June 14, 2017 at 4:18 pm EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Pride protest ignites stormy debate in D.C.’s LGBT community

No Justice No Pride activists end their self-imposed blockade and march down P Street. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The actions of protest group No Justice No Pride, members of whom formed a blockade Saturday evening that required the Capital Pride Parade to be rerouted and delayed by more than an hour, have inspired a wide range of strong reaction from parade participants, long-time D.C.-area LGBT activists, Capital Pride officials, observers and others.

Social media was ablaze Saturday and throughout the weekend with some saying the group, a self-described ad-hoc coalition of activists that “seeks to end the LGBT movement’s complicity in systems of oppression that harm LGBTQ2S (i.e. queer/two-spirit) communities,” ended up doing little more than angering and alienating people who should be their allies while others said the loudest denunciations seemed to come from cis, white, gay men who were mad because their party got delayed.

“I think their parade interruption was ill advised,” said Lane Hudson, a longtime, D.C.-based gay activist. “From what I know about Capital Pride, they are very open minded and welcoming. To suggest otherwise is simply not true. If there is a lack of LGBT, queer and two-spirit involvement, it’s because of a choice (by those folks) not to get involved in Capital Pride. … It’s about who shows up.”

SaVanna Wanzer, a Capital Pride board member, trans woman of color and founder of Transgender Pride (an official Capital Pride event), agrees.

“When we have our (Trans Pride) organizational meetings, it’s the same six people who show up every year along with the executive producer and producer of Capital Pride,” Wanzer said. “I don’t know if any of the protestors have any desire to volunteer with Capital Pride or not, but we’d love to have more trans people of color on the board.”

On Saturday, June 10 about 3:30 p.m., a couple hundred No Justice No Pride protesters held a march of their own on the Capital Pride Parade route walking together while pop songs blasted from a loudspeaker and participants chanted anti-corporate slogans. Later another group joined hands with a chain-like material on P Street between 15th and 16th streets, N.W. in the planned route of the parade. Ten protesters formed a chain, chanting slogans and clashing vehemently with bystanders. Eyewitnesses said they saw no violence erupt though some No Justice protesters say they were kicked and spit on.

The parade was significantly delayed and eventually was rerouted. There was a strong presence of D.C. Metro Police at the site of the protest. No arrests were made.

No Justice No Pride members distributed pink sheets in which they demanded that Capital Pride add more trans women of color to leadership positions, more stringently vet which corporate sponsors are allowed to give money to Capital Pride, prevent uniformed police officers and military personnel from participating in the parade because of fraught histories with these groups and LGBT people and many other issues. A full list of their demands can be found at nojusticenopride.org.

The group found supporters among the D.C.-area LGBT establishment.

“It does seem to be predominantly the cisgender, white gay men who are the most upset these people weren’t dragged away and arrested,” said one long-time local black lesbian activist who is not allowed to speak on the record because of her job. “But D.C. has a long history of allowing protesters to exercise their First Amendment rights. We’re not going to drag people from the street so you can continue to party. That’s ridiculous. This is a backlash against the white gay men from Logan Circle. Did they want this to turn into the next Ferguson? Think a little bit about the pros and cons and check your privilege at the door.”

Others, though, say the No Justice protesters had no interest in having their concerns addressed in a reasonable way and refused to back down. A pre-Pride meeting at National City Christian Church on May 8 was heated on both sides. No Justice No Pride plans a “debrief and forum” on Friday, June 23. Look for the group on Facebook for details.

“There are people out there who are never going to be satisfied, 100 percent no matter what you do,” Wanzer said. “They’re always going to have a complaint, they’re always going to have something to say. They say they’re protesting for the rights of trans people of color, but not all the local trans people of color are on the same page with them. We don’t need them to protest or speak out on our behalf. What they did was inappropriate because it took away from the enjoyment and the feel of Pride. If anything it backfired in a way because it made those of us in Capital Pride more unified.”

