Pride celebrations around the country could take on a more political tone this year in response to the Trump administration. (Washington Blade file photo by Buddy Scott)
Possible changes in the way LGBT Pride celebrations are carried out in cities and towns throughout the nation in response to fears of a rollback of LGBT rights under the Trump administration are expected to be a hot topic at a conference in Washington this weekend of Pride leaders from more than a dozen states.
The conference, called The Magic of Pride, taking place March 9-12 at the Washington Hilton Hotel, was expected to include Pride leaders from states in the Northeast and Southeast regions of the country. The Capital Pride Alliance, which organizes D.C.’s annual Pride parade and festival, was serving as host for the conference.
Meanwhile, an informal survey conducted by the Washington Blade of LGBT Pride organizations in some of the nation’s largest cities found that all of them expect a record turnout of participants for their annual festivals and parades this year, with some planning to compliment traditional celebrations with an increased emphasis on politics and potential protests.
“Basically what we see typically with Prides is whenever there’s a major issue like gay marriage or, going back even further when the sodomy laws were overturned, we see a boom in participation at our events,” said Sue Doster, co-president of Inter Pride, an international association of LGBT Pride coordinators.
“We anticipate that this year will be a very large year,” Doster said. “We’ll see a big bump in participation even if we do nothing at all.”
Doster noted that plans this year for a national LGBT rights march on Washington set for June 11, which comes during the month when about half of the nation’s Pride celebrations take place, will likely prompt more people to turn out at Pride events in other cities if they’re unable to make the trip to Washington.
Organizers of the national march have called on Pride organizations and other LGBT advocacy groups to stage LGBT solidarity marches in their respective cities and states on June 11, similar to the model of the National Women’s March on Washington that took place Jan. 21.
Chris Classen, president of the Los Angeles Pride organization, said his group decided to take on that role by converting L.A.’s annual Pride Parade into a “Resist March” that will take on a more political tone than the city’s traditional Pride Parade.
“Our events are always on the second weekend of June, which this year is the 10th and the 11th,” said Classen, in describing what normally would have been L.A.’s Pride festival, parade, and other Pride events.
“So as luck would have it the day of our annual traditional parade is the same day as this national solidarity march,” he said. “So we will forego our traditional parade format for 2017 in favor of a rally and march type of format.”
Classen noted that similar to New York City, which held the nation’s first march for LGBT rights in 1970, one year after the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village, the L.A. Pride organization also started in 1970 with a march and rally.
“So we are going back to our roots and doing a march and rally in lieu of the parade,” he said.
Representatives of Pride events in New York City and Boston said those cities traditionally have continued to emphasize political advocacy for LGBT equality in their respective events. Although floats and marching bands have become a part of the annual gatherings, their respective parades have continued to be called marches.
“We definitely have events that celebrate, too,” said Doster, who is a member of the board of the New York City Pride organization. “But we never changed the name from a march. It’s always been a march to us.”
Sylvain Bruni, president of Boston Pride, said Boston’s pride events traditionally have had “very political themes” and this year’s event will be no different. He said as has been its practice for many years, Boston Pride conducted an online survey of LGBT people in the Boston area and, based on proposals from the community, adopted the theme this year of “Stronger Together.”
He said concerns over a rollback of LGBT rights coming from the Trump administration in Washington would be reflected this year at Boston’s LGBT parade and festival.
“I think this year is going to be different in the sense that we expect a lot more people to show up and to be even more vocal than they have been in the past,” he said.
Jamie Fergerson, executive director of Pride Atlanta, said that similar to Boston, Atlanta’s Pride celebrations in the past several years have taken on a more political tone. She said that because Atlanta’s annual Pride parade and festival take place in October her organization hasn’t decided on whether any specific new actions will be taken in response to the Trump administration.
“But we’ve been doing in the past couple of years a little more kind of activism in working on immigration, racial justice and access to services,” she said. “And I think we’ll continue to do that.”
Although Atlanta’s Pride parade and festival take place in October, Fergerson noted that her organization holds events throughout the year and that in June, which it designates as Stonewall Month, the group holds as many as 25 events. She said some would likely address the issues and concerns LGBT activists have concerning the Trump administration.
In D.C., officials with the Capital Pride Alliance, which organizes D.C.’s annual Pride parade and festival on June 10 and 11, and one of the lead organizers of D.C.’s annual Black Pride events held during the Memorial Day weekend, said they expect some changes in connection with concerns over the Trump administration.
“One is obviously having this national march at our doorstep and working with them to ensure that it compliments an already powerful weekend here in the nation’s capital,” said Ryan Bos, executive director of Capital Pride Alliance.
Bos said Capital Pride had no immediate plans to make major changes in D.C.’s annual Pride parade and festival. The festival takes place on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., near the U.S. Capitol and extends to 7th Street, N.W., four blocks from the Trump International Hotel.
Capital Pride Alliance President Bernie Delia said no decisions have been made on who the speakers will be on the main stage of the D.C. Pride Festival on June 11.
Similar to other cities, Bos said D.C. expects a significantly larger turnout for its Pride events this year due to the national march, even more so than last year’s record turnout for the festival.
Ryan Bos, executive director of Capital Pride Alliance, said he has no immediate plans to make major changes to D.C.’s annual Pride parade and festival. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
The mass shooting by a gunman at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. that took the lives of 49 mostly LGBT people occurred the night before Pride festivals in D.C. and other cities were scheduled to take place. In what activists have called a mass showing of solidarity, the Orlando tragedy prompted a large increase in the number of people turning out for Pride events in the following days and weeks.
Earl Fowlkes, executive director of the Center for Black Equity, which serves as an umbrella organization for Black Pride events throughout the U.S. and abroad, said Black Prides traditionally have included workshops and politically oriented events in addition to festivals and celebrations. He said he expects this year’s events, including the D.C. Black Pride, to address concerns related to the Trump administration.
“One of the things we’re doing with all the Prides is in the beginning of May in Houston we’re having a meeting of about 40 Black Prides,” he said. “We want to train them on how to be stronger advocates and how to work within the system to maintain the gains we’ve made.”
Added Fowlkes: “I don’t want to call it resist – but to learn how to move the ball across the field…to better respond to the changing situations in Washington and around the country.”
In Philadelphia, organizers of the Philly Pride Parade and Festival announced last month that they had changed the date for the two events from June 11 to June 18 to avoid a conflict with the national LGBT march on Washington. In a statement on their website Philly Pride officials said holding their parade and festival on June 11 could have resulted in a drop in attendance from 15 percent to 25 percent due to the conflict with the national march in Washington.
A spokesperson for the Miami Beach Gay Pride organization, which will hold a parade, festival and beach party on April 7-9, said the group has decided to continue its longstanding policy of keeping the events non-political, although organizations setting up booths at the festival are free to advocate for political causes.
“We work very hard to make Miami Beach Gay Pride a non-political celebration of the unique spirit of the LGBTQ community,” said Mark Fernandes, chair of the group’s board of directors. “As such, we feel we’re a more inclusive event that celebrates diversity. Even the diversity of opposing political views,” he said, adding, “We have no plans of altering our event because of the current administration and have never been a forum for politicization.”
Officials with Pride organizations in Chicago and San Francisco, where some of the nation’s largest Pride parades and festivals have taken place, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.