Decades of Resistance: Community Pride Ditches Police, Rainbow Capitalism
Columbus Community Pride, a grassroots pride festival, is back for its second year, themed “Decades of Resistance.” Fifty years since the Stonewall riots, this year intends to serve as a reminder of the injustices, struggles, wins and losses that have formed the movement for LGBTQ rights today.
“I think that that point in time in 1969 — during the Stonewall riots — that was the crumble in this foundation of hate toward our community,” says Charlie H.A. Stewart, “and the start of the movement.”
Stewart (they/them, formerly Helen Stewart) is a community organizer with Community Pride and co-founder of Black, Queer and Intersectional Collective (BQIC). They’re behind other social justice work in the city, including the Free Masonique Coalition, and initiatives against police brutality, low wages for inmates, and deportations of undocumented immigrants.
Stewart reflects on the recent history of the 1950s and 60s, when homosexuals were considered predators and pedophiles; when medical experts were diagnosing LGBTQ people with mental illnesses and treating them with harmful drugs, electric shock and heterosexual realignment camps; and when these communities were pushed into dark, windowless bars to avoid harassment from civilians and law enforcement.
Stewart invokes practices of police officers past, who enforced sodomy laws by targeting, brutalizing and arresting LGBTQ people.
“It’s no wonder that, in ’69, this explosion happened where people said, ‘No more. No more. You’re no longer going to come into our bars, you’re no longer going to kick our asses on the streets. You’re no longer going to dehumanize us and belittle us,’” Stewart says. “We aren’t remembering that, and clearly. You can tell by how heavily we’re policed. There should be no police in pride.”
Community Pride organizer and BQIC co-founder Dkéama Alexis (they/them) is a self-described abolitionist, meaning they’d like to see the criminal justice system as it is today dismantled. They say that law enforcement largely puts nonviolent offenders behind bars, and doesn’t address the social ills that lead people to commit survival crimes in the first place. Alexis envisions a system in which all funds currently supporting policing efforts are diverted to resources for mental health care and better educational systems.
It’s because of this that Alexis, Stewart and other BQIC organizers formed Community Pride — as a way to create a new LGBTQ space without a police presence. That’s one of the differences from the parade thrown Downtown by Stonewall Columbus (SWC). There are no cops, just community safety teams trained in deescalation tactics, harm reduction and self defense.
Granted, SWC’s parade draws half a million people, requires a parade permit, and that permit is tied to police involvement for security. But after the incident with the Black Pride 4, when four black trans individuals were arrested for staging a silent protest at SWC’s 2017 Pride parade, the already present push for an alternative pride celebration became an angry and exhausted shove.
Following numerous conversations and confrontations between BQIC and SWC since the incident, the two organizations came to a gridlock. SWC was unwilling to publish a formal apology and condemnation of police brutality, and BQIC was unwilling to continue an amicable relationship with them without it.
Alexis says their separation from SWC was inevitable, and that queer and trans people of color have long awaited a space created by and for them.
“Queer and trans people of color have always, always, always been resisting these larger white, cis, wealthy forces, and I don’t necessarily believe the solution to any of this is for us to assimilate,” Alexis says. “Us ‘breaking off’ I think is honestly a step forward. Community-based initiatives where everyone can see themselves as being a part of that — that’s a step forward.”
The LGBTQ community is searching for alternatives to big city, mainstream prides, Stewart and Alexis say, not only to get away from police, but also to escape what’s been termed “rainbow capitalism.” Rainbow capitalism describes how large corporations have observed the validation of the LGBTQ community in social and political life and can now safely benefit from their purchasing power. They’ll typically market rainbow, pride-themed items to get consumer attention, but Stewart says mainstream prides aren’t always vetting these rainbow-friendly companies based on their policies, programming and hiring practices.
“When you don’t check that, you allow harmful people into our communities, and you allow them to capitalize off of us and exploit us,” Stewart says. “Rainbow capitalism is real, and it involves that very thing — having corporations slap a rainbow on some type of fucking merchandise and thinking that’s enough to say we’re safe.”
Alexis and Stewart aren’t the only ones to have noticed this uptick in corporations getting in on the pride market. It’s so apparent the idea’s been circulating in meme format since the start of pride month.
In an effort to avoid mainstream prides’ pitfall, Community Pride organizers have vetted vendors and prioritized black and LGBTQ owned businesses. From the creation of their planning committee, to the selection of their vendors, to the themes of their pre-festival events, to the amenities available at each event, Alexis and Stewart say they’ve also tried to maintain all-encompassing inclusivity.
Queer and trans indigenous and immigrant individuals will share spoken word and live art performances, an effort to focus “not just on black or afro-latinx experiences”; they’ve created a community safety team to avoid the use of police, to create a space for people of color, but also for any undocumented or immigrant event participants; they’ve made sensory accommodations for people on the spectrum with sensitivity to smells, lights, sounds, etc.; and, in a new approach this year, they’ve included access statements for each of their events to notify individuals of the accommodations available.
This year, Community Pride involves four events prior to the main festival. They held a spoken word and live art event on June 4; they’ll have a queer club night this Friday, June 7; on Tuesday, June 11 they’ll have a free screening of the documentary Free CeCe! followed by a panel discussion; and on Thursday, June 13 they’ll host a skate against state violence event at Skate Zone 71.
The main festival takes place on Saturday, June 15 at Mayme Moore Park. There, artists and performers will share their talents on stage, merchants will sell their works, and nonprofits will be handing out resource information. Food is available from various food trucks, and water will be offered for free.
For more information, visit columbuscommunitypride.org.
To donate, visit their GoFundMe.