After I joined BiRequest several years after coming out, I was invited to participate in the Heritage of Pride March in New York City.
I loved the experience of marching through the city with my friends, and while I didn’t go for any extreme costumes, I really enjoyed the experience of being out enough to participate—and have huge crowds cheering as I strolled down the street with my friends.
This post is using the prompts provided by Sheryl Chan of A Chronic Voice—and I’m grateful for her creating this excellent link party!
This month’s words are aging, suffering, transforming, navigating, and visualizing.
Pride is aging, and so am I
The Stonewall Riot was over 50 years ago, and many of the leaders from that time have since passed away.
Some would be proud and others would likely be horrified by what Heritage of Pride has become.
This year, due to Covid-19, New York City did not have a permitted, sanctioned Pride March.
However, there were three marches that occurred, and I either participated in or watched all three of them.
I came up to the city on Friday and came home on Monday, staying with my friend Godwin, who has been proofreading my blog posts for the past year (thank you so much, Godwin!).
Another friend of ours, Nee, joined us on Saturday, and it was an amazing weekend!
I’m the youngest of the three of us, and two of us are disabled. All three of us are bi/pansexual.
This year, for the first time, I really struggled to handle the actual walking.
My legs were hurting a lot, my FND was acting up, and I was feeling a little weak.
I did also go up to the city for three days instead of one and participate in two marches instead of one.
I’m hoping it’s just that I was less active than usual the past year, along with the extra bits of anxiety that accompany the likelihood that not everybody is vaccinated at any of these events.
I don’t want to think of myself as aging, but the gray hairs and occasional achiness beg to differ.
Suffering is at the root of Pride
One of the themes making the rounds in the LGBT community is the reminder that Stonewall was a riot.
While most of the modern Pride parade/marches are celebratory, the original march was a protest of the violent attacks by police against the “queers” at the Stonewall Inn (a gay bar).
Many of the protesters were Black, and many would later embrace the terms bisexual and/or transgender. This was the disempowered taking back control and putting their lives on the line to do so.
The Pride marches are another form of civil rights protest, and the queer and disabled communities both face discrimination and social discomfort with our difference from abled heteronormative society.
The marches I participated in this year all evolved in response to the transformation of what is now Heritage of Pride from an inclusive event for and by the people to the commercialized pillar of rainbow capitalism that it is today.
There are definitely still joyful elements, but it’s important to recognize that the root cause of the marches is the suffering (and deaths) of members of the LGBT community.
The transforming of Pride events from community to corporate (and what’s being done to take it back)
While the Stonewall riots started the Pride movement, the tone of the marches shifted in the 1980s from a focus on civil rights toward more of a celebration of queerness.
The 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots was 1994, and the tone of Heritage of Pride had definitely become more mainstream.
They are rather anti-authoritarian (and permits are not required for protests as they are a First Amendment right), and so do not get a permit for the march, but the police are aware of it and generally help block roads for the safety of all.
I participated in the Drag March for the first time this year.
I wasn’t in drag, but Godwin made his debut in my little black dress, and I was happy to support him.
The first Dyke March was in 1993.
Originally a march on Washington, the Lesbian Avengers had done the logistics and then brought it home to NYC later that year.
It’s a celebration of Dyke power and a protest march for LGBT rights (with an emphasis on the Lesbian experience).
They do not get permits either, but, like the Drag March, the police generally show up and help block traffic.
I wasn’t up to participating in the march, but the three of us happily went to watch it and cheer the marchers on.
Heritage of Pride was huge three years ago for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. There are a lot of floats in it for all kinds of corporations, who generally do nothing to support the LGBT community.
A lot of companies also make money on rainbow flags and clothing without actually doing anything to support our community.
The Queer Liberation March started that year, knowing that Heritage of Pride would be awash in rainbow capitalism, including setting limits on how many people could be part of any particular group and charging per person as well as per organization for the right to march.
