No Police Invited: Community Pride Promises Safe Space for Queer & Trans People of Color
Pride 2018 is officially here, and for many (roughly 500,000 people according to last year’s numbers), the usual parade and festival at Bicentennial Park, hosted by Stonewall Columbus, will be the main event.
For an estimated 500 others, the Community Pride: Back to Our Roots Festival, run by Black, Queer & Intersectional Columbus (BQIC), will be the event of choice. On Saturday, June 16 — the same day as Stonewall Columbus’ parade — Community Pride will take over Mayme Moore Park on Mt. Vernon Ave. for the first-ever local Pride event to centralize queer and trans people of color (QTPOC). It’s one in a series of events that comprise BQIC’s alternative celebration, which also includes a film screening, a zine release and cookout, and a Marsha P. Johnson remembrance day.
During the festival, attendees will have access to visual and performance art by queer and trans artists of color, a community resource fair, and food trucks run by people of color. Kid-friendly activities will be available as well, including a playground, a bouncy house, and life-size Checkers and Connect 4.
Community Pride was a long time coming, says event organizer and BQIC founder Dkeama Alexis (they/them). The standard Stonewall parade always felt whitewashed and over-policed to them, and that feeling was affirmed at last year’s parade, where four black trans individuals were arrested by Columbus police after engaging in a silent, peaceful protest.
With taped mouths and interlocking hands, the group now know as the Black Pride 4 (BP4) entered the parade and attempted to lead seven minutes of silence — one minute for each time Philando Castile was shot by Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in 2016. (Yanez was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter on June 16, 2017, a day before Stonewall’s parade.)
According to BP4 member Wriply Bennet, as well as several other eye witnesses, police arrived to arrest the group within seconds, throwing the protesters to the ground and macing them. The incident sparked rage among the QTPOC community and their allies, who followed up with protests, community discussions, and packed courtrooms.
For months, BQIC and others pressured Stonewall Columbus to take a stand for the BP4, publishing a list of demands that included the resignation of then Stonewall executive director Karla Rothan (who announced her retirement in March), a public condemnation of the Columbus Police Department, a public apology acknowledging the exclusion of QTPOC from the greater LGBTQ community, and a request on behalf of Stonewall for the charges to be dropped on the BP4.
None of those demands were met, but Stonewall did testify in court against the BP4.
“The violent arrests of the Black Pride 4 indicated to a lot of folks that Stonewall Columbus isn’t here for the entire community,” Alexis said. “They and people like them are more than happy to stand idly by while queer and trans people of color are being brutalized.”
The Back to Our Roots Festival and the events preceding it all culminate as a stand against “state-sanctioned violence of any kind,” says Alexis, representing the unification of all struggles: “detention and deportation, gentrification, and police brutality.” It’s also callback to the origin of Pride and Stonewall Columbus’ namesake: the Stonewall riots of 1969.
Led by queer and trans people of color, the Stonewall riots were a series of violent demonstrations against New York City police at the Stonewall Inn of Greenwich Village, where police raids were common. On June 28, 1969, police stormed the Inn without warning and began detaining anyone who was considered to be cross-dressing (read: transgender). Rather than fleeing, hundreds of Stonewall patrons gathered outside, observing the chaos. One particularly violent arrest incited aggression from the crowd, and protestors began throwing garbage, beer bottles, rocks and bricks at officers barricaded inside.
The riots persisted for a second night, and many credit them with marking a shift in the culture around and the attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community.
It’s not a surprise, then, that law enforcement won’t be present at the Community Pride event. Instead, says organizer Ariana Steele, they’re partnering with a black trans-owned security company, Highland Security and Investigations, which will have eight security personnel on patrol during the festival.
“What we’re offering is much more radical than what Stonewall is offering,” Alexis says. “We want this Community Pride to uplift and center the voices and the struggle of queer and trans folks of color.”
For more information on Community Pride and its other events, visit columbuscommunitypride.org.