Capital Pride is one of D.C.’s biggest party weekends of the year, with a parade winding through Dupont Circle, a day-long festival closing Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and subsequent events at venues around town. But the city’s annual LGBTQ celebration is also facing another year of controversy.
Last year’s parade was disrupted mid-route by a large group of activists protesting Capital Pride Alliance’s business alliances and practices. Specifically, the activist coalition No Justice No Pride, which organized the protest, objected to CPA’s reliance on corporate sponsors that they say oppress and marginalize queer and trans communities of color. The group also opposed the inclusion of police officers in the annual parade.
Dozens of activists holding signs that read “NO PRIDE IN POLICE VIOLENCE,” “WAR PROFITEERS HAVE NO PLACE IN OUR COMMUNITY,” and “WELLS FARGO = NATIVE GENOCIDE” intercepted the parade at 15th and P streets NW, forcing it to be rerouted down 16th Street NW.
The months leading up to last year’s Pride were just as tumultuous. An open CPA meeting in May of 2017 turned ugly when No Justice No Pride organizers and supporters voiced their concerns to CPA’s board of directors and encountered hostility from some board members and others in attendance. At last year’s parade, a CPA board member allegedly told a member of No Justice No Pride that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
In the aftermath of last year’s messy Pride celebration, it seemed that the CPA wasn’t just open to hearing out No Justice No Pride’s side of things, but actually committed to being more inclusive to D.C.’s LGBTQ communities.
This past January, CPA announced nine new members to its 24-member board, touting “a person of color as the President of the Board and a woman to the leadership team.” New president Ashley Smith succeeded Bernie Delia, who held the position for six years.
Shortly after that announcement, No Justice No Pride issued a statement saying they were “encouraged” by the new leadership changes. “In our interactions with Capital Pride’s new leadership, we have experienced a level of openness and communication that did not exist with their previous leadership,” wrote Emmelia Talarico, chair of No Justice No Pride’s steering committee. “Nonetheless, Capital Pride has its work cut out when it comes to making the transformative changes necessary to truly make Pride an event that the entire community can be proud of.”
But several months after putting out its forward-looking statement, No Justice No Pride was again unsatisfied. Its “Capital Pride (Lack of) Progress Report,” released in April, said “despite lip service, ‘community forums,’ and a stated desire to work with the community, Capital Pride’s lack of substantive change extends its legacy of neglecting marginalized communities in 2018.”
“I think the major things that happened were, we were trying to encourage them because they had started down on a right track after the summer. But it pretty much came to a slow halt around December,” Talarico tells City Paper. “We were trying to meet often with them and meetings kept getting pushed back and pushed back. And then when we would meet with them, they would just pretty much backtrack on things that were discussed in previous meetings.”
Talarico says that in some of the meetings No Justice No Pride had with the CPA, they talked about the possibility of hosting forums and outreach meetings with various community leaders to talk about new sponsorship guidelines. She says these discussions were positive but “it just never seemed like a priority” for Capital Pride.
Ryan Bos, the executive director of the Capital Pride Alliance, sees it differently. He says that after the confrontation and ensuing conversations with No Justice No Pride, CPA “spent time … really looking through the role of the board and ways they can support the organization.”
In addition to the changes to the CPA board, Bos says the group restructured its production team—staffed by a core group of volunteers—to “empower and ultimately expand their role,” asking them to come up with new ways to support the community and organize events that would represent a greater diversity of of people.
When it comes down to the specific issues at the center of the tension between CPA and No Justice No Pride, however, Bos will not say how the Alliance plans to address them, if at all. “Those are conversations that we have with many organizations, and are continuing to do work to obviously make what we do better,” Bos says. “We have to also acknowledge that our community is diverse … in opinion and ideas and goals, and sometimes those things conflict, and there is a balance there.”
In an April 25 press release, CPA issued an “update and summary of actions and results taken … in the past year,” but didn’t explicitly say if those actions came in response to No Justice No Pride’s actions. The organization says it created a new set of corporate sponsorship guidelines that more strongly vets corporate sponsors on their “commitment to the LGBTQ+ community” and created a “Pride Legacy Fund” that would give grants to small non-profit organizations as a way to “support participation by those organizations at Pride events.”
The group says it will continue to work with the Metropolitan Police Department for Pride events, but will “[take] into account the concerns of community organizations.” Whether this refers to working with MPD regarding security and logistical concerns or including officers in the Parade, as they have in previous years, is not clear.
Going forward, Talarico and the rest of No Justice No Pride will continue to push for further conversations with CPA She would not say whether the group has any concrete plans for another demonstration at this year’s parade, but says No Justice No Pride is looking at “alternatives of what Pride really looks like for the community, and the possibility of creating our own space” for a celebration that’s inclusive of the causes they believe in in a place where they don’t feel marginalized.
“We need to be thinking about these communities and how these communities are our community,” Talarico says. “And how we are honoring them when we create spaces where we welcome the police more than we welcome black and brown queer and trans people.”