is nyc pride too commercial reclaim pride coalition teaser
is nyc pride too commercial reclaim pride coalition teaser

Is NYC Pride Too Commercial? Activists of the Reclaim Pride Coalition Say ‘Yes’

In March, activists came together to form Reclaim Pride Coalition (RPC), a group of New York City-based organizations and individuals who say they are fighting to reclaim the NYC Pride March as one that better represents the local LGBTQ community. They believe that corporate saturation, unnecessary restrictions and excessive police presence, as well as “new and unacceptable changes” to the annual march, have plagued the oldest Pride celebration in the world. Is NYC Pride too commercial?

RPC formed after individuals and organizations who marched together in the 2017 Pride March as the “Resistance Contingent” — including ACT UP, Rise and Resist, Gays Against Guns, Democratic Socialists of America and Jewish Voice for Peace NY, among others — were told they wouldn’t be able to do so this year. 

So coalition members delivered a series of demands to Heritage of Pride (HOP), the organization that produces NYC Pride. Their long list included that a Resist Contingent be included once more, as well as various other demands:

This Coalition demands that HOP joins in our Demand for a public apology from the NYPD for the part it played at Stonewall and for historic and ongoing violence by the NYPD against members of the LGBTQ community, particularly the most vulnerable members of our community. 

There are to be no uniformed or visibly armed police officers, or their vehicles, within the March, nor shall any police be afforded a place of pride near the front of the March, nor shall there be a police band.

That no limits be placed as to the numbers of participants in the March in community, activist, and not-for-profit group contingents. More specifically, we reject the limit of 200 people in these contingents.

This Coalition demands an honest and transparent explanation for the dramatic route change enacted by Heritage of Pride to the 2018 Pride March route.

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Jay Walker at the May 4 meeting of the Reclaim Pride Coalition; photo by Jackie Rudin

On Monday, May 21, HOP responded to RPC’s demands with a detailed statement announcing it would indeed allow a Resist Contingent to march.

“The NYC Pride March is a huge event, with millions of spectators attending over many hours. We believe that common messages within the March are best delivered when spread throughout the duration of the procession, otherwise they may be missed by all but the most dedicated crowd that sticks around from start to finish,” James Fallarino, Media Director of Heritage of Pride, tells Hornet.

Fallino continues, “For this reason, we generally don’t group organizations into issue or identity-based contingents. However, for some organizations committed to resisting the policies of the Trump Administration, they feel one united voice is the best way to deliver their message. So, for 2018, we’ve decided to let it form once again.”

Brandon Cuicchi of ACT UP NY says, “We feel vindicated that at the last minute HOP is following through on its earlier offer to allow a Resistance Contingent in NYC Pride, but it’s unacceptable that HOP would openly obstruct and delay the efforts of our community members for five months.”

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The crowd at the May 4 meeting; photo by Alexander Kacala

But while this demand of RPC has been met after months of lobbying, the organization will continue to challenge some of the other aspects of the NYC Pride March. Is NYC Pride too commercial? They believe it is.

On May 4, concerns surrounding NYC Pride were communicated loud and clear by approximately 90 people during a town hall meeting at the LGBT Center on 13th Street in Manhattan, where individuals took to the microphone one by one to communicate their belief that HOP’s management of the annual NYC Pride March has alienated the LGBTQ community it’s meant to represent. Hornet was there, listening to the detailed accounts of attendees.

Alexis Clements was one of those attendees, who told a story about an incident that happened at last year’s March.

“This is a tiny example of policing, but I am only giving it to show how it looks on a broader scale,” Clements said. “We were on the back of the Resistance Contingent, where they had the interlocking barricade slightly ajar to let new people in. Very quickly, young volunteers from Heritage of Pride began physically trying to stop people from entering. When that stopped working, they went to the police and tried to call the police on queers trying to enter the march. That’s fucked up. Think about that on a large scale.”

Clements also read a statement from the coordinators of The Lesbian Herstory Archives, the largest collection of materials curated by lesbians about lesbians, who couldn’t attend the May 4 meeting.

“The Lesbian Herstory archives is very concerned with the commercialization of the Pride march, the increase in police presence, the forced identification by means of wristbands, the limitations and access and egress because of barricades and very much with the exclusion of resistance groups,” the statement read. “On these issues we agree with the Reclaim Pride Coalition and ask for these decisions to be changed and the Pride march to reflect real values of pride and resistance.”

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Jamila Hammami; photo by Jackie Ruden

Jamila Hammami of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, an organization that assists people coming out of immigration detention in securing structural, health/wellness, educational, legal and emotional support and services, helped moderate the May 4 meeting.

