The Queer Liberation March and a Reclaim Pride Coalition History

The RPC demand delivery crew

By Natalie J

The Queer Liberation March —vitally, a protest march with no cops and no corporations — was inspired by the first Pride March in 1970 organized by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), an intersectional leftist group, in remembrance of the community uprising against state oppression that was the 1969 Stonewall Riots.

In 1970, GLF members deliberately planned the route to pass a women’s detention facility in Greenwich Village where women Black Panthers were being held. As they marched past, GLF members shouted, “Free Our Sisters, Free Ourselves!” This is the kind of political radicalism and solidarity that we wanted to help revive from the commercial exploitation and commodification of the queer identity that is Rainbow Capitalism (manifested globally, including in the NYC Pride Parade).

The Reclaim Pride Coalition developed primarily out of the dozens of groups and individuals that had marched together in the 2017 NYC Pride Parade’s Resistance Contingent. This contingent included LGBTQ+ individuals and organization groups like ACT UP, Housing Works, as well as leftist groups like NYC-DSA. In March of 2018, Heritage of Pride (the Parade organizers since 1984), true to their antidemocratic and nontransparent form, informed members of the Resistance Contingent that they could march as individual groups, but that they would not be permitted to march together as the Resistance Contingent in the 2018 Parade. 

 The NYC DSA march contingent. Photo credit Terry Roethlein
The NYC DSA march contingent. Photo credit Terry Roethlein

This sparked weekly coalitional meetings of what soon became the Reclaim Pride Coalition (RPC). I organized these first meetings (with the NYC-DSA Queer Caucus donating its meeting space for them to take place) and stayed on as the primary RPC meeting facilitator for about the first nine months of RPC’s existence, remaining a core organizer throughout. Notable NYC-DSA contributions included a Queer Caucus Organizing Committee member coming up with the name, “Reclaim Pride Coalition,” and a NYC-DSA Media Working Group member designing the RPC logo. 

In the months leading up to the 2018 Pride Parade, the various groups and individuals that make up RPC discovered that they shared concerns beyond the dissolution of the Resistance Contingent and proceeded to formulate demands to decrease corporate and police presence in the Parade as well as the policing of the Parade. These demands included the opposition of Giuliani-era interlocking barricades and the outrageous NYPD-imposed wrist band requirement for marching—also imposed on the Puerto Rican Day Parade—which curtail the freedom of assembly and protest. The RPC demands also underscored that Heritage of Pride are partners with the NYPD as opposed to advocates for the community against the NYPD’s oppression. 

 In April 2018, I went with a small posse representing assorted groups within RPC (including a bedazzling drag queen of the Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and a comrade sporting a rubber unicorn head) delivered these written demands regarding reforms to the Pride Parade to the director of Heritage of Pride, the NYPD Police Commissioner, and the Mayor’s office. These demands were largely ignored, but while Heritage of Pride allowed the Resistance Contingent to march again as a contingent, RPC members emerged determined to create an alternate People’s Protest March for the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall. 

Queer Caucus members remained central to the organizing effort.In addition to the weekly general meetings, weekly meetings of  the various RPC committees—Media, Outreach, Coordination, Accessibility, and Logistics—quickly emerged. Other core RPC coalition groups beyond the Queer Caucus included ACT UP and former ACT UP members, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, People’s Power Assemblies, Rise and Resist, the Radical Faeries, and Gays Against Guns. Housing Works was vital and acted as RPC’s fiscal sponsor free of charge.

With the help of individual donations and institutional grants and in accordance to its vision and ideology, RPC was able to cover the costs of the march and rally without accepting any corporate funds. Also essential were the pro bono services of RPC’s attorney, former NYCLU head and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who, with others on the police negotiation team, negotiated with the NYPD for six months, securing the Queer Liberation March’s incredibly symbolic route (largely a retraced path of the 1970 GLF-organized Christopher Street Gay Liberation March ending in Sheep’s Meadow). Since Sheep’s Meadow is no longer available for public events, Siegel and members of the logistics committee endured six months of negotiations with the highly regulatory Central Park Conservancy to secure the Great Lawn for the Queer Liberation March rally.

