Happening Now: Members of the Black queer community of Chicago are disrupting the Chicago Pride Parade. Here is their public statement:
On this day in 1969, Sylvia Rivera, a Boricua trans woman, threw the bottle that sparked the infamous Stonewall Riot. A year later, she and Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman, co-organized the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March in New York City to commemorate the queer upheaval against police violence, which toured the lower east side, ending strategically in front of the New York Women’s House of Detention.
By 1973, only three years after the first march in honor of Stonewall, organization of Pride events around the country were taken over largely by wealthy cisgender gays and lesbians, looking to transform the march that began in New York from political protest to an opportunity for mainstream visibility. That same year—coinciding with homosexuality being removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of Mental Disorders and Conditions—trans and gender non-conforming people saw themselves banned from parades and gatherings around the nation.
The birth of the Gay and Lesbian movement began with the banishing of those members of the queer community still unable to assimilate—the very same people whose direct actions in Compton’s Cafeteria, Cooper’s Donuts and Stonewall had sparked the movement.
We recount this history to remind ourselves not only that the root of our movement as queer people is the militant resistance of state violence in all its forms, but also that the Pride Parade as a tradition is built on the intentional silencing of the members of our community most impacted by that same violence—trans people, women, people with disabilities and mental illness, Black and Brown folk, indigenous people, immigrants, sex workers and street youth.
Today in Chicago, specifically in the Lakeview Neighborhood, young trans and queer people from around the city in search of a safe and affirming space find themselves constantly surveilled by police and local neighborhood watch organizations, profiled by business owners and wealthy residents. Blogs like Crime in Boystown vilify youth for engaging in survival trades, while organizations like the Center on Halsted invite police into their space to arrest, harass and surveil them.
Queer youth experiencing homelessness, and the plight of trans and queer communities of color, is not merely an issue of transphobia and homophobia in Black and Brown communities; It is equally about classism, racism, and gentrification. It is about the draconian measures of austerity that push our people onto the street, refuse us reentrance into real estate and the job market, and the police and prison systems which work together to ensure we stay locked out. Young, Black, Brown, Native, trans, poor, working, immigrant and disabled people are suffering because every system of governance in this country is geared to destroy us.
Today, Black trans and queer people and our allies are purposefully disrupting the Chicago Pride Parade.
We do so to honor our trans, queer, Black, Brown and Native ancestors. We do so because our people are dying at the hands of police, military and state-funded militias around the globe. We do so because we refuse to be tokenized by the same corporations that sponsor state violence, refuse a living wage and profit off our poverty. We do so because young queer people need a better outlet to celebrate themselves than a mire of consumption and sexual violence.
We are blocking the intersection of Addison and Halsted in the heart of Boystown, blocks away from the Center on Halsted, Whole Foods, Wrigley Field and the Addison CPD station. It is an intersection not just of major Chicago streets, but of corporate greed, private exploitation of queer communities, hyper policing, and ground zero for violence perpetrated against trans and queer young people by the city of Chicago.
We are inspired by Boston activists who recently protested the Pride Parade in their city. Acknowledging that we are only a small faction of the Black queer community in Chicago, and an even smaller faction of our Black queer family worldwide, we would like to present our goals in staging this action, and our suggestions for the future demands of our movement in Chicago and beyond:
- End Stop and Frisk—We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and demand the permanent abolition of the racist police state. The queer community must call for an immediate end to racist policies that make trans and queer people of color into the targets of deadly state violence!
- End the Policing of Trans and Queer Youth—It’s time young trans and queer people—especially those that are Black, Brown, undocumented and experiencing homelessness—be recognized as the leaders they are. We demand an end to the criminalizing of youth in our community for doing what they need to do to survive!
- Reopen Schools and Mental Health Clinics—We demand the Emanuel administration be held accountable for the violence it continues to perpetrate against Black, Brown and working communities in the city of Chicago. Reopen all closed schools and mental health clinics—provide real resources to Black, Brown, disabled, mentally ill, homeless, queer and youth communities!
- Trauma Center on the South Side—Until there is a real redistribution of resources in our city, we need support in dealing with the inevitable violence that is the result of poverty. We reject the Obama Presidential Library and call for a trauma center on the South Side now!
- No New Police, No New Jails—As Black queers we stand in solidarity with all communities targeted by state violence, especially queer immigrant and undocumented communities. We support the abolition of detention centers, prisons and psych words. End deportations, raids and racist profiling! Stop funding police and jails, and provide our communities with real social services!
