ‘70s. Out as a lesbian since 1976, she left a job at CBS to work as an AIDS educator for New York’s Hetrick-Martin Institute for Lesbian and Gay Youth, and later as an organizer at ACT UP.

In the decades since, Northrop has worked at the Williams Institute, an LGBTQ-focused think tank, the Lesbian Avengers and Queer Nation activist groups, as well as “every protest group that came along.” Since 1996, she has hosted the public access show “Gay USA” along with Andy Humm, showcasing LGBTQ issues, both domestically and internationally.

Northrop said her years on “Gay USA” have made her “continually aware” of the challenges faced by LGBTQ communities around the world. During an interview, she noted the struggles of activists in Bosnia and North Macedonia to hold the first pride marches in their nations. She also mentioned a Pride march last year in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp by Ugandan refugees, at risk to their own lives due to the rigidly conservative environment. “That is pride to me, not TD Bank rolling down Fifth Avenue,” Northrop said.

An Unconventional Approach

It was this desire to re-center rights advocacy as part of Pride which drew Northrop to Reclaim Pride. In 2017 and 2018, Northrop, along with other activists, took part in the city’s official Pride march. But after struggles in 2018 with Heritage of Pride, the organizers of the march, Reclaim Pride was founded.

Northrop explained that in Reclaim Pride, “nobody has official titles, we’re just organizers. Everyone’s on equal footing,” This unconventional approach reflects Reclaim Pride’s focus on accessibility and community. Unlike the NYC Pride parade, which requires permits to join, the Queer Liberation March welcomes participants at any point along the four-mile route, which begins at Sheridan Square at 9:30 A.M. on June 30th and concludes with a rally at Central Park’s Great Lawn.

The rally will feature a plethora of guests, “both political and entertaining.” Among them will be poets Staceyann Chin and Pamela Sneed, performance artists Justin Vivian Bond, Taylor Mac, and Alok Vaid-Menon, and activists Lydia X. Z. Brown, Edafe Okporo, and Amir Ashour, along with members of the Gay Liberation Front and ACT UP. Also featured will be nightlife personalities Jose Xtravaganza and Kevin Aviance, journalist Masha Gessen, and actor John Cameron Mitchell.

No Corporations, Campaigners or Cops in Uniform

Northrop emphasized that politicians are welcome to join the rally, “just not in campaign mode.” Centering on the LGBTQ community itself over any outside figures or organizations is central to Reclaim Pride’s efforts.

As part of its political focus, Reclaim Pride also bars the presence of corporations and the NYPD, both of which are fixtures of NYC Pride. Northrop explained that while some corporations have helped advocate for certain LGBTQ causes, they should not be the focus of Pride at the expense of the community the event is meant to celebrate. “If they want to support us, they can stand on the sidelines,” she said, “or give money to the community.”

As for the NYPD, Northrop said they “make the most marginalized feel unsafe,” and pointed to the department’s history of entrapping gay men and numerous incidents of brutality. She also noted its failure to apologize for the 1969 raid on the Stonewall Inn. (A few days after the interview, Police Commissioner James O’Neill finally offered that long-awaited apology. “The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong — plain and simple,” he said.)

Northrop said that she has had friends with and worked with the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) on efforts to reduce homophobia within the NYPD. She said members of GOAL, as well as any other NYPD officers, are free to participate in the Queer Liberation March, as long as they march out of uniform, representing themselves rather than the institution whose historical practices Reclaim Pride objects to.

Northrop explained that Pride should be a time for “celebrating our victories, mourning our losses,” and looking ahead to the next fronts in the continuing struggle for LGBTQ rights. The Queer Liberation March is part of what she described as “a much bigger stream of progressive values,” which seek to galvanize Pride into a community-based political event once more.

Rights and Safety for Transgender People

Northrop said two issues are particularly important today: transgender rights, and the ongoing attempts to include sexuality and gender identity as protected groups under federal non-discrimination laws.

“Trans communities are under attack,” she said. “Black trans women are being murdered.” Two such women, 26-year-old Chynal Lindsey and 23-year-old Muhlaysia Booker were both killed in Dallas, Texas in the last month alone, she noted.

The Human Rights Foundation documented at least 26 murders of transgender people in the United States last year. Black transgender women are particularly vulnerable to such violence, as they face the compounded issues of racism, transphobia, and misogyny.

As for the issue of non-discrimination laws, while New York includes gender identity and sexual orientation in both its employment discrimination and hate crime laws, only 20 other states do so with regard to employment, and only 18 do so for hate crimes.

Northrop and other activists seek to expand those protections nationwide, an uphill battle against the Trump administration, which Northrop described as “relentless and shameless in rolling back protections.” Just last month, she pointed out, the Department of Health and Human Services rescinded an Obama-era guideline which protected transgender people from discrimination by health care providers.

All of this — the Queer Liberation March and the ongoing struggle to create a safe and fair world for LGBTQ people — Northrop said, is all part of Reclaim Pride’s goal to “bring back that spirit of Stonewall.”

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