“Until HOP stops ignoring concerns regarding policing and community participation at Pride, the community will have little faith in their planning efforts for next year’s World Pride, which ironically commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the greatest example of LGBT people standing up to police repression,” says Hammami in a statement provided to Hornet by RPC.

Another activist in attendance that day was Jeremiah Johnson, member of Rise and Resist.

“In my discussions with HOP regarding the corporate nature of the parade, they’ve preferred to focus on two facts: that corporate registrants make up only around 25% of the total number of parade groups and that their efforts to restrict all marching contingents to only 200 people will diminish the commercialization of Pride,” Johnson explains to Hornet. “The problem with this is that lavish, big budget displays continue to give corporations an outsized presence, even when they make up a smaller number of registrants. I believe the best solution would be to only limit the number of participants in corporate groups and to not restrict marchers in the community contingents.”

Chris Frederick, Executive Director of HOP, says that many large corporations participate in Pride to create a safe and inclusive space for their employees, and also to give their employees an opportunity to march in the event. “Ten or twenty years ago employees were shunned and fired for coming out within the workplace,” he tells us. “That still does continue to happen throughout this country. We think it’s important the NYC Pride March serves as a space where employers can engage employees in a meaningful way. This small act can forever shape future workplace equality for all.”

But Johnson suggests that just because a company is LGBTQ inclusive, they may not be on the right side of other issues that are equally important. A major sponsor of Capital Pride in Washington, D.C., activists called Wells Fargo hypocritical given the bank’s major financial contributions to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“Additionally, I’m concerned that corporations are only being vetted according to the corporate index rating provided by the Human Rights Campaign but not properly assessed for their participation in other oppressive practices that impact marginalized communities,” Johnson says. “Whether HOP likes it or not, this is a complicated discussion headed into Stonewall 50, and if they truly want to act like a nonprofit that represents the broader LGBTQ community, they need to fully engage in communication with concerned community members and stop evading us.”

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Jeremiah Johnson; photo via Facebook

Police repression is indeed an extremely tricky situation, as HOP has to rely on the police to ensure that everyone stays safe during Pride. But RPC activists counter that these police there are meant to keep white people safe and are actually more of a threat to queer people of color in attendance at the event, one of the most marginalized groups in attendance at the annual celebration.

But in addition to RPC’s issues with the policing of Pride, the group also challenges the police marching in Pride. Gay Officers’ Action League (GOAL) is the name of the NYPD’S LGBT organization, which has long been a march contingent. In 1997 the group famously sued the NYPD in federal court to be awarded the same treatment as other fraternal organizations, including being allowed to march in uniform.

RPC does not want GOAL marching in NYC Pride, and if they do, not in uniform. Activists at the May 4 meeting said that even though they are gay officers, being LGBT is something they were born into, whereas becoming a police officer was something they chose.

New York City isn’t the first to deal with this issue. Last year Pride Toronto didn’t ban officers outright but “simply [requested] that their participation not include the following elements: uniform, weapons, and vehicles.” Police had been hopeful they’d be allowed to march in uniform in 2018, but that’s not the case for another year.

Pride Toronto has requested the city’s Police Service withdraw its application to march in June’s Pride Parade. “I certainly came into the position very optimistic that they could have been a part of the parade this year,” Pride Toronto Executive Director Olivia Nuamah says. “That would have continued to be the case were it not for the kind of series of events that took place in the course of about eight months.”

In order to facilitate conversation regarding some of these tough issues, Heritage of Pride is holding a meeting on June 5 at the LGBT Center, during which community members are invited to sit down with the Office of the Mayor and the NYPD to learn more about the operation of the NYC Pride March.

“While, as Pride organizers, we have now developed a strong relationship with the City and NYPD, we also recognize that our events only exist because our community fought back against city and police sanctioned violence and discrimination, in 1969 and beyond,” the statement from Heritage of Pride reads. “With Stonewall 50 coming up next year, we think the conversation about a formal apology from the City and NYPD is worth having. We hope that same strong relationship can help move that conversation into a positive result.”

While HOP may be looking for an apology next year from the NYPD regarding the Stonewall Uprising, a demonstration that erupted from police brutality at the Stonewall Inn, HOP won’t be telling officers what they can and cannot wear during the parade as Toronto did. Following a May 12 vote, HOP is upholding its original rule that no restrictions are to be placed on how marchers may legally express themselves.

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NYC Pride

Hornet sat down with Fallarino to discuss some the community’s concerns, and how HOP plans to address them going into NYC Pride 2018 and into World Pride 2019.

HORNET: Some community members think NYC Pride has become too commercial. What do you say to them? 