Others say the protesters have several good points but did themselves more harm than good with their tactics.

“It remains to be seen if tactics like disrupting Pride parades engage or alienate the community and allies,” said Dave Kolesar, a local white gay man. “And with regard to corporate sponsorships of Pride, there was a time not that long ago when finding corporations to sponsor events was nearly impossible as a conservative backlash would inevitably follow. So while it is always a legitimate concern to be able to strike the right balance between corporate and grassroots involvement, I would be cautious about pushing corporations away.”

Hudson agrees.

“Most of the corporations they are targeting have 100 percent ratings on the (Human Rights Campaign) Corporate Equality Index. While intersectionality is much needed, it cannot always require purity. Life, including activism, is a set of choices. Progress isn’t always perfect and it can always be built upon.”

Others say the No Justice No Pride protesters don’t understand the long and tangled history the D.C. LGBT community has with some of the groups they targeted. Cathy Renna, a longtime activist who spoke on behalf of Capital Pride this week, says she knows of trans folks who worked for defense contractors Northrop Grumman, one of the groups No Justice said was not an appropriate Pride sponsor, when they couldn’t continue their military service with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” still in effect.

And to tell military and police they weren’t welcome at the parade, Renna says, was unrealistic.

D.C. Pride protest, gay news, Washington Blade

No Justice No Pride protesters in action on Saturday (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“I think there was a good faith effort during and after the community forum to try and address some of these concerns, particularly with the police contingent but Capital Pride was not going to exclude them because they did not want to exclude any groups,” Renna said. “Most people understand the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit has a long history working with our local community and anytime you have a crowd of any size like that in D.C., there’s going to be a sizable police presence.”

“I have a lot of mixed feelings,” said Ruby Corado, a long-time D.C.-based trans activist who runs Casa Ruby, a local LGBT community center. “While I acknowledge that some of their issues are valid and I think there’s value to what the group is saying, I struggle with how they’re doing things. … I really do think shutting down the parade for three hours was a little bit too much, I really do, because there were a lot of people there, lots of trans and queer people of color, who’d worked really hard and were there to celebrate. Yes, sure, do hold Capital Pride accountable, but everyone needs to be held accountable, not just Capital Pride.”

Yet accounts of exactly what happened, how the protest was handled and who exactly was behind it differ based on whom you ask. Several local trans residents declined Blade requests for comment for fear of angering No Justice protesters.

Renna spotted a group of about 50-75 people carrying a tri-colored banner that said “No Justice No Pride — Queer & Trans Resistance” on Friday on 14th Street, N.W. and said it appeared to be a significantly different group than those who protested at the parade. Emmelia Talarico, a No Justice No Pride senior organizer said she had no knowledge of who that group was.

“As far as I know, that didn’t happen,” Talarico, a trans woman, said. “If some folks did that, they did not meet with us as representatives of No Justice No Pride.”

Talarico also denied other rumors circulating this week that some of the protesters at the Saturday parade were paid. She said the reality was quite the opposite.

“That’s not at all true,” she said. “We did pay for about six or seven people, black trans women, to perform at the healing space we had but that was because we felt that they deserved to be paid for their work like anyone else would be. No one who was in the blockades who took action in the street were paid. Some of us even emptied our bank accounts to make this happen.”

She also said assertions by some that the No Justice folks were far-left radicals who are out to destroy Pride in D.C. and in other cities is wildly inaccurate.

“We don’t want to destroy Pride, we want to make it better,” Talarico said. “It’s not about destroying Pride, it’s about making it into something that’s more representative of all of us and honors those of us who are struggling at the margins. A lot of this is coming from fissures that have been boiling beneath the surface for decades. The reason people are reacting so strongly is because we’re forcing them to see it for the first time in a long time.”

Accounts also vary as to how much dialogue happened in previous years about some of these issues and whether concerns were brushed aside and if Capital Pride was given a reasonable amount of time to address their concerns this year.

“I can honestly say that we as a team, and I’m speaking as a board member of Capital Pride, we are working as a team to better all or at least most of the issues they’re protesting,” Wanzer said. “But it can’t be done overnight. It’s an ongoing effort and we are taking steps and working on it.”

Wanzer said she finds it interesting that No Justice seemed to have no issue with Transgender Pride this year.

“The fact that there even is a Transgender Pride doesn’t fit their narrative, so they just ignored that,” she said.

Sgt. Brett Parson of D.C. Metro Police, a long-time spokesperson for the department, said no arrests were made because “it was a peaceful event,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Blade.

“As long as a First Amendment assembly is peaceful, MPD makes every effort to facilitate that expression of rights while also ensuring the safety and security of the community,” he said.

Talarico said that’s not true.

“I was not surprised but I was very disappointed at the way several folks, mostly cis, white gay men, were treating the activists,” she said. “We had bottles chucked at us, trash dumped on us, I got punched, shoved, kicked and spit at. We brought our own de-escalators. We came peacefully and with people trained to make sure this would be a non-violent protest.”

In a post-parade official statement, Capital Pride organizers said they were “troubled by reports that some onlookers responded to the protesters with verbal and physical harassment.”

There’s also confusion as to the degree to which GetEQUAL, an advocacy group that fights for LGBT issues “through confrontational but non-violent direct action” is intertwined with No Justice No Pride. GetEQUAL Director Angela Peoples has been active with No Justice. Talarico said the two groups have been working together.

No Justice No Pride’s list of demands of Capital Pride (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“We really respect them and love working with them,” Talarico said. “I definitely commend them for all the help they gave us. I would say they are a very good group.”

But as to rumors GetEQUAL may be behind similar protests in other cities, Talarico said she had no knowledge of such actions. Peoples did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We are aware of actions that have happened in Tel Aviv, in Boston, Pittsburgh and we know that there are actions being planned in Philadelphia, New York, somewhere in Washington and in San Francisco. Some of those folks have been reaching out to us asking for tips, advice and support.”

Talarico said she is unaware of any single group spearheading the efforts, though.

“Some of the narrative we’ve been pushing seems to be resonating with people across the country on their own issues and I think a lot of the grievances are shared,” she said. “A lot of these Prides have a lot of corporations that are trying to exploit trans and queer youth and a lot of those grievances are shared. I would like to see a lot of these cities work tightly with their local communities that are under attack and address their own grievances.”

Another recurring theme in some of the No Justice criticism is that the group has lost sight of who the real enemy is. Renna, a longtime activist who formerly worked with GLAAD and was around during the ACT UP AIDS protests in the ‘80s, says she’s never seen the LGBT community at this level of internal conflict before.

“We’ve certainly had disagreement in terms of tactics, but it’s just a bit heartbreaking to feel like people are now attacking other people personally and that has not happened in the past. There’s been such a complete lack of any benefit of the doubt or any sense of community negotiation that both sides understand in terms of the bigger picture and trying to do things realistically. Some of these demands are so overreaching and just not true.”

Deacon Maccubbin, who started Capital Pride in D.C. in 1975, said No Justice’s actions show ignorance of Pride history and are a disservice to the trans and LGBT people of color who enjoy the parade annually.

“There were so many disappointed people at the parade,” he wrote in an online post to a GetEQUAL social media comment that he gave the Blade permission to reprint. “There were kids of all colors and gender expressions who practiced for weeks to make their contingents, their dance routines, their signs and placards be something they could be proud of. Shame on you. There were huge numbers of people of color, joy visible on their faces, their voices strong and proud. … You stomped on their day of celebration. You had no consideration for what they may have gone through to be there and what sacrifices they may have made just to survive until 2017. … Today’s action was a total fail. There was nothing to be proud of in it.”

