Pride, Fear & Freedom of the Press

Gay City Cover 7-16-20
Sheila Marino-Thomas walking in the Queer Liberation March.
Donna Aceto

Last year’s inaugural Queer Liberation March, produced by the Reclaim Pride Coalition, was a reaction to what organizers said was the over-corporatization of the traditional LGBTQ Pride March and a forsaking of the movement’s traditional social justice roots.

When Reclaim Pride took to the streets on June 28, the event had an even more profound resonance in the wake of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that followed the police slaying of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Along with events like the massive June 14 Black Trans Lives Matter march in Brooklyn and the Dyke March’s Juneteenth Break the Chains With Love March, this year’s Queer Liberation March put African-American lives and the risks to them from racist violence and deadly police force at the center.

Institutions and individuals nationwide have rushed to affirm the message that Black Lives Matter — and that is to the good, even if some shows of support seem more authentic and committed to ongoing follow-up than others. As Americans embrace their responsibility to speak out against racist practices and funding and policy priorities, it is also critical that those outside the African-American community — and outside communities of color, in general — look to those among us who suffer from racial disparities and injustices for guidance and leadership.

As the executive director of the Bronx LGBTQ community center Destination Tomorrow, Sean Coleman, writes here, “I’ve watched as narratives that should be crafted by the individuals and communities most impacted by discrimination be designed and developed by privileged individuals who claim to want to ‘get it right.’”

We can all be activists, but many of us also have an obligation to listen.

The protests across the US in the past six weeks have raised compelling and complex questions about how our society is policed, where our public dollars are spent, and how past wrongs can be righted. Inevitably, citizens and elected officials will face tough choices — tough both because they require an appropriate response to the circumstances of life for all Americans and because they require each of us to reexamine our received biases about how the system should work.

The challenges raised threaten not only the status quo — and of course the retrograde policies of the Trump administration — but also many progressive elected officials who have long talked the talk and suddenly may find themselves on the defensive as to whether they are walking the walk. When we believe we are trying to do the right thing, it can be difficult to have our motives and bona fides called into question, especially if done in an angry, confrontational way.

Elected officials can disagree with activists, but is not their job to lecture activists on how they carry out lawful protests. Nor is it the job of elected officials to try to dictate how a free press covers those protests.

A government that sets the terms for how citizens seek redress and how the press performs its job is not a democracy — no matter what Donald Trump tells his rabid followers. What’s repellent in Trump is also repellent in anyone who goes down that road.