“NYC’s Pride Parade Has Become a Meaningless Corporate Circus,” Says Reclaim Pride

Also: Comedian Matt Lucas on how Freddie Mercury’s death wrecked him and a review of Broadway's "American Son."

Get ready for two major New York City Pride events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots next June. A group called Reclaim Pride has risen up with a planned march that will challenge the annual Heritage of Pride (HOP) parade, which they feel has become too enamored of corporate sponsors and has therefore lost its way.

In a press release, Reclaim Pride said, “We think Heritage of Pride’s annual Pride Parade has become a meaningless corporate circus. We also condemn HOP’s plan to hold an opening ceremony at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, managed by notorious homophobe billionaire Philip Anschutz’s AEG [Anschutz Entertainment Group]. We think cities and towns all over the U.S. and the rest of the world should mark Stonewall 50 with similar human rights marches. Our communities and many others are under far too great continuing attacks to waste this moment on corporate celebration.”

Kena Betancur/Getty

I talked to Ann Northrop, who’s a member of Reclaim Pride, as well as a longtime activist and cohost of Gay USA, for more details on what’s brewing. Naturally, I asked Heritage of Pride to respond to what she said, and their reply follows this interview.

Hello, Ann. Is the Reclaim Pride march going to be held the same day as the annual Heritage of Pride Parade?

Yes.

The same time?

That’s to be determined. There are two reasons to do it the same day. We don’t want to take any back seat or marginal position from the current, hideous Pride Parade. We believe we should be the real pride parade and we are not interested in some secondary spot. Also, the city has expressed some interest in us doing it on the Saturday, but the Dyke March is very opposed to that and that is their spot. [They are at 5pm.] We respect that and want to do it on Sunday.

Where will you start and end?

All of that is to be determined. We’d like to start in the Village—sort of Stonewall related—and march straight up an avenue into Central Park and do a rally with a stage and speakers, which is exactly what we did for Stonewall 25. In 1994, Rudy Giuliani was mayor, and Stonewall 25 was big, and there was also Gay Games. Giuliani knew Stonewall 25 would be huge, so he wanted us to do it in the Bronx or Queens, but we said no. The compromise was First Avenue, and he said “You can march past the UN.” [But Heritage of Pride ended up taking that slot, while Stonewall 25 took Fifth Avenue.] We didn’t want to go up First Avenue. We’re cranky. We didn’t want to be told by Giuliani what to do. We were in league with the parade then. There were plenty of people in both, and the city was perfectly able to handle two simultaneous marches.

This June, the Pride Parade started in Chelsea.

And they got everybody in Chelsea pissed because they lined everyone up in their staging areas. The neighbors were not used to that. The cops had said they wanted a different march route this year, so they made one up that was insane—it started in Chelsea and went down Seventh Avenue, crossed Stonewall, and went up Fifth Avenue to 29th Street. There was no rhyme or reason for any of it. It was created by the cops and the city, and HOP acquiesced. They succeeded in shortening the parade from nine-and-a-half hours to nine hours and 10 minutes! They described it as a dress rehearsal for next year.

Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty

Your other problems with the parade?

They have it where people have to have wristbands to be in the parade, and they had a limited number of wristbands. That was their goal—to limit the number of people in the parade. Next year, they have agreed no wristbands because they were shamed about that, but they’re still putting limits on how many can be in the parade. Pride was always where people came and could do whatever they wanted. They have been unable with the cops and the city to agree on a route for next year. They haven’t determined yet. Meanwhile, we’ve told the city all we want to do is a straight shot march up one of the avenues. We can do it in three hours. We’re just gonna march uptown into the park. That’s very appealing to the city, but they haven’t sorted it out because they hope to have us do it Saturday—though we’re not backing down on that.

Might the limited wristbands have been for crowd control?

It was for controlling length. But that didn’t work.

And I know you have a big problem with the corporate stamp on the parade.

Oh, yes. They sell the corporations particular places in the parade. With the money they get, they buy local TV time. The parade has just started being televised in the last couple of years, on Channel 7 from noon to 3pm. And who is featured on the telecast? The corporations that have paid to be in these particular spots and whose money is used to buy the broadcast time, and they take a couple of anchors who know nothing about the community and anchor the three-hour broadcast, where they say things like “Here comes a float from a clothing company. That must be because gay people wear those clothes.” And who do they interview? The executives from the corporations. And you see ads from the corporations. And that is your Heritage of Pride parade.

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Your march will not be beholden to corporations?