Capital Pride organizers said they will continue to “encourage a robust, civil and healthy conversation within the community about all of the issues that impact us … in the days, weeks and months ahead.”

The Blade’s Michael Key and Lou Chibbaro Jr. contributed to this report. 

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

  • The tantrum has not ignited any debate for me. It has ended any debate.

    I won’t even consider anything on that list of demands now.

    I don’t submit to anti-gay bullying. Ever.

  • >A full list of their demands can be found at nojusticenopride.org.

    This website would have me sign a petition supporting their demands. Most legitimate online petitions 1) show the number of persons who have signed; and 2) allow one to view the names of those who have signed. This site does neither. The petition platform in its Privacy Policy claims “When you sign an online petition, register for an event, or fill out a form, that action is public information.” Really? How about some transparency, NJNP?

  • Bullying is right. SaVanna and Ruby are so respected. No one realized…at least NJNP that Trans Pride is Capital Trans Pride. Supported by Capital Pride. SaVanna started it . Her friend Holly ( a white Trans woman ) continues . Both of them have been over nice about helping our Trans male group participate every year. Holly has always answered emails, picked up the phone and helped a small non profit out when needed. She’s not a TWOC. But would hope she’s considered for leadership. Being a TMOC I hope Trans Men are included …perhaps it’s jsut editing. But choosing based on color if wrong. The work that’s done is important,
    SaVanna is Prides only board member, I hope she fights for ANY Trans Person.
    Trans people can’t afford to divide themselves. Don’t give into NJNP’s demands. Do what has worked!
    And it’s telling this interview only was able to talk to one NJNP person. Well written and the good Capital Pride does needs to be hilghted more!

  • Oh my, where to begin…

    Everyone has a right to free speech, but not to block traffic or parades. These protestors could easily have marched IN the parade, and their message would be seen by everyone. Instead, they close to block the parade, making the people they purport to try to persuade confused, angry, & LESS likely to support the protestors.

    I realize I am a white cisgender man, and I need to check my privilege that my biggest concern eas that we almost didn’t get to march in a parade. But still, Pride means a lot to the LGBT community, and we all worked hard on our marching contingents. Something these protestors need to realize is that community is more than just a bunch of loud voices in a room shouting at each other. Community requires cooperation, empathy, & a willingness to agree to disagree at times. By the protestors’ action, seeking to silence all but themselves, they have shown a great disrespect of the larger LGBT community. They purported to speak for the “true” Gay community when in fact they sought to silence many many voices from that same community.

    Pride is many things; it doesn’t have to be JUST protest or JUST celebration. It can and should be both.

    It’s not as if there aren’t other immediate venues to protest in, such as…oh, I don’t know, the National Pride March that same weekend.

    Baltimore, Philly, & NYC Pride & other large pride parades will now need to be wary all the more for disruption, costing more money and making Pride more inaccessible. Thanks a lot, protestors. Really, you shouldn’t have.

    • Don’t apologize for being a cisgender white male! You have done nothing wrong except taken on the “burden” this very small contingent of professional victims expects you to. I will continue to live MY life as I see fit, looking out for MY rights and not allow some group of self imposed, professional victims limit my capabilities. I work, I pay taxes and I pay my own bills. I don’t tell you how to live your life, so don’t think you can even begin to impose your beliefs and values on me. This group should re-name themselves NoBrainsNoCommonSense. This group is making no headway in the Gay community and even less in the straight community. As a matter of fact, they are bringing a negative light to all of the progress that has been made over the years.

      • Live by your contributions as well as your meritorious conduct and enjoy your life according to your own design and conscience! I ask nothing more of my fellow citizens.

  • Who the f**k are they to say “No Justice, No Pride”? It’s my Pride march just as much as it is theirs. They have not persuaded me to join their cause. Quite the opposite actually. I am shutting them out. I don’t care if they call me a “racist” anymore. This is too much. It was hard enough to come out as gay, now I’m being shamed for being a white gay? Done.

