June 7, 2017 at 2:00 pm EDT | by Kevin Naff
Stop eating our own
eating our own, gay news, Washington Blade

Officers of the LGBT Liaison Unit of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department march and ride in last year’s Capital Pride Parade. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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 knaff@washblade.com.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

  • The group “No Justice No Pride” seems to have chosen the right name, as they appear to have neither. More importantly, they lack both historical context and forward-looking vision.

    In 1971, police in DC and elsewhere were notoriously anti-LGBT (actually more anti-gay, since they largely ignored the other other members of our community to concentrate on gay men). The fledgling Gay Activists Alliance (now the GLAA) had tried for nearly 2 years to gain a meeting with the DC Chief of Police to talk about the harassment, arrests, abuse and even blackmail being practiced by “DC’s Finest” but the Chief refused to meet with LGBT people.

    So a group of about a dozen staged a sit-in in the police chief’s office and, after occupying the office for about 5 hours, a smaller group of 3 — Bill Bricker, Cade Ware and myself — agreed that we would be arrested, the first arrests for LGBT civil disobedience in Washington.

    When we went to trial some weeks later, we pled nolo contendere, since we knew we were guilty, but it gave us an opportunity to explain to the judge how long we had tried to get a meeting with the police, how we had been stymied in that, and why we had decided that civil disobedience was our only option. After deliberation, the judge returned and said, “Because you pled nolo contendere, I have no choice but to find you guilty. But if I had been in your position, I’d probably have done the same thing. No fine. No jail time. You are free to go.” Two weeks later, the police chief agreed to meet with us.

    And that began a process. It started with communication, spread into the adoption of new training for police recruits (training that members of the LGBT community helped conduct), then spread to better screening of new recruits, to more inclusive direction by subsequent police chiefs, to the establishment of a Civilian Complaint Review Board and, eventually, to the creation of the LGBT liaison unit. LGBT victims of crime are now assisted by openly LGBT and LGBT-supportive police officers.

    Are there still some officers who fail to live up to the standards we and their Chief expect? Of course there are; in any group of thousands, there will always be a few bad officers. But the overwhelming majority of DC’s police force do their job without prejudice. By all means, keep up the oversight, continue to push for removal of those few bad officers, but at the same time, welcome those LGBT officers and those supportive officers to march with us, to celebrate with us, to continue to make progress in respecting all LGBT people in Washington.

    There is merit in Pride looking closer at which corporate sponsorships are appropriate, but the executive board of Pride has already agreed to do that. As the founder of DC’s annual Pride Day event in 1975 and the sole sponsor of the event for the first 5 years, I have always been in favor of melding both political and social aspects in the celebration. It’s a time to celebrate our victories as well as to push for continued progress. For every commercial booth that lines Pennsylvania Avenue (and provides the bulk of the funding for the event), there are non-profit and activist booths offering Pride attendees ways to get involved. “No Justice No Pride” would be wise to participate there, too.

    As for the call to remove all the current members of Pride’s Executive Board, that’s an insult to people who have dedicated so much time and effort to the community. If you look at their bios (http://www.capitalpride.org/about/board/), you’ll see that they cross most gender and racial divisions and they have long histories of work in LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations. Likewise, the Pride staff demonstrates that ALL are welcome to the effort (http://www.capitalpride.org/about/staff/).

    Putting on the parade, the block party, the entertainment, the parties, the workshops and all the other activities surrounding Pride is a huge undertaking. If you’ve read this far, considering volunteering to make it all even better. Just don’t tear it down in the process.

  • Isn’t this headline offensive to lesbians?

  • I didn’t know Kevin wrote satire.

  • I for one, have stopped attending Pride. I feel little in common with the rest of the participants. It is a time when some, not all, but some just want to be seen as the most outrageous and confrontational they can be while not minding the sensibilities of others. I’ll stay at home, perhaps go o dinner with some friends and discuss finance, politics and religion.

  • Well, someone forgot to tip generously for good service today.

    Let’s hope the Blade shares – soonest – what happened.

    Thanks, and Happy Pride!

  • What a rambling convoluted mess! The operative word is “editor”. The Chris Crain tradition just won’t quit.

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