Nearly all of more than 40 audience members who spoke at a Capital Pride Board of Directors meeting Monday night expressed support for a dissident group’s demands that corporations and D.C. police be banned from participating in the Capital Pride parade and festival set for June 10-11.
The meeting, which took place in a basement meeting hall at National City Christian Church on Thomas Circle, drew close to 200 people.
It also took place a little over a week after members of No Justice No Pride, who describe themselves as a coalition of local LGBT activists dissatisfied over the way Capital Pride has been run, called on their supporters to “pack” the May 8 board meeting to push for radical changes in this year’s Pride events.
The audience appeared evenly divided in its support or opposition to Capital Pride’s current plans for Pride in the way it cheered and applauded speakers voicing differing opinions.
But the large majority of those who spoke, other than Capital Pride board members, voiced strong criticism of what they said was Capital Pride’s reluctance to change its events from a celebration to a protest to reflect the political changes brought about by last year’s presidential election.
“Why are you having weapons manufacturers as sponsors?” said one audience member, who was among those demanding that Capital Pride immediately eliminate corporate sponsors, especially those that are part of what he said was the “military-industrial complex.”
The audience member may have been referring to U.S. defense contractors Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin that are among the Capital Pride corporate sponsors this year.
A woman who said she was a Native American said another of Capital Pride’s corporate sponsors, Wells Fargo Bank, was financing the Dakota Access Pipeline, which she said threatened to destroy sacred lands where Native Americans were “victims of genocide.”
Capital Pride President Bernie Delia; the group’s executive director, Ryan Bos; and board members Rachel Gleischman and Vernon Wall, who served as moderators for the discussion, each said Capital Pride had yet to develop criteria and a policy for determining who the corporate sponsors should be.
Delia said the board would conduct a reassessment of how corporate sponsors are approved but said there wouldn’t be enough time to do this for the 2017 Pride events.
Capital Pride board member and Treasurer Ashley Smith said he would do more research on Wells Fargo to determine if Capital Pride should continue to retain the bank as a corporate sponsor.
“We will let you know what we decide,” he said. “At this point it is too close to 2017 Pride so the reassessment will have to apply to next year.”
Angela Peoples, executive director of the LGBT direct action group GetEQUAL and a member of the No Justice No Pride coalition, said she and others concerned about the direction of Capital Pride have been raising objections to corporate sponsors and police presence at Pride events for the past several years.
“Who is making these decisions?” she asked. “If Capital Pride is committed to listening to the people, who is making these decisions?”
Peoples was among several speakers at the meeting who called on some of Capital Pride’s board members to step down to allow others who they said reflected the true sentiment of the LGBT community, to take their place immediately.
Organizers of No Justice No Pride have argued that D.C. police have targeted LGBT people of color, especially transgender women forced to engage in sex work, for arrest and harassment. They have called on Capital Pride to ban uniformed police from participating in the Pride parade and festival, including members of the police LGBT Liaison Unit.
Delia and other Capital Pride officials have said they understand the concerns about past police-related problems but they believe D.C. police overall have changed and anti-LGBT harassment is far less common.
“It is unacceptable that trans women or men are treated badly by the police,” said Wall. “But we must work together rather than push the police away.”
Delia said last week that Capital Pride would not change its longstanding policy of allowing police and corporate sponsors to be a part of the Pride events. Although he didn’t repeat those comments at Monday night’s meeting he said nothing to indicate Capital Pride had changed its position on those two issues.
During its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday night, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, meanwhile, passed a resolution opposing No Justice No Pride’s call for banning D.C. police and corporations from participating in Capital Pride events.
Acting D.C. Police Lt. Brett Parson, who oversees the police liaison units, and Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, supervisor of the LGBT Liaison Unit, attended Monday’s Capital Pride meeting in civilian clothes but wore their badges and police name tags.
“While we weren’t in our formal uniforms we clearly identified as police officers because we wanted to make sure the people didn’t think we were hiding or trying to infiltrate the group but that we were visible as openly gay and openly transgender police officers,” Parson told the Blade.