    • I’m a Black Trans man, apparently they don’t want me either, this group is f*cked up. I haven’t been shamed yet. But haven’t been acknowledged. Apparently they’re only for “Trans women of color”
      We’re in the same club my friend

      • Indeed. They talk about “erasure” while literally calling for the erasure of other LGBTQ people, be they white cisgender gay males, black transgender men, or gay women. I feel sorry for them – they are perpetual victims and do nothing to help their cause or make real change, they just alienate themselves. But now I’m getting ticked off that they are disrupting Pride parades. For me, this is one of the only times I can really feel free in public. It’s like we’re being shamed back into the closet.

        • It was a shame. They left a group of Latina drag queens and Trans women in feathers costumes in the heat for 2 hrs. A group of ( I believe) Middle School students marching band, mostly black in the sweltering heat. Did they have ANY water to supply people? NO! But Pride don’t give 2 f*cks about other people’s health or safety.
          And Trans Pride is run every year – flawless event other cities should be jealous of. Supported by Capital Pride. With the diverse committee they want. But do they care to acknowledge that. NOPE doesn’t fit into their “narrative” I was on the committee one year. Ryan Bos was very empowering of this event.
          And now we’re hearing how much $$ this will cost Pride for the extra cops/time, and of course they took the high road and are paying for it.

          • I work at a school in DC and many of the parents are same-sex parents and were excited to march with their kids. White, black, Asian, they were all there. And their day was totally ruined, especially because like you said, the incredible heat was nuts. Many decided just to go home rather then wait for a reroute, and went home disappointed. I truly don’t think they realize how many people they are alienating.

          • Exactly. I’m glad Pride thought to bring the water bottles out. Personally I feel they should have been arrested. Even after the fact, they put folks health at risk.
            I understand why Pride didn’t want the PR. But the police chief made a bad choice. It’s not too late. I’m sure people suffered dehydration and heat stroke.
            NJNP has NO PRIDE. They’re SHAME.

  • For some members of the LGBTQIA2S community, their struggle is literally life and death . . . EVERY DAY. If you are critical of the actions of No Justice No Pride, then you were never an ally to the entire transgender community or queer people of color.

    It is important for those of us in positions of privilege to check our privilege . . . whether it be race, gender, class, financial, education, etc . . . before we are critical of political actions that have brought the racism, classism, transphobia, and colonialism to the surface of the LGBTQIA2S.

    Please take a moment to reflect on the slight inconvenience you may have experienced on a Saturday afternoon when compared with being afraid for your life every single day.

    Do any of the queers here remember the fear you felt when forced to live in the closet?

    Now imagine NOT having that closet because you can’t hide your skin color or your gender.

  • I am also very concerned that this situation has prompted so many in the LGBTQ+ community not to tip generously for good service.

    Remember, tips are good karma. And karma never lies. Happy Pride!

  • You catch more friends with honey…in a reasonably interesting outfit of course.

  • I’m curious why other LGBTQ non-profits weren’t singled out for board diversity. A quick look online does show board members for other groups , national and local ( WWH, HRC, DC Center, DC Care, Wanda Alston, Casa Ruby, HIPS, Chamber of Commerence etc..) not singling any out, some are much better than others, two are “worse than” Capital Pride.
    Maybe there’s more to it? Do we know the bylaws of each organization? Do we know the start or stop times of board terms.
    I served on a mentioned board ( a black Trans male) and had to resign over work. Not served a year, and 1/2 of that I didn’t attend meetings.
    Stuff happens. I know I wasn’t stuck on as a token, but I couldn’t fulfill my duties.
    I care more about the output these groups make, and the input they give the communitylb

  • Time to drop the “T” (and all those other letters) from our movement and make it LGB. It’s apparent that their struggle is not our struggle, so let’s not fool ourselves any longer. They treat us like enemies, so we should act accordingly.

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