Emphasizing community, Reclaim Pride town hall looks forward to 2023 march

Jason Rosenberg of ACT UP and Ivy Arce of Treatment Action Group during one of the panel discussions.
Jason Rosenberg of ACT UP and Ivy Arce of Treatment Action Group during one of the panel discussions.
Donna Aceto

Members of the Reclaim Pride Coalition gathered at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan on February 25 for a town hall featuring multiple panels to prepare for the June 25 Queer Liberation March and discuss a range of important issues facing queer New Yorkers, from legislative attacks on trangender and non-binary folks to the housing and healthcare challenges facing the most marginalized people in the community.

“We’re here tonight because it’s exactly four months to the day from Pride Sunday here in New York,” Reclaim Pride Coalition co-founder and organizer Jay W. Walker said during the beginning of the town hall. “We want to get a nice good head start so we can do as much to make this year — the fifth annual Liberation March — as spectacular as possible.”

The Queer Liberation March was first held in 2019 as an alternative to the main NYC Pride March with the intention of returning to the roots of Pride after activists complained of the corporatization and police presence during the city’s annual Pride festivities. The Reclaim Pride Coalition does not use corporate sponsors and does not allow cops in the march, though there is typically an NYPD presence around the march. 

One particular area of concern in past years has been the police response at the end of the march, which has concluded at Washington Square Park in recent years after the first march finished at Central Park. In 2020, police made arrests and unleashed pepper spray at Washington Square Park — and in 2021, cops steered clear throughout much of the march, but the police presence grew near the Washington Square Park arch and, yet again, cops used pepper spray and made multiple arrests

Reclaim Pride Coalition leaders said at the town hall that there would be an opportunity for individuals to make their voices heard at City Hall on March 1 when the Committee on Public Safety will hold a hearing about the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, which has played a role in the arrests on Pride Sunday. 

Reclaim Pride Coalition members at the town hall on February 25.
Reclaim Pride Coalition members and panelists at the town hall on February 25.Donna Aceto

Walker underscored the importance of community input and called on organizers and volunteers to step up at a time of need. The first panel, “LGBTQIA2s+ Communities Under Siege,” featured Reclaim Pride Coalition and ACT UP organizer Skylar Moore, New Pride Agenda organizer Shéár Avory, and Drag Story Hour NYC’s Oliver H.

Avory said the path forward must involve advocating for the community’s rights with the same level of energy as anti-LGBTQ lawmakers and others who have been working aggressively to advance their bigoted political agenda and stifle progress.

“I think what we need as a community is collective momentum,” Avory said. “Too often, moments come like 2020, like March for our Lives, like the Stonewall Uprising — and my question as a young person and a younger organizer is, where are the protests? Where are the rallies every time a trans woman is murdered?”

The response from the community and the media, Avory said, has been too lackluster for too long.

“We need organizing strategies and to keep that energy going so there is no room for them to introduce a new bill,” Avory said, referring to the wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation nationwide. 

The event also tackled healthcare issues, which is a particularly important discussion given the attacks on trans healthcare and the unique health challenges facing queer people, such as the mpox outbreak that disproportionately impacted men who have sex with men last year. Panelists also conveyed how other issues — such as housing stability — also contribute to healthcare outcomes in the community.

During one of the panels, ACT UP’s Jason Rosenberg and Treatment Action Group’s Ivy Kwan Arce discussed healthcare issues and brought awareness to overdose prevention resources such as Narcan kits. Rosenberg explained that the goal is to keep the community safe — he pointed to the way community advocates pivoted in response to COVID and mpox, for example — and he said the Reclaim Pride Coalition’s organizers are thinking about safety as they prepare for this year’s march. 

Beverly Tillery of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.
Beverly Tillery of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.Donna Aceto

Among other speakers at the town hall included New York City Anti-Violence Project executive director Beverly Tillery, who warned folks about the reports of druggings at gay bars and denounced the rise in violence against members of the queer community.

“We are also seeing folks using Grindr and dating apps and other ways to identify LGBTQ people, to figure out where we are vulnerable, and attack us,” said Tillery, who added that “we’re not seeing that much of a response from law enforcement.”

“It is time for us to be thinking about how to keep ourselves safe,” Tillery said. “What can we be doing to make sure we are looking out for each other?”

Janis Stacy, a Reclaim Pride Coalition organizer and intake specialist at Housing Equity Center in Pennsylvania, offered tips for people facing issues with housing and encouraged individuals in attendance to report bad landlords or else they will continue to be repeat offenders with other tenants.

Stacy recommended folks check out Fair Housing Justice Center, which combats housing discrimination and works to bolster enforcement of housing laws, and underscored the importance of data collection in the broader effort to improve housing conditions for LGBTQ people.

Watch a stream of the town hall at YouTube.com: