If you’re a small band of radicals with an itch to resist but with no cash reserves, it may be convenient to hijack someone else’s event and bend it to your purpose. So it is with activists chanting “No Justice No Pride” (NJNP), who shut down Phoenix Pride on April 3 and whose compatriots now set their sights on Capital Pride in Washington, D.C. in June. (Full disclosure: I was chosen as one of this year’s Capital Pride Heroes.)
The D.C. dispute made the news last week when it came to light that one of Capital Pride’s volunteers, Bryan Pruitt, wrote last year on RedState.com calling the fight against “bathroom bills” unnecessary and favorably mentioning “religious freedom” bills that allow anti-LGBT discrimination in violation of church-state separation. Pruitt stepped down as an executive producer so as not to be a distraction. He said he is pro-trans and considers Gavin Grimm a hero.
The main controversy is over the NJNP demands: that Capital Pride drop Wells Fargo and all corporate sponsors, and that it bar uniformed police officers from participating in Pride. Wells Fargo has a perfect 100 rating on the Corporate Equality Index, but it has also been involved in funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. This somehow makes it “pinkwashing” to credit the bank for its pro-LGBT policies. As for police, some people are intimidated by them, so out they must go.
Not so fast. I oppose the pipeline, but effective advocacy requires giving people credit where due and not only criticism. Diversity means that we do not agree on every issue. The bank’s LGBT employees deserve respect for their efforts. The anti-capitalist left ignores the fact that the private sector has long led the public sector in LGBT protections. It is not a choice between corporations and activists: there is room for both.
Having worked with local chapters of ACLU and NAACP to create the D.C. Office of Police Complaints, and worked in coalitions for police reform, I have long defended marginalized populations like trans women of color. But that’s just it: in D.C. we have won reforms, as many trans activists acknowledge. We undercut our efforts if we impose ideological blinders that effectively treat all police as our enemies. LGBT officers are members of our community who risk their lives for us. Telling them they must leave their uniforms at home is an act of disrespect that can never be accepted.
We are part of a multi-generational struggle. Civic engagement, persistence, cooperation, and incremental efforts have been key to our advancement. Diversity breeds contentiousness, which makes it a challenge to keep our eyes on the prize. Our cause is greater than any personality or faction. One of the things for which we have always fought as a movement is the right to define and celebrate our own lives. The right to our joy is not a prize we win at the end: it is what sustains us on the journey. Denigrating our celebrations dishonors those who brought us this far. We need celebration as much as protest and organizing.
I have some serious questions for NJNP: Who elected them to speak for the community in place of the diverse stakeholders already involved? What headliner would agree to perform at a resistance event, and who would come? Why don’t they join the National Equality March for Unity and Pride, set for the same weekend, instead of trying to hijack Capital Pride?
The cost of Capital Pride runs into seven figures. How much skin does NJNP have in the game that they can dictate to us? This reminds me of Rush Limbaugh calling the progressive D.C. restaurant Busboys and Poets racist because its bookshop wouldn’t carry his children’s books. Setting aside his need for an intro course on racism, and the question of why any parent would inflict him on their children, why would a white reactionary expect to be carried by a place whose shelves looked like they were stocked by Angela Davis? What happened to free markets?
The fact that Capital Pride, by contrast, is a nonprofit does not entitle intolerant zealots to waltz in and deliver new instructions. What we need are not coercive tactics that divide us and give comfort to our enemies, but mutual respect in which different groups organize events that suit their varied purposes.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2017 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.