Aside from logistical and funding challenges, RPC faced ideological divides, particularly in regards to issues of racial justice.  Such divides, often generational and drawn between leftists and centrists, are typically par for the course within overwhelmingly majority middle class white groups, including RPC and NYC-DSA. As one queer black activist phrased it to me, RPC is at a level of “toxic whiteness,” intolerable to many POC activists.

One large difficulty was gaining approval for the explicit prohibition of the Gay Officer’s Action League (GOAL), an LGBTQ employee advocacy organization within the NYPD, from having a contingent march in the Queer Liberation by adopting language that would ban all representation of the NYPD as an institution within the March. Many (white) older members of the group remembered the extreme homophobia faced by GOAL members amidst the group’s formation in the early 80’s and thus sympathized with current GOAL members as fellow queer. It was only through months of intra-group education around the white supremacy of the NYPD as an institution and the function GOAL serves in pinkwashing the NYPD that we were able to vote unanimously for the “no police in our march” message.

Another important result of intra-group education was RPC publicly cutting formal ties with the NYC LGBT Center, which in alignment with NYC Pride March, has dramatically corporatized and strayed from its earlier history as an activist and grassroots space (it served as the birthplace of ACT UP). The move came on the heels of The Center’s decision to rent space to a far right panel in April 2019—a decision Center leadership defended by use of an absurd freedom of speech argument and cancelled after significant community pressure. This position was in sharp contrast to The Center’s two and half year ban on renting space to queers organizing for Palestine leading to the formation of Queers Against the Israeli Apartheid. Additionally, due to years of oppressive (racist, classist, transphobic) practices by The Center, POC-led groups like the Audre Lorde Project, Black Trans Media, and others stopped meeting there. RPC’s separation was thus a signal of the group’s politics as well as an act of solidarity with groups long alienated by The Center. 

In the final period before the March, after RPC was able to financially compensate their labor, RPC established an Inclusion Council of POC activists to assist with making RPC more inclusive to people who are not white and middle class. One member of this council was from the queer/trans black-led DC group, No Justice, No Pride,—from which RPC adopted and amplified their “No Cops, No Corps” messaging. The Inclusion Council greatly assisted with RPC internal racial and economic justice education and practice, which NYC-DSA could benefit from as another overwhelmingly white middle class group.   

After weeks, months, and for some even over a year of organizing with outreach folks and the wide distribution of RPC palm cards at queer events, bars, cafes, parks; with the help of determined and valiant social media teams; and even some unknown individuals wheatpasting what looked quite similar to RPC signage out and about town, the final weeks before the March were frenzied, and many had doubts as to the turn out being beyond 5,000 marchers. 

 DSA Co Chair Chi Anunwa. Photo Credit Gili Getz
DSA Co Chair Chi Anunwa. Photo Credit Gili Getz

On the day of the March, Leslie Cagan, a crucial RPC organizer and also organizer of the anti Iraq War March, 2014 People’s Climate Justice March, anti-Vietnam War Marches, etc., told me that her calculation of the number of marchers was 45,000, I was profoundly moved. The March itself was—in addition to being political and radical—aesthetically incredible, and displayed the degree of artistry, creativity, and humor of the best queer events. In a fortunate turn of events, due to the NYPD saturating the corporate Pride Parade route with barricades downtown, the supply of barricades ran out for the Queer Liberation March, and upon turning onto 6th Avenue, we were barricade-free. People were able to come “off of the sidewalks and into the streets” as the historic queer march chant went—and this RPC demand from 2018 was fulfilled. Marchers also at some point along the route took all of 6th Avenue despite a menacing police display, in an empowering display of protest and defiance. Reports about the rally at the Great Lawn were also glowing, with black and other trans women of color being centered and unfiltered. 

The event was symbolic, educational, and inspirational. Like Occupy, RPC did very well with media coverage, and where Occupy pushed the public understanding and dialogue about economic inequality and the poverty crisis, RPC and the Queer Liberation March made great strides to further public dialogue and understanding around the concepts of Rainbow Capitalism and pinkwashing. I will end with the language of my favorite sign at the March, one that I think is quite emblematic of the queer, radical, and wonderful feel of the day: “BEING GAY IS NOT A PHASE/ CAPITALISM IS.”

About Rebecca Capua 117 Articles
Red Letter spotlights editor, former MWG OC