Friday—the day that would have kicked off Pride weekend—was instead the day that a few hundred residents joined the LGBTQ community and its Black Lives Matters counterparts at 6 p.m. and marched the nearly two-mile stretch from the Columbus Police Department to the Maroon Arts Group complex to peacefully protest and make their voices heard.
Libations followed by a resounding, Ashay, from the crowd. Messages of solidarity. The persistent beating of drums. A liberating walk through a historically black neighborhood. All done to celebrate these three things on Juneteenth 2020: heritage, Pride, and blackness.
The Pride March to Commemorate Juneteenth, organized by Black, Out, & Proud, peacefully and powerfully exhibited the strength of the LGBTQ+ and black communities in Columbus and their continued fight against systematic racism.
During a weekend that is typically dedicated to Pride, the LGBTQ and black communities came together to further amplify black voices at the frontline of protests.
These voices of Black, Out, & Proud community leaders, including co-founder of Bake Me Happy Letha Pugh and local artist Charles Smith, addressed the needs of black LGBTQ members, radical change within the city’s police department, and an urgency to continue to push forward the cause for equality.
After almost 30 minutes, protesters then assembled to begin a march to MPACC on Mount Vernon. For nearly an hour, protesters filled the streets, following a truck with a chorus of uplifting drumming and calls for peace, justice, and equality.
Below is a gallery of images captured by (614) freelance photographer Rebecca Tien.
Editors' Note: An earlier publication of this article referred to the cancellation of both the Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival and Parade. The Festival will not take place in 2020.
Originally rescheduled for Sat., Oct. 3, the Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival and Parade will not take place in 2020. According to a statement made by Densil R. Porteous—Stonewall Columbus interim executive director—Stonewall Columbus will focus its efforts on committing to the Black Lives Matter movement and better serving black trans allies during an untraditional celebration of Pride in October.
"We are not quite ready to discuss what will happen on that date as we are still sharing information and getting feedback from various constituents across the community,” said Porteous. “While October is not the traditional month of Pride it is LGBTQ+ history month and we plan to bring and encourage just as much pride in the celebration of LGBTQ+ history as we do in June celebrating our progress in motion to this point."
Along with bringing up the need for the Stonewall Columbus community to be a stronger voice for black transgender people, Porteous talked about the legend of black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, who was a firecracker at the Stonewall uprising of 1969. You can read about a (614) review of a documentary about her life and death here and catch it streaming on Netflix.
"I believe (the presence of police) causes ‘triggers’ of what has happened in the past, causes them to think of what can happen in that moment, and that makes people feel unease at times when their thoughts and experiences should be full of celebration and pride," said Porteous.
In the statement posted on Facebook, Porteous also mentioned that Stonewall