- Demilitarize Around the Globe–We recognize that we are caught in a global economy driven at its core by militarism. The growing violence we face in our neighborhoods is the same violence faced by our people in Palestine, Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere US colonialism profits off our blood. Demilitarize the police, divest from weapons manufacturers and prisons, and hands off our 1st Amendment rights!
- End Corporate Exploitation of Our Community—We are tired of corporations using opportunities like Pride to market to us while they continue to thrive off our poverty. We stand in solidarity with the Fight for 15, and demand a living wage and the right to unionize for all poor and working people! We also demand that the largest Lakeview nonprofits—the Howard Brown Health Center and the Center on Halsted—provide the same to their entry level employees and other youth workers at the Broadway Youth Center, the Brown Elephant, and the Crib!
- No More Wage Theft—In the Lakeview neighborhood, Taco Bell, Target and other chains regularly hire young trans and queer people to meet corporate quotas, then fire them within weeks, often without properly paying them. We demand justice in the form of jobs, fair wages, full benefits and the right to unionize!
- Trans and Queer Shelters Now—Spaces like the Crib and the Broadway Youth Center provide important shelter for homeless youth, but they are not enough! Until there is an end to poverty and homelessness in our communities, we demand funding for existing services and investment in new ones, like Project Fierce!
We are vocally rejecting Pride as a desecration of our history of resistance. We call not for its transformation, but reinvestment in our own communities and legacies of struggle.
We cannot celebrate the passage of gay marriage, and predict that the next round of new laws will be about limiting the rights granted by marriage, especially for undocumented, trans, poor and working people. In order for us to be free, reproductive self-determination, citizenship, and relevant health care cannot be tethered to the approval of our relationships by a settler state. As our Black and Native ancestors have long understood, the state will not respect the myriad ways we find to love, grow, support and protect each other from its violence–no matter what papers we possess. It is our own consent, not the false consent of our oppressors, we seek as we move forward.
We do not wish to assimilate, because we cannot trust a social order so comfortable with inequity, so dependent on violence to maintain its own imbalance. Instead, we demand the shifts in power and resources that, though they may be small steps, represent movement in the direction of our own systems, our own spaces, our own visions for liberation.
Black Power. Trans Power. Queer Power. Undocumented Power. Street Youth Power. Sex Worker Power.
All Power to Our People!
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Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This needs to be share all across this nation to remind everyone in the LGB community that we will NOT be pushed aside again. With the overwhelming percentage of hate crimes directed at the LGBTQI community being committed against Trans women and with most of the victims being Trans women of color everyone needs to band together to get equal rights for all. We are Trans, we are strong and we are proud!
The Grand Marshal of our Minneapolis Parade was a Black Trans Woman activist, artist and writer. Trans women and Trans men of color were up front and visible as was Black Lives Matter activists proudly carrying their banner.
Andrea Jenkins (Minneapolis/St. Paul Pride Grand Marshall is also bi. She and the BlackLivesMatter held a die-in in the middle of the parade.
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I was in the crowd, directly across from this protest. It all happened in about 15 minutes. It took us about 5 minutes to realize what was going on and that this wasn’t part of the parade. The thing is, even though I was leaning on the gate, not ten feet from the protestors lying down on the street, I could barely hear any of what was said.
After reading the goals in this article and I tend to agree with the majority of them, though I’m not as radically opinionated. Regardless, I think this protest was a bit of a failure. By staying in one spot, they had a really small audience, and we could barely hear the woman with the megaphone in the center. And they held up hundreds of people behind them in the parade, including elderly and children, which were made to wait in the hot sun longer than necessary.
More importantly, this wasn’t the time nor place. A black teen next to me screamed over the protestors as they were repeating the manifesto or whatever. I remember him saying “Let them be happy! Let them celebrate! Fuck you!” as a trans-man ushered him away. I agree with the protestor’s message, but I also agree with that young man, this protest was in bad taste.
And one might say that it doesn’t matter if a protest is in bad taste because its a protest. There are no rules in a protest. But I’ll remind you that these protestors were chanting “Stand up! Don’t be quiet! Stonewall was a fucking riot!” which taken literally, you could reasonably assume that these people were trying to incite a riot. A riot. At a parade that is attended by thousands of children and minors, elderly and handicapped, and all kinds of people that don’t want to be a part of a riot. I don’t think they thought of this.
