In June 1969, police raided the Stonewall Hotel in New York City, beating and arresting 2SLGBT patrons.
More than 50 years later, Pride celebrations held across North America, often on the anniversary of the event or the day before, bear little resemblance to the uprising against police crackdown that catalyzed the gay rights movement.
As the bi-spiritual lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community gained acceptance from the mainstream culture and even recognition as a lucrative consumer group, Pride events have at times been a source of tension in the community.
Some perceive them as a colorful cultural celebration of freedoms already won; others deplore Pride being used by corporations and in marketing campaigns while the ongoing struggles of more marginalized members of the community are relegated to the background.
Those perspectives will be juxtaposed on Saturday in Thunder Bay, Ontario, starting with a protest march called “Pride is a Protest” that was supported by the city’s acclaimed pride organizer, Thunder Pride.
Later that day, Thunder Pride and the Rainbow Collective will host two events more traditionally associated with Pride: a daytime street festival and a nighttime drag show.
“Take matters into your own hands”
Protest co-organizers Luck Williams and Sarah DiBiagio said they organized the march after learning that Thunder Pride did not have the resources to host an official Pride parade this year.
“Many members of our community, especially the people who finally came out of hiding this year, were so excited to be part of the pride parade, but left disappointed or very disappointed because some of our questions couldn’t even be answered. get an answer,” Williams said.
“We take matters into our own hands and ensure that Pride is more than just a party. Everyone knows that it started as a protest.”
According to DiBiagio, some people expressed dismay to the duo at losing the opportunity to march proudly through the streets, while others were frustrated by the corporate-sponsored parades.
“A lot of the activities that are happening this year as part of Pride Month really revolve around partying, drinking and paying games,” she added.
“The average cost of one of the drag shows is about $30. So this year Pride was limited to a lot of people who needed access to it.”
This year is particularly important for the return of politics to Pride, DiBiagio said, as the rights of androgynous, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans/non-binary people have come under attack, especially in the United States.
In addition, Ontario police are investigating after Pride decorations and flags in several communities were torn, cut and shredded.
- In the US, Pride Month celebrations have been muted by political setbacks
Is there gold at the end of the rainbow (Pride)?
“It’s very frustrating to see things going backwards,” said Scotia Kauppi, Thunder Pride’s new executive secretary and treasurer.
Kauppi said she takes the concerns raised by activists like Williams and DiBiaiagio seriously, and the organization has attempted to be open about the reasons for not hosting this year’s Pride parade.
“Our council went broke and because of COVID-19 we had no funding,” she said. “We didn’t have the resources or volunteers to even start planning the parade. Planning for the parade should start sometime in January.”
Earlier this year, Thunder Pride posted ads looking for new directors; it is now one full member short, although the organization currently has no indigenous board members, Kauppi said, which she is trying to rectify.
According to her, the struggle to attract board members has several sources.
“There was such a lull with COVID that we couldn’t do anything anyway,” Kauppi said. “But there was also a drama that happened before… Obviously, it left people with a bad taste about our board and our association.”
In 2020, the organization announced that it had suspended one member for racism and also suspended two board members.
Events dragged out for a month
Later that summer, then-chairman of the board of directors, Jason Veltri, resigned after publicly criticizing his approach to the city’s rainbow-colored crosswalk initiative.
Thunder Pride has worked with Veltry’s new organization, the Rainbow Collective, at some of this year’s Pride events.
“I am the man with the olive branch,” Kauppi said.
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“That’s why we still need Pride,” the nonbinary Winnipegger says after the rainbow flag was torn from his West End home.
The organization has extended this year’s Pride events by an entire month to prevent the overspread of COVID-19 and give people from other cities more opportunities to attend an event in the city, Kauppi said.
The parade, however, was simply too expensive to organize within the allotted time, she said, adding that the cost of hiring police to close the streets and protect protesters would be thousands of dollars.
Williams was critical of the idea that the 2SLGBT community should raise funds to cover law enforcement costs.
“Pride began as a protest against police brutality,” they said. “So if the police really wanted to show their alliance with the queer community, we shouldn’t have paid them, you know, to watch the streets to keep us safe.”
Kauppi said the new board members share the protest organizers’ desire to bring politics back to Pride, saying many of them too are tired of Pride’s “corporate, highly entertaining side.”
“I think historically Thunder Pride has always been a very… superficial event: a pride parade, a flag-raising and maybe a bit of activity, but not too much,” she said.
“I found that in the main group… there is still a lot of struggle within us. And I think that activism will now play a big role for us.”
She said she hopes people will give the new council a chance and applauds Williams and DiBiagio’s work in organizing the protest.
“I think Saturday will be a good mix of everything we need for Pride,” she said. “He has activity. It has a community and it’s fun.”
The Pride is a Protest march kicks off Saturday at 11:00 AM ET at Waverley Park, with a street festival running from noon to 6:00 PM in the city’s waterfront area.