51 Years After Stonewall, New York’s Queer Liberation March Faces Police Violence


At about 4:30 pm on Sunday, June 28, I was both elated and exhausted. After marching for two and a half miles as a lead organizer of the Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality, I had taken a short break to rest and replenish near our end point, Washington Square Park. But now I was ready to go back into the post-march celebration in the center of the park. I saw in the distance that there seemed to be a commotion at the north end of the park, near the Washington Square Arch, and started to walk toward it. On my way, I ran into my friend Liz, who told me that the NYPD had pepper-sprayed the tail end of our march and that Sasha Alexander of Black Trans Media, who was running the post-march speak-out at the small stone stage in the middle of the park, had successfully implored the White people viewing the speak-out to form a barrier around the perimeter of the area to protect the Black and Brown and Trans folks speaking and watching. I glanced over at the stage area and saw the line of White faces lined up facing any danger that might be on its way and felt proud to be among these people. Then I headed to the arch. Soon, I saw people on the ground trying to flush their eyes out and ran into my friend Dinetta, who gave me more details on the police’s actions: She had seen cops ramming into protesters with their motor scooters, unleashing pepper spray on the crowd and intentionally escalating tensions. How had we gotten here?

The first Queer Liberation March and rally, held on June 29, Pride Sunday, 2019, had been an on a enormous success. The march’s organizers, the Reclaim Pride Coalition (RPC) had conceived it as an alternative to the mainstream parade, produced by the organization Heritage of Pride. We planned a march that wouldn’t have the overwhelming presence of the NYPD, whose route wouldn’t be fully barricaded, and that would avoid the overweening corporate presence in the traditional Pride parade. In addition, we sought to uplift the voices of the most marginalized communities among our larger LGBTQ+ family. After months of negotiation with the NYPD, the mayor’s office, and the Parks Department, we had successfully produced a march of 45,000 from Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street to the Great Lawn of Central Park, where a rally featuring speeches and performances from a wide swath of largely Black, Brown, Indigenous, Immigrant, Disabled, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and Neurodivergent LGBTQ+ activists and performers. The long-standing history of police violence against members of these communities and the lasting trauma resulting from it prompted the RPC’s insistence on a minuscule NYPD presence at our march and rally. That goal was with accomplished with no barricading along our march route, which shifted to Sixth Avenue after we departed from Christopher Street, replicating the route of our inspiration, the June 28, 1970, Christopher Street Liberation Day March, the first Pride march, conceived and executed by the Gay Liberation Front.

After that extraordinary success and the appreciation we heard from many of New York City’s queer communities, the Reclaim Pride Coalition recognized a mandate to move forward with plans to replicate that success in 2020. That is, until some lady named Rona came to town and blew our Pride plans for June to smithereens. We quickly decided that we would pursue some virtual programming for Pride Sunday. But by the time we had determined the content we wanted for the livestream, we were hit by a steady stream of shocks to our systems. First, the inaction in response to Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, then the police execution of Breonna Taylor, then a white woman calling the police on birdwatcher Chris Cooper in the Central Park Ramble, and the one-two gut punches of the death of legendary activist Larry Kramer, less than a year after he had delivered an impassioned speech after our inaugural 2019 Queer Liberation March, and the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Our members and organizers took to the streets in protest. Soon, there was unanimous agreement that we would reconstitute our Pride march in person, not just virtually, one that would be held in the fully intersectional spirit of our organization’s founding. And we had to get all of that done in three and a half weeks.

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