LGBTQ and migrant rights activists formed a human chain Sunday to briefly block the Phoenix Pride parade on Third Street. Police officers on bicycles pushed the group to the sidewalk, allowing floats and marchers to pass. “No justice, no pride,” activists chanted.
For one chaotic minute, a tangle of officers, bicycles, and demonstrators blocked the road as police sought to push everyone with linked arms to the sidewalk. Activists reported no serious injuries, although they said some people had bumps and bruises from being shoved to the side of the road.
Sunday marked the second time that activists with LGBTQ and migrant rights groups interrupted the Phoenix Pride parade to stage a protest. The police presence at Pride and the event’s main corporate sponsor (Bank of America) make the parade antithetical to the origins of LGBTQ activism, demonstrators said. Modern Pride marches began after transgender women at Stonewall rioted to protest police violence.
Because the coalition is made up of people of color and undocumented immigrants, Dagoberto Bailon of Trans Queer Pueblo said that it’s wrong for Pride to include police in the parade as both participants and patrol officers. “It really shows where they stand,” Bailon said on Sunday.
As soon as activists hurried across the road to block the parade, white Pride attendees on the sidewalk began to heckle them. “Keep marching! Don’t hold the parade up!” a man yelled.
“Register a float if you want to do this! Go!” a woman jeered, throwing up her hands in frustration. Demonstrators and nearby attendees began to argue, sometimes heatedly. People who were clearly at the parade for the beads, red solo cups, and party atmosphere yelled at protesters, telling them to go home.
Brad Burt, a commander in the Phoenix Police Department’s Central City Precinct, said that there were no arrests and no injuries in the scrum. The goal was to separate demonstrators and marchers, Burt said, while respecting their First Amendment rights.
“There’s a public safety issue when that happens, because we’ve got a large amount of people walking northbound on the street,” Burt told Phoenix New Times, adding that they wanted to prevent clashes between demonstrators and marchers in the middle of the road.
Despite the protest, there was no noticeable delay for attendees watching the parade near the finish at Indian School Road. After police cordoned off the group of around 30 activists, they held a debriefing several yards away from the parade route, before some of them returned to walk along the route and pass out pamphlets.
"What's up with Phoenix Pride?" one page read. "The entrance fees are too high! It celebrates corporations over people! It glorifies the same police who persecute us! There's not even a mention of the native people whose land we march on."
Dialogue between Trans Queer Pueblo and Phoenix Pride board members broke down several weeks ago. According to Bailon, their coalition of organizers made the decision yesterday to block the parade route for the second year in a row.
The day before the parade, the president and vice president of the board of directors of Phoenix Pride published an op-ed in the Arizona Republic in which they pointedly criticized Trans Queer Pueblo.
“[T]o those who choose to cast accusations from afar, who would rather disrupt than engage, who are more interested in distraction than in addressing issues with those in power to actually impact them, we want to continue to engage with you, too,” Mark Leeper and Carlos Castañeda wrote.
Jeremy Helfgot, a spokesperson for Phoenix Pride, told New Times last week that Pride shares Trans Queer Pueblo's concerns on these issues and wants to work with them.
But for the second year in a row, the protest exposed deep fissures between the organizers behind Pride and Phoenix activists who say that the event does not include or represent them.
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When it comes to the Pride board member’s argument that the event is meant to be open to everyone, Bailon said that the police response to their demonstration said everything. Moving forward, the groups behind the protest —Trans Queer Pueblo, the Center for Neighborhood Leadership, Raiz, and others — plan to stage their own events independent of Pride. “It’s kind of sad that this is how the relationship ends, with a clear misunderstanding,” Bailon said.
For many of them, the protest served as a “goodbye from us for Pride.”
“We understand that this is not our place, and we need to continue focusing on building for our community,” Bailon said.
Ray Stern contributed reporting.