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After the abrupt collapse of the organization that hosted the annual Philadelphia Pride Parade for three decades, queer and trans activists rallied to ensure there is an OutFest celebration this fall.
It won’t be the same festival it used to be – and that’s by design.
The new group envisions a more affordable event, with less emphasis on corporate sponsors. They want to put black and brown people, trans people, people living with HIV / AIDS and people with disabilities first. Another priority for them: no police at Pride.
“I believe we can make it happen,” said Elicia Gonzales, former director of Latinx LGBTQ group GALAEI. “I am incredibly excited and want to support and advocate for a model of community safety. We envision solutions that are truly rooted in the community and that heal and support people.
Philly Pride Presents created a vacuum last month when it suddenly dissolved after 28 years, leaving the sixth largest city in the country with no one to produce the annual parade.
The vacuum did not last long. Within days, local transgender rights activist Abdul-Aliy Muhammad hit social media and brought together representatives of activist organizations, members of LGBTQ community centers and… ordinary Philadelphians.
“The fact that they say, ‘We are dissolving’ shocked me,” Muhammad told Billy Penn. “But I saw this break coming, because it’s been there for years. It boils and bubbles.
The organization that hosted the Philly Summer Parade and Fall OutFest had long been criticized for its racism, transphobia and general refusal to hear from the community it claimed to represent.
In response to interview requests, former senior Philly Pride Presents advisor Chuck Volz only responded by text message: “Our work over the past 28 years speaks for itself.”
Other cities are also seeing a new generation of LGBTQ activists take over. Beginning of July, Boston Pride also abruptly dissolved after years of being called out by the community. And two years ago, a group of queer and trans residents of New York City started an organization called Regain pride.
Dozens of people are now involved in the reinvention of the Philly June Festival, said Muhammad, which aims to honor the 1969 Stonewall Riots and celebrate queer and trans people.
The members of the new group are full of hope.
“All meetings are open, leadership is voted on by the community, there is a process by which people can share ideas and opinions,” Gonzales said. “Everything is very clear and transparent.
Jose de Marco, a longtime community organizer of the HIV / AIDS advocacy organization ACT UP Philadelphia, said he started to distance himself from Philly Pride Presents a long time ago.
In the mid-1990s, de Marco said he was alarmed when executive director Franny Price scheduled the parade for the same weekend as the Odunde Festival, one of the largest and oldest black street festivals in the country. He asked Price to change the date of Pride.
“You are forcing African Americans to choose between their race and their sexuality,” de Marco said of the conflict. “It’s like, ‘Are you black or are you gay? No one will participate in two festivals in one day. Price declined to change the parade schedule, de Marco said. ACT UP therefore maintained its stand at Odunde instead.
Gonzales, formerly director of GALAEI, said she once considered Price a friend.
“To be clear and fair, I think the contributions Fran has made to the community are absolutely unprecedented and added to the richness of the LGBT community experience,” Gonzales said. “But that level of rigidity and that kind of bossy vibe,” she added, “has no place anywhere, [and] certainly not in something that really should be community driven.
Black and brunette LGBTQ people were again discouraged in 2016, activist Muhammad said, when Philly Pride Presents chose to honor the Greater Philadelphia Gay Officer Action League (GOAL) as Grand Marshals.
“The community protested and called him out,” Muhammad said. “This idea was greeted with great outrage.”
The pride started as a riot among black trans women in response to police violence, so many queer and trans people believe that the inclusion of the police in modern events is problematic. Data shows that LGBTQ people experience higher rates of discrimination and violence from the police. In 2015, the US Transgender Survey found that 58% of respondents had suffered verbal or physical assault by the police.
At the end, GOAL declined the honor and the LGBTQ police did not act as parade marshals.
The following year, 2017, Philly Pride Presents Senior Advisor Chuck Volz was discovered share racist and misogynistic memes on his personal account on social networks. Executive Director Awards refused to remove Volz of her position – telling PhillyVoice, “I can’t tell her what to do with her Facebook.”
Things came to a head this summer when Philly Pride Presents posted a message on Facebook which included the pro-police Thin Blue Line flag – which became a symbol of white supremacy – modified with a rainbow stripe. Another article called the trans women who participated in the Stonewall riots “those dressed as women.”
After an uproar, the messages were deleted and the entire organization was shut down.
Muhammad began organizing on the very day of the public disbandment of Philly Pride Presents. A virtual meeting later in the week lasted three hours and brought together more than 50 attendees, they said, who helped draft and approve the founding document for the new organization.
The “Points of Unity” document describes the ground rules of the group, including:
- Making pride affordable
- Ban Pride Cops
- Limit large business participation and refocus on LGBTQ people and businesses
- Focus on black and brown people, trans people, people living with HIV / AIDS and people with disabilities
The group meets again to decide on the structure of the nascent organization. It will be divided into 10 committees: medical, logistics, fundraising, sponsors, social media, volunteers, entertainment / nightlife, security, youth and accessibility. Anyone can join any committee.
At a meeting this Thursday, members of each committee will elect an “organizer,” who will form the main steering group.
“I’m really excited to cultivate the idea that we all make decisions,” Muhammad said. “When we’re at the other end, at Pride 2022, people will see how precious it is.”
The group already has big plans: hosting the OutFest in the fall, which Philly Pride Presents had already canceled for this year, and then a robust parade and pride festival next summer.
William Way LGBT Community Center executive director Chris Bartlett, who attended the meetings, believes they can make it happen. “He doesn’t have to be perfect next June,” Bartlett said. “I think there may be some innovative solutions that this group comes up with.”
Is the goal of “banning the cops” realistic? Cities like San Francisco, New York, Denver and Toronto have all banned officers from marching in their respective parades, although there is still a police presence during the events.
Sgt. Nick Tees of the Greater Philadelphia Gay Officers Action League said he understood the sentiment.
“We recognize that people across the country, especially BIPOC and trans communities, have been deeply affected by the negative actions of officers over the past few years,” Tees said. “We also know that the actions of these officers do not represent who we are as an organization. “
Philadelphia Police spokesperson Sgt. Eric Gripp said he would need more specific information about the festival to determine whether the department would allow the Philly Parade without the presence of police. He said the ministry was ready to discuss a possible hybrid community safety model.
“The Philadelphia Police Department is disheartened to learn that some members of the LGBTQ + population feel safer without the police,” Gripp said. “We sincerely hope that we can continue to be a part of the Pride and OutFest events.”
Celena Morrison, director of the Philadelphia LGBT Affairs Bureau, could not say whether the city would allow a public event without the presence of police. But she said she could understand why the community would want this.
“I was harassed and assaulted by the police, so I know this story too well,” Morrison said. “But also, as a trans person, when I go to large gatherings focused on LGBT or just trans, I feel like a target. At one point, I have the impression that a police presence in this sense makes me a little more comfortable. “
The group plans to present their ideas to the city after Thursday, according to Muhammad, and Morrison has said she is ready to listen.
“They have some really awesome people working on this,” Morrison said. “I’m sure they’ll figure it out.”