When the first gay pride events took place in the 1970s, they were held in response to the violent police raids at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. And it was transgender women of color who led the way in fighting back against the police brutality at Stonewall, despite the fact that they've continually been erased from mainstream depictions of the event.
These days, however, Pride is looking very white. It's less political and more corporate, with major international companies lining up to hand out freebies in hopes of tapping into the lucrative market of gay consumers.
And Phoenix Pride, which takes place this weekend at Steele Indian School Park, is no exception: Sponsors this year include APS, Bank of America, Coca Cola, Bud Light, and Wells Fargo.
Trans Queer Pueblo, a group which advocates for the rights of LGBTQ undocumented immigrants, wants to see Pride return to its radical roots.
"It's become very commercialized, and it’s not about people’s rights anymore," Dagoberto Bailon, an activist with Trans Queer Pueblo, explains. "You have all these corporations giving out things, saying 'We care for you, shop at our place.' None of these corporations take a stand for racial justice, against deportations, against trans women being killed."
He points to Bank of America and Wells Fargo, both of which have invested millions of dollars into companies that operate immigration detention centers, as prime examples.
"They're masking all of this by saying 'We’re inclusive, we support gay rights,' while also saying, 'We’re going to fund Eloy [Detention Center], Florence [Detention Center], and all of these places where brown people get deported."
Bailon says that he and other members of Trans Queer Pueblo have been trying to get Phoenix Pride, whose leadership is largely white, to take a stand on issues that specifically affect LGBTQ people of color. So far, they haven't gotten much of a response.
"There hasn’t been an intentional reach to sit down with brown communities, to really see what communities of color are fighting for," he says. "We’ve approached Pride a few different times to ask them to support cases of queer and trans people in detention, but they said that’s not something that they do."
That goes directly against what Pride is supposed to stand for, Bailon argues.
"We can’t possibly claim equality if some of our folks are in detention being sexually abused and harassed. Equality for all doesn’t mean much if we’re not addressing racial justice."
It's hard to think of better example of how much Pride has changed over the years than the fact that police officers now have floats and march in a parade that originally started in response to police brutality.
For white gays, that's not necessarily a contradiction: after all, the days of raids on gay bars are over. But for undocumented immigrants and people of color, it's another story entirely.
"For our communities of color, it’s very triggering," Bailon says. "Our interactions with police have never been good. We have witnessed our parents being deported by the police. We have been pulled over and handed over to ICE by the police. Our black brothers and sisters are being shot and killed by the police. Having the police there sends a message to the LGBT community that we've got your back, we’re here to support you, and in practice it doesn’t turn out like that."
Rather than skip the parade and festival, Trans Queer Pueblo members are planning on showing up at 10 a.m. on Sunday with an invitation to Pride's leadership to work with them in the future to make the event more inclusive to people of color and undocumented immigrants.
It reads in part:
Our pride cannot be built on detention, deportation, and police violence. At the beginning of Pride season 2017, we invite Phoenix Pride to lead the LGBTQ+ institutions to defend our whole family, including people of color and migrants, in two important ways:
-Make Pride Safe for LGBTQ+ people of color. This includes denying the police float in the Pride Parade, cutting ties with corporate sponsors that finance mass incarceration and set up a TQPOC-led overview committee for Pride festivities.
-Make Phoenix safe for LGBTQ+ people of color. We need a Phoenix Pride that uses its close ties to politicians and is publically vocal in support of our community, denouncing SB1070 and Phoenix Police operations order 4.48 and Phoenix City Manifestation Law.
New Times reached out to Phoenix Pride for comment but didn't get an immediate response. We'll update this story when we do.
Update, March 31: Justin Owen, executive director of Phoenix Pride, has released a lengthy statement in response to what they describe as "planned protests" at the 2017 Pride Parade.
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"We are aware that there are still many causes that need attention, and we always stand willing to work with members of our community to end oppression and injustice of any kind of and against any individual or group," it says in part.
Owen goes on to say that "as always, we will welcome peaceful protests by those who wish to express their concerns about any issues of social justice." However, "interference with the parade route, or direct distortion of the parade and festival, will not be permitted, as a matter of safety for the public."
You can read the statement in its entirety below: