Opinion: Why We Need to Take Back Pride From Corporate America and the NYPD

"Pride has become less a march and more a parade."

As a proud New Yorker, I’ve called this city home for more than 30 years. In my early years attending New York City Pride, joy, anger, activism, and community enveloped the festivities. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, when acts of homophobic violence and discrimination against LGBT people were common nationwide, the Pride March route was porous: People on the sidelines could suddenly decide to march with ACT UP, the gay writers, or a church. Revelers could easily navigate the West Village, the neighborhood that flanked the festival.

In the mid-to-late ‘90s, however, things began to change. The New York City Police Department locked the event route down, rendering marchers completely separate from viewers. Parts of the West Village were barricaded into impassable streets.

Then the 9/11 terror attacks changed the course of Pride yet again: Any remaining stops on the NYPD’s efforts to control all public gatherings were off. The police presence along the route and throughout the West Village grew, and for many young queers of color, already subject to racially biased policing, Pride became an event fraught with fear, anxiety, and discomfort. Many longtime activists, mindful that the Pride March stemmed from the Stonewall Riots against the NYPD, balked at what they viewed as a police takeover of Pride.

At the same time, Heritage of Pride (HOP), the organization responsible for producing Pride events, became more reliant on corporate support. With corporate contingents numbering in the thousands, the march also lasted longer each year. Pride became less a march and more a parade. Oddly enough, at a time when acceptance of LGBT people in metropolitan areas like New York was at an all-time high, the policing of Pride events grew, too.

Jay W. Walker

And in 2016, just two weeks before New York City Pride, the Pulse nightclub massacre occurred, changing what would have been a celebration into a march for justice. That year, almost 1,000 people—myself included—marched under the banner of Gays Against Guns to honor the 49 victims.

A year later, after the election of President Donald Trump, 25 different activist groups rebelled near the front of the Pride March as the Resistance Contingent. That hard-earned presence was the result of two months of negotiation with HOP.

This year, members of the Resistance Contingent approached HOP in January to ask to march again. After two months of hemming and hawing by HOP, we were denied permission—and notified that the entirety of New York City Pride had been radically changed. The route had been reversed, and the Pride March would now end at Fifth Avenue and 29th Street; each group would only be allowed 200 participants; wrist bands would be required for all marchers to enter the staging area; and Pride Fest would be moved to University Place.

HOP repeatedly cancelled meetings with the Resistance Contingent rather than address our concerns. In response, the Reclaim Pride Coalition (RPC) was formed. Frustrated with HOP’s stalling tactics, RPC drew up a list of demands concerning the policing and management of Pride. After months of fighting, HOP finally relented in May, allowing the Resistance Contingent to join the Pride March.

RPC will participate in this year’s festivities and continue to engage with HOP to prepare for next year’s Pride, Stonewall 50, and World Pride, which will be hosted in New York. On Tuesday, RPC and other members of the community addressed HOP, the NYPD, and the Mayor’s Office with their concerns during a heated town hall question-and-answer at New York’s LGBT Community Center. Ultimately, we hope to return the event to the LGBT community—and take it away from the freewheeling control of the NYPD and corporate America.

Jay W. Walker is an organizer for the activist groups Gays Against Guns and Rise and Resist, as well as the Reclaim Pride Coalition.