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 D.C. and elsewhere were notoriously anti-LGBT (actually more anti-gay, since they largely ignored the other members of our community to concentrate on gay men). The fledgling Gay Activists Alliance (now the GLAA) had tried for nearly two years to schedule a meeting with the D.C. police chief to talk about the harassment, arrests, abuse and even blackmail being practiced by “D.C.’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 five hours, a smaller group of three — 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 D.C.’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 D.C.’s annual Pride Day event in 1975 and the sole sponsor of the event for the first five 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 members of Capital Pride’s executive board, that’s an insult to those who have dedicated so much time and effort to the community. If you look at their bios, you’ll see that they cross most gender and racial lines 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.
Staging 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, consider volunteering to make it all even better. Just don’t tear it down in the process.
Deacon Maccubbin is the former owner of Lambda Rising and the founder of D.C.’s original Pride event in 1975.