FALLARINO: The NYC Pride March has grown and changed significantly from its early days. The March is now one of the world’s most visible LGBTQIA+ events, and certainly one of NYC’s largest cultural events. I’m not sure our forebears from the ’70s and ’80s could have imagined back then the enormity that their creation would become by 2018. Overall, we produce directly or in partnership 18 events over a two-week period. It’s a full-year effort that requires a great deal of resources. About half of those resources come from ticket sales and event registrations, but just like like all other major cultural events, corporate sponsors are a critical source of funding for our work.

When it comes to the Pride March specifically, it’s important to note that corporate sponsors can’t just put a float in the March and call it a day. All of them have marching groups composed of their LGBTQIA+ and allied employees — workers who are proud that their workplaces support our community, and support them individually. While we do have a number of corporate sponsors and businesses in the March, 65-75% of all marching groups are in fact nonprofit organizations.

Many community members are under the impression that in order for a group to march, they have to pay. Can you share the percentage of groups marching each year that pay, and what percentage doesn’t pay?

Any nonprofit organization with a budget of less than $2.5 million was able to register as a “Marcher Only” group (no vehicles or floats), at no cost from Nov. 1 to Feb. 1. After Feb. 1 there was a $50 registration fee for small nonprofits, but we’ve extended free registrations to a number of additional organizations since that time. Overall, 70% of the 411 total groups in this year’s March are nonprofit organizations, and 20% of all groups are nonprofit organizations that paid no fee at all. Many more of the participating nonprofits have budgets under $2.5 million, and therefore would have been eligible for free registration but opted to include vehicles or floats in their March presence, which incurs a fee.

Now that there is a Resistance Contingent happening, how can community members become involved if they want to? 

Folks who wish to join any group in the March should reach out to that organization directly, as marching groups handle their own attendance. NYC Pride is coordinating with Rise and Resist and ACT UP New York on the formation of the Resistance Contingent, including identifiying the 10 organizations that will form it.

The parade route is changing this year in anticipation for next year’s World Pride. Explain why it has to be changed, and will it remain changed after 2019? 

Nine and a half hours — that’s how long long we ran last year, on an event that is supposed to last about five hours. In 2017, groups were literally marching down Christopher Street in the dark, and the crowds on the sidewalks by that time were sparse. That’s not fun for anyone.

With up to 5 million people expected for 2019, we had to do something to address the time overage, or we could end up with a major safety concern on our hands. It took us about two years to develop, but we ultimately landed on this new March route, and there are three major reasons we think this is the best option: (1) We needed to put more of the March route on avenues, to take advantage of the significantly wider streets and sidewalks. (2) It was critical to keep the Stonewall National Monument as the centerpiece of the March, and we also wanted to add the new NYC AIDS Memorial to the route. (3) Dispersal on the tiny streets of the far West Village was a major cause of delays. Our new terminus in Midtown will provide a vastly more efficient dispersal of marchers and vehicles.

On June 5 you’re hosting a roundtable discussion with some of these community members, the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office. Why are you doing this?

The NYC Pride March is a massive operation that requires the support of agencies across the city to produce. We understand that a lot of folks may not be aware of the full size and scope of this operation, and we hope that the June 5 info session will provide a space for the community to learn more about how we pull this off, and how numerous city agencies, including the NYPD, are central to making it happen.

And the roundtable is also an opportunity for activists to raise their concerns about the NYPD in general and about their policing at Pride?

Certainly. We’ve been talking about an event like this for the last few months, including prior to receiving the remands from the Reclaim Pride Coalition. Earlier in the Spring, we were planning a closed-door roundtable discussion with some of our leaders, activists and reps from the NYPD. After we received the demands, this structure no longer seemed appropriate. Now the June 5 event is going to be open to the public, with presentations by HOP, the Office of the Mayor and the NYPD about the March operation, and of course plenty of time for attendees to ask questions and raise concerns. We want the whole community to feel welcome to attend and to ask questions.

How does HOP plan to continue this conversation through Pride 2018 and into World Pride 2019? 

These are conversations we’ve been having since 1984 when HOP was founded. Every year after the last firework goes off (and after we take a few days to rest our feet), our volunteers, staff and committees come together to review things, talk about what worked and what did not and consider changes for the next year. This annual review process is a critical part of what makes us successful, and anyone who wants to get involved is welcome to join one of our committees. Most of our committee meetings are open to the public, and our calendar is available at nycpride.org.

What do you think: Is NYC pride too commercial? Sound off in the comments below or on Facebook.

Want to get involved? Reclaim Pride Coalition has called a meeting for new and current members on Saturday, May 26 from 1–3 p.m. at the LGBT Center at 208 W. 13th St. in Manhattan.

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