“But we didn’t say anything because we were here to listen to what this community has to say,” he said. “And the message I hear is they still want to be heard and I stand ready and Jessica stands ready and this police department stands ready to listen and make changes where we can so that people feel safe because that’s what we’re about.”
Parson, who is gay, and Hawkins, a transgender woman, routinely attend LGBT events.
Ruby Corado, founder and executive director of the LGBT community services center Casa Ruby, told the gathering she has good relations with many of the Capital Pride board members and said the board should pay attention to the issues raised by those expressing concern.
“The issues that are on the table are real,” she said. “If you are not a person of color or trans you don’t feel these issues,” she said, adding, “you should acknowledge that you don’t have equality on this board.”
Among other things, Corado proposed that marginalized members of the LGBT community, including trans women of color, be the ones selected to lead the Capital Pride parade on June 10.
Transgender activist Savanna Wanzer, a member of the Capital Pride board and the lead organizer of D.C.’s annual Capital Trans Pride, and Jose Gutierez, founder and organizer of D.C.’s Latino Pride, praised Capital Pride for playing an important role in supporting those two events.
Gutierez said he was asking Capital Pride to provide additional financial support for Latino Pride.
Wanzer said that as a transgender woman of color she was troubled that some of the speakers criticizing Capital Pride were not recognizing that transgender people and people of color were working hard to build a more equitable and inclusive Pride.
Sue Doster, co-president of Inter Pride, a New York-based group that represents LGBT Pride organizations in the U.S. and abroad, appeared to capture the sentiment of Capital Pride officials in her remarks at the meeting.
“There is a realization that not all people feel the Prides are representing all LGBT people,” she said. “I see real, honest self-reflection on the part of Capital Pride, New York Pride and L.A. Pride,” she continued. “We hear you having this debate, and you have started the process of change.”
Members of No Justice No Pride, however, said the change by Capital Pride wasn’t coming soon enough.
“We are planning a series of events as an alternative to Pride for those who are not interested in participating in the official Capital Pride festivities,” No Justice No Pride spokesperson Drew Ambrogi told the Blade after the meeting.
“We appreciated the opportunity to hear about and discuss many issues related to Pride 2017 activities with a large and diverse group of LGBTQ community members,” Delia told the Blade in a statement Tuesday morning. “This is a year when our visibility and actions are more important than ever. With that in mind, we have decided to take several actions:
- “The first contingent in the Capital Pride Parade will represent a diverse cross section of our community who are most marginalized and under threat, including queer and trans youth, trans people, especially trans women of color and undocumented LGBTQ people.
- “Capital Pride will assist in hosting two Russian LGBT activists to “spotlight the urgent and deplorable anti-gay actions” by the government of Chechnya.
- “Increased ‘support and resources’ will be allocated for Latino Pride.
- “It will explore working with trans youth groups and leaders to help in organizing more youth events with partners.
- “Working groups will be formed to ‘explore and create policies to increase transparency, access and community involvement in the Board by the broader LGBTQ community, including sponsorship and diverse representation throughout the organization.’
- “Capital Pride ‘commits to making public a thorough response to the many questions and issues raised at the forum as soon as possible but not before this year’s Pride activities, which begin this weekend and continue through June.’”
Peoples said on Tuesday morning that she is aware of plans for an alternative Pride event during the Pride weekend of June 10-ll but she was not involved with those plans.
“I think the vast majority of the people at the meeting last night were not happy with what they saw,” she said, adding that Capital Pride’s leadership showed no commitment to make structural changes such as replacing current board members with others from the community.
“That’s another indication to me that they’re interested in only tinkering around the edges and not actually responding to the real concerns of the community,” she said.
‘Alternative’ Pride event announced
No Justice No Pride announced on its Facebook page on Tuesday that it plans to hold an alternative “Queer + Trans Festival” on Saturday, June 10, from 1-7 p.m. at McPherson Square in downtown D.C. The event would partially overlap with the Capital Pride Parade, which kicks off at 4:30 p.m. at 23rd and P Streets, N.W. and usually lasts until 8 p.m.
“This festival will provide food, entertainment, as well as opportunities to connect with local LGBTQ+ groups,” the announcement says. “We’re coming together to celebrate our identities, our communities, and our shared history of resistance – we hope to see you there!”