The Heritage of Pride parade/march didn’t happen this year, but the Queer Liberation March did.
It too is a protest march. They also do not get permits.
This was their third year, and I had participated in it the first year and was very impressed, especially by its accessibility.
Last year, the march had a focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, and I watched the livestream.
This year, I was able to participate again, and I’m so glad I did.
Navigating both the history of Pride and the events themselves
I’m also intensely grateful that they had wheelchairs available throughout the march, as Nee and I took advantage of them.
My legs were hurting from all the standing and walking we’d done the previous two days, and the crowd and heat and fatigue was making me extra twitchy.
I was impressed to see ASL interpreters walking through the crowd (with handy pink signs pointing them out) and there was a bus for people with mobility issues to ride as well.
I saw a fair number of folks in wheelchairs throughout the march (many their own wheelchairs, some being pushed by volunteers, as Nee and I were).
As a disabled woman, I found all the marches to be crowded and slightly chaotic.
All three of them were designed to be by and for the people, and are intentionally unpermitted and with minimal to no police presence.
I felt safe at all of them, and was mostly dealing with my own pain and symptom issues, as well as the sheer number of people at the events.
Both the Queer Liberation March and the Drag March had volunteer wheelchair drivers (I didn’t see any at the end of the Dyke March, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there), which was awesome, and I took advantage of those wheelchairs with no issues.
There were points in both marches I participated in where there were so many people that it was hard to get through, but the people in the crowd were quite willing to make way once they realized what was happening.
It was hard to hear or see some parts of the events because there were so many people, but I still had a great time hanging out in the sea of queer humanity!
We didn’t try to do any parties or other events after the marches, though; we just went out for dinner and home afterward, which may have been the key to feeling like things were accessible enough.
I hope that more groups will follow the path QLM is laying out and make their events more accessible to the disabled community.
If you want to know more about the history of the LGBT movement for equal rights:
Visualizing a future where disabled queer folks can fully participate in Pride
I get the sense that all three of the events I participated in fully intend to be inclusive and diverse.
The question is how much consideration they put into their planning to intentionally make the event accessible.
I feel like the Queer Liberation March exemplified an accessible march, and that the rally they held the first year was also intentionally designed to be accessible to all who wanted to participate.
I wish all events were as thoughtful as the QLM.
I’ve discussed the accessibility issues with Pride events in a post two years ago, and I doubt things have changed that much yet.
Due to Covid, most celebrations last year were virtual, and they didn’t hold anywhere near the emotional energy that I felt participating live (though they were more accessible than in-person events).
This year, at least in NY, the official events didn’t happen due to Covid-19 concerns, but the unpermitted protest marches (which is what Pride was intended to be) still happened. There were a lot of people, and mask-wearing was variable.
As a disabled person with a dubious immune system, but vaccinated against Covid-19, I wasn’t too anxious and I felt like part of the community and event most of the time.
Participating from a wheelchair changed what I saw a bit (too many people’s butts were eye-level), but people were pleasant and supportive and the folks who volunteered to steer the wheelchairs were really sweet—some of them with their own disabilities (like anxiety) that they managed by focusing on helping others.
Marches like this are going to be overwhelming to the senses, though, and they are basically guaranteed to be loud—it’s the nature of the beast.
But for folks who can handle that aspect (and being out in the summer heat for a few hours) we should be able to attend and really feel like part of the group.
I was thrilled to see an ASL interpreter at the QLM, and I noticed participants with canes, white canes, and wheelchairs marching alongside the rest of the crowd. I wish all marches put those considerations in.
What I keep hearing is that groups generally do get better about these things once a disabled person joins and points out how and why things are inaccessible, and what can be done to fix that.
I want all marches to be accessible, and I think that a good percentage of after-party events should be as well. That will be more of a struggle, but one that should pay out in social dividends in the long run.
I love celebrating Pride, and I want all disabled queer people to be able to participate as well!