Riots are reactionary. They happen after someone in power does something really shitty. But on Friday, the powers that be actually did something positive and brought joy to many. And as they celebrated their victory, these protestors took their moment (or at least a part of it) and used it as a platform for their own agenda. They couldn’t just be happy for their brother’s and sister’s success, they had to whine for their own. It was a bit childish.
At various points during this ordeal, the crowd boo’ed and cheered. It was a windmill of emotions. We knew (after 5 minutes or so) that we agreed with these people, but we also wanted them to fucking leave already. And some of them had the audacity to resist the police officers who were just doing their jobs by trying to disperse them. It should be noted that this protest happened about 50 feet from the police station. They chanted something that included “Fuck these racist cops” as a handful were arrested. Great. They probably didn’t know that these same cops supported the parade and were not all white people.
The protest on Addison and Halsted didn’t ruin the parade or anything. From my observations, the attitude in the crowd was mostly dismissive. Once we realized what was going on, we were basically just waiting for it to end. And once the parade continued, it was back to celebration and joy. A little girl with rainbow face-paint handed me a jolly rancher with a giddy smile. That’s a moment I’ll remember for years to come; not the brief interruption that was this protest.
You made some excellent points in your observation. I support the cause of the protest but it could have been handled in a different way.
I completely disagree. I wasn’t there, but I don’t think a lot of people (queer or straight) who do attend pride realize how many queer folk have actually felt pushed out of pride because of how white-washed and straight-washed it has been, as well as how much destruction has occurred by straight people disrupting the events and hurting queer folk. Even if attendees couldn’t completely hear what the action was about, being stopped for a mere 15 minutes to be reminded of the fact that there is opposition to how Pride has been gentrified, that not everyone is going to see the oppressive institution of marriage as a victory, that there is a black queer population that is being ignored and having all their hard work for the movement dismissed, and that those black queer folk want (and need) to be heard, well, all of that is so important.
Also, the idea that riots are simply reactionary is just plain false. Stonewall was a riot, but it was also the result of meticulous planning and organizing.
Anyway, so people grumbled for 15 minutes? Well, these folks, and their children, and their grandparents have been grumbling for much much longer than that. Deal.
We’re well aware that Pride has been “white-washed” and “straight-washed” and how crazy the event has been in recent years. My group was discussing this during the event and some left early because of rowdy crowds. And as someone who doesn’t drink, I always head home after dark to avoid obnoxious young adults. People are actually getting pretty fed up with it and are considering moving the parade out of Boystown next year. Here’s a local article detailing the crime on Sunday: http://www.cwbchicago.com/2015/06/pride-two-stabbed-others-robbed-in-post.html
The fact that straight/white people outnumber gay/minority attendees is irrelevant, and not because straight/white people just so happen to be the largest demographic in the area. Look at it from this angle: when the Gay Veterans float passed by, do you think those elderly veterans looked out onto the crowd and thought “Fuck, look at all these straight white people” or something along those lines? No. They see these thousands of cheering people of all different colors, ages, and sexual orientation and think “Wow, look at all these people.”
You see, they were raised in a world where their only support came from a few fellow gays (or a handful of black army buddies in the case of race). Do you realize how crazy it is to be raised in a world where, let’s say, a dozen people ever truly supported you, and then 35 years later you get to be on a float, with those dozen fellows, cheered on by a MILLION people!?
That’s what Pride is all about.
This protest, regardless of its merit, was a failure. It absolutely had merit and I very much respect these protestors for voicing their opinion. But it was a failure. Because we–at least the hundred or so people on my side of the street–really weren’t feeling it. Even though what they said was just and right and needed to be heard, we weren’t there to listen. And I’m sure most of the attendees agreed with these protestors.
They wanted to reach the ears of those that would rally behind their cause, but our voices were already exhausted from cheering for our cause, the cause we came out to support. And we weren’t about to abandon the thousands who these protestors made wait. We were there for them too.
Being visible and supported is an important part of Pride, so to that extent, sure that’s partly what pride is about. That’s what pride is ALL about though? No. This article points that out pretty clearly. Pride isn’t a party. Pride isn’t a performance. Pride isn’t about putting gay people on display.
