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Capital Pride is one of the biggest parties of the year in D.C. But since Donald Trump took office and appointed his merry band of homophobes and racists to help run the country, a balls-to-the-wall LGBTQ “celebration” doesn’t quite feel appropriate. The rights of many gay, queer, and trans people—especially people of color—are on the line in a way they haven’t been for some time.
Or perhaps the political shift is reason to party even harder this year, to show the administration that its attempts to silence and belittle the LGBTQ community will not be tolerated. “Unapologetically Proud!” is the official tagline of this year’s Capital Pride celebrations.
Either way, throwing a party as massive as Capital Pride takes a lot of, well, capital. D.C. hosts one of the largest Pride celebrations in the country, whose concert this year is being headlined by the likes of Miley Cyrus, Tinashe, and The Pointer Sisters.
As such, Capital Pride Alliance—the nonprofit organization that produces the Pride parade, festival, and concert—relies heavily on sponsors to bankroll it all.
But for a sizable contingent of the city’s LGBTQ community, these sponsors—which include Hilton Hotels, Capital One, Wells Fargo, McDonald’s, Nissan, Starbucks, Citibank, TD Bank, and dozens more—represent hypocrisy, given the celebration’s message of inclusivity.
“I kind of see this as collusion with banks who are kicking us out of our homes, with defense contractors who are profiting off of the killings and murders of brown, queer, and trans people, as well as other people in the Middle East,” says Emmelia Augusta Talarico, one of the organizers of No Justice No Pride, a day of resistance and action being planned as an alternative to this year’s June 10 Capital Pride Festival.
No Justice No Pride, as it says in its mission statement, “exist[s] to end the LGBT movement’s collusion with systems of oppression that further marginalize queer and trans individuals. Capital Pride sponsors harm our communities, locally, nationally, and globally.”
For Talarico and the rest of the No Justice No Pride organizers and supporters, Capital Pride—which originally started as a celebration commemorating the Stonewall riots of 1969, a pivotal moment in the gay liberation movement—has lost sight of what it should be all about.
“To me, the pinkwashing, the queerwashing, the whitewashing is really upsetting,” Talarico says. “[They’re] essentially celebrating the fact that more cis gay and lesbian activists of a certain social economics are able to live fully, while there’s plenty of others in the community who are still very much impacted and very much struggling for their own rights.”
At a Capital Pride Alliance open meeting last month, No Justice No Pride organizers and supporters voiced their concerns to Capital Alliance’s board of directors during a heated exchange. Washington Blade columnist Mark Lee described the town hall-style meeting in a column, writing that he “was disheartened and dismayed … by the embarrassing demeanor and preposterous demands of a small gaggle of objectors” who were “hurling accusatory admonitions toward anyone not in agreement.”
Cathy Renna, a longtime LGBTQ activist and communications consultant working with Capital Pride, says that while the May 8 meeting had its acrimonious moments, it was a nonetheless productive exchange.
“I think at the end of the day what everybody in that room would have nodded in agreement about, hopefully, is that we all want the same thing and that there might be different roads to get to the same place,” Renna says. “The progressive movement is grappling with, ‘How do we sustain organizations that need resources and maintain integrity working with corporations, in particular organizations and donors even, who may or may not be completely consistent across the intersections within our community?’ That’s the great challenge.”
But it’s not just Capital Pride’s corporate sponsors with which No Justice No Pride takes issue. It’s also the presence of the Metropolitan Police Department at the annual parade. “The fact that MPD … engage in police brutality without any accountability … it’s all frankly offensive,” Talarico says.
Renna says the Pride board and staff have had intense discussions about this issue for months, especially after the May 8 meeting. She says that an event as massive as Capital Pride is impossible to pull off without a police presence, but they’ve talked about ways to make MPD presence as non-threatening as possible.
“[We’ve] even talked to the LGBT [police] contingent, which marches in the parade, about maybe not wearing their uniforms, but polo shirts instead,” Renna says. “It is a really tough issue, but I think the idea of having absolutely no police presence is not realistic or feasible.”
She says that, especially during this fraught political climate, Capital Pride knew it needed to emphasize the intersectionality of D.C.’s LGBTQ community. As a result, the first banner in the parade “is going to be unapologetically queer and trans,” Renna says. “I think that shows intent on the part of, not just the board, but the staff and volunteers and people in the community who get it.”
Talarico thinks the Capital Pride Alliance board can do more to make their annual Pride celebration more inclusive. She says that the planning of No Justice No Pride is being led mostly by trans and queer women of color, a stark antithesis to the Capital Pride Alliance’s mostly cis and white board of directors.
“I don’t think our process is perfect,” she says. “I don’t think there is going to be a perfect process out there. But if Capital Pride is serious about listening to our concerns, maybe that’s a model to look at.”