We will have none of it. But everyone is welcome. No exclusions. No wristbands. And if the corporations want to send over their phony employees—because I think they put stooges in there and certainly they’re not all LGBT employees—and march in a Stonewall 50 human rights and social justice march, be my guest.

Can they have a float?

There will be no floats.

Can they hold a banner?

Yes. But is T-Mobile really going to show up in a march for people’s justice? And if they want to, fine, let them. This will be like the original Stonewall marches for liberation. We’d like to get back to that—because, guess what? The revolution is not over. Unless you go to the Pride March and think it’s over because all you see is a bar float and a T-Mobile float. We think the values of Stonewall have been lost over the years in the Pride Parade. How many people do you know that still go? Very few, I’d propose. And they say, “Next year, we’re going to couple corporations with community organizations, so the organizations can benefit from that.” Well, I think what will happen is that the organizations will be forever identified with Citibank or Wells Fargo, and their message will be totally lost.

And now, Heritage of Pride’s response.

Cathy Renna, a spokesperson for the group, tells me:

We are approaching 2019—a year where our communities will come together and mark the historic queer milestones of Stonewall 50 and World Pride’s first time in the U.S.—and we are looking forward to the millions coming to march, celebrate, protest, and participate in whatever way they feel appropriate and safe. The reality is that NYC Pride incurs hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to provide multiple free events, including one of the largest annual LGBTQIA+ marches in the world. And 2019 will be our largest undertaking ever. That requires funding, and we are proud to work with all of our community, corporate, and individual supporters who make NYC Pride a reality every year, in particular 2019. At a time when our community is under attack by a virulently anti-LGBTQIA+ administration in Washington and hate crimes continue to be on the rise across the country, our most marginalized and diverse communities are targeted on a daily basis and our rights and very existence are being legislated away, we should be working to combat transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia together.”

Put That in Your Munch Bunch Raspberry Yogurt

Albert L. Ortega/Getty

A one-man pride parade, Matt Lucas was half of the comedy team (with David Walliams) who did the hilarious sketch show Little Britain. Matt is also known as Gil from Bridesmaids and Nardole from Dr. Who. And now he’s an author, with his memoir Little Me: My Autobiography, which is done alphabetically, not chronologically, so it’s easier to read for us on-the-go types.

“G” happens to be for Gay, and in that chapter, Lucas reveals that when Queen singer Freddie Mercury died of AIDS in 1991, he was inconsolable, but mom wasn’t having it. “But he was a homosexual,” she told Matt, brusquely. Remembers Matt, “I was beside myself with grief and grew deeply depressed. What hope was there for me? I could spend my days alone, celibate, loveless—or come out, be shunned, catch the plague, die. Perhaps if I settled down, got married, had kids, maybe these feelings would go away?” Relax, he didn’t go that route. He came out and became one of the most loved queens on two continents. Q is for Queen!

American Son On Broadway: Black Plays Matter

Peter Cunningham
Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale.

We need a great play to delve into issues stirred by horrifying police violence against black people, but I don’t feel that Christopher Demos-Brown’s American Son is it. Kerry Washington plays Kendra, a professor in psychology who ends up trying to get answers at her local Florida police station after her son Jamal has been involved in some kind of incident. At the station, Kendra is frustrated with her treatment by a white cop (Jeremy Jordan) who can’t give provide any information and who shows flashes of condescension amidst the imperturbability. When Kendra’s ex, an FBI agent named Scott (Stephen Pasquale), arrives, he urges her to try a more polite approach—though after he’s sent a video of what may have happened to Jamal, Scott gets all fired up and demands to see his son, hitting the white cop when he gets no result.

In comes Lieutenant Stokes (Eugene Lee), a jaded black police lieutenant who is all too aware of institutionalized racism, but also feels there’s discrimination against cops, and tells Kendra she should have taught her son to survive rather than delude him with thoughts of the American dream. (She calls Stokes a “bitter Uncle Tom” in return.) That scene is by far the best in the play, because Stokes is surprising, his debate with Kendra is hair-raising, and Lee gives a fine performance full of weary conviction. Otherwise, Washington has been directed—by Kenny Leon—to yell most of her part, which is understandable since Kendra is distraught, but it leads to a numbing lack of modulation.

What’s more, Kendra and Scott sometimes talk as if they’ve never conversed before. Yes, they are emotionally miles apart, but there are times when you’d barely feel they even met. What’s more, Kendra sprinkles historical references into the conversation, which seem more like the playwright tossing in some context than her doing so. (The author is white, by the way.) Fortunately, complexity emerges—as to what Jamal was up to and what his dad may have had to do with it—but overall, this dire American crisis deserves stronger treatment.

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.
@mikeymusto