At a time when there’s so much to unite the LGBT+ community, we’ve gotten really good at eating our own.
It’s not a new phenomenon. In 2014, when Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars telecast, I remember watching with a tear in my eye as Jared Leto accepted the Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Ellen did a terrific job; Leto rightly acknowledged those who died from AIDS in his beautiful speech.
The next morning when I opened my email, there was a long thread of messages on an LGBT listserv I once read religiously. To my surprise, the messages were almost uniformly critical of DeGeneres (deemed “transphobic” because of a joke she made about Liza Minnelli) and Leto (labeled a “trans mammy”). It was as though we’d all watched a different version of the Oscars. Did these folks really think Ellen was our enemy? I never posted to that listserv again.
Fast-forward to today and a similarly unfortunate scenario is playing out as a protest group called No Justice No Pride is criticizing Capital Pride for its perceived lack of diversity, its reliance on corporate sponsors and its inclusion of D.C. police representation in the Pride parade.
No Justice No Pride has argued that D.C. police have targeted LGBT people of color, especially trans 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, as the Blade has reported. It’s an unfortunate demand that overlooks some important history. Community activists have worked hard for decades to educate local police about LGBT concerns and to enlist the police as our allies. We take it for granted that the police will march in solidarity with us, but it wasn’t always so. In fact, the very first issue of the Blade in October 1969 included a warning about police harassment of visitors to Dupont Circle-area bars. The Stonewall riots were triggered by police harassment. Today, D.C.’s LGBT Liaison Unit is an award-winning project led by a transgender sergeant.
Just one year ago, it was Orlando police who ran toward the gunfire at Pulse nightclub when our community was attacked. If something similar were to happen in D.C., the same people who denounce the police today would be dialing 911 as fast as their fingers allow. Demonizing police in D.C. doesn’t advance understanding. Many advocates, like Brett Parson in Washington and Steve Elkins in Rehoboth Beach, have spent countless hours educating law enforcement and helping to change the culture.
That’s not to suggest No Justice No Pride isn’t making some valid points. Capital Pride leaders have said they would conduct a reassessment of how corporate sponsors are approved for 2017 and beyond. That’s a positive step. Corporations play a key role in advancing LGBT equality; we’ve enlisted their help in Indiana and North Carolina to combat “religious freedom” laws. Indeed, corporations have frequently led on LGBT equality while state and federal laws and protections for workers lagged. Alienating and demonizing corporate allies is short sighted and ignores the powerful leverage they often have over anti-LGBT lawmakers. Of course, some companies walk the walk all year, while others give us a one-week rainbow embrace at Pride season. Capital Pride should do a better job of screening its sponsors and has pledged to do so.
At a time when there’s so much at stake amid the Trump administration’s assault on progress, it’s disappointing we’re expending valuable time and energy fighting with each other and eating our own. We have plenty of real enemies who are now empowered to undermine President Obama’s important legacy. That’s why we are marching this weekend in D.C. and around the country. The Blade’s contingent will march in support of press freedoms and LGBT equality.
As we prepare to also mark the one-year anniversary of the Pulse massacre, let’s honor the words of Pastor Brei, who runs an affirming ministry in Orlando and who lost several parishioners in the attack. She told me last year, “Have faith and believe that evil and hate can be eradicated one person at a time. How do you treat someone? How do you embrace someone who treats you wrong? We all bleed, laugh, hope and have great victories and major defeats. And so, you know me, even if you don’t know my name — I’m you.”
Good advice as we consider how to respond to Trump’s supporters — and to each other. Have a safe Pride and be sure to join the Equality March on Sunday.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at email@example.com.