Pride is a resistance. Pride is a reclaiming. Pride is a protest. Pride is a riot. Pride is about being visible, but it’s also about being heard, and it’s also about hearing eachother’s voices within the spectrum of LGBTQ. Pride is about fighting oppression and conquering violence.
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The Chicago Spirit Brigade marched in the parade and proudly raised thousands of dollars in support for Project Fierce. I also met someone from PFLAG who was talking about how to support CRIB and Night Ministry. There are allies and support out there. There were allies in the parade. “Small steps” were happening throughout the day, I hope you took time after protesting to notice.
You all are so amazing! First to have what it takes to halt pride, which has been whitewashed and straightwashed like crazy. Then to take that time not only to remind everyone of Pride’s roots, but also to make incredibly meaningful demands, ones which address widespread problems concretely and passionately. Wow!
Anyway, I don’t want to talk up space for promoting another activity, but I do want to bring this up in case there is some interest from the amazing individuals involved in the above action. The Toronto Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) are having a conference in October called “Working for Eachother, Working for Ourselves: A Revolutionary Public Service Worker-Organizer Summit” and if any of you involved in this action are or know of someone who would like to participate, feel free to get in touch! The link is http://workingforeachother.org/ and here is a brief description:
“Under capitalism we work for the benefit of a small few. Help us build a movement to create a society where we work for the benefit of all. Join workers and worker-organizers from across North America’s public service industries for a weekend of workshops, discussion, panels, and lectures to build worker power. As workers, we need to organize ourselves to fight against employer offensives and public sector cuts from the community centres and grocery stores to the bedrooms and office towers where we work for the benefit of other people.”
Though the focus is on the wide range of public service work, we are looking for speakers who want to be on panels or presentation sessions which explore and empower marginalized workers with important perspectives on how to organize within marginalized jobs. The presence and discussion of poc, particularly woc, and queer folk would be glorious. And we would have some travel funds, housing support, and childcare available to encourage participation from throughout North America, and beyond.
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Making them pay attention!
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“while organizations like the Center on Halsted invite police into their space to arrest, harass and surveil them.”
I am mostly ignorant on all of these subjects discussed here, so I’m looking for some guidance. I think the Center on Halstead’s website makes it look like an OK place, but it was specifically mentioned as part of the problem. What some examples, reasons, or details that lead to that characterization?
Peace on Earth
Thank you for the clarifying question.
The Center on Halsted is a very large organization, and so has a wide range of staff and programming, some of which are very important to the community. However, it is also in the heart of Lakeview, shares space with Whole Foods, and so is a hub for ultra-wealthy consumerism. The comfort of white and wealthy cis patrons often seems to be its top priority, at the expense of the larger queer community.
As a result, it is a heavily policed space (COH hires off duty police as security, and the Chicago Police themselves are a regular presence in and around the space) and it is overwhelmingly Black, Brown, trans and homeless young people that are targeted. Many queer youth of color are specifically banned from the space, and thus have no access to the programs that are offered there.
As one of the most well-funded nonprofits in Lakeview, COH oversees huge sums of money from private and corporate donors, many of them in the name of HIV prevention. The “target populations,” or the communities that these funds are often designated for, are the exact ones that are targeted by security and police, and that are not allowed to be in the space. Many in the community have questions not just about where these funds are actually going, but also about how organizations that claim to stand for queer empowerment can put an end to the long history of criminalizing trans and queer youth, rather than continuing it.
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I really love this article. Do you have any sources about Rivera and Johnson planning the first parade. I’ve read that somewhere else I’m pretty sure but I’d love to source it to something!
We did a lot of research out of “Transgender History” by Susan Striker. Some other recommendations are the anthology “Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States”, and the documentary “Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria.”
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Man, I wish I knew your stance and demands at the time of the protest! I was standing just south of Halsted/Addison where we could barely see you. At first, we thought it was some sort of anti-LGBT protest — because that’s what everyone was half-expecting in light of the SCOTUS ruling.
Thus, the booing from many parade spectators.
In my humble opinion, knowing *why* you were there would’ve garnered more support and fostered education.
On the other hand, once people realized what was going on, some continued to boo. It’s amazing how fast some folks will go from preaching love and tolerance to screaming “get out of the fucking way!” and “ALL lives matter.” There’s not much you can do about idiots, but I wish the rest of us were let into the backstory.
God Bless you and your plight.
My partner was a Christopher Street and knew Silvia from a sit-in at NYU. It’s good to know Silvia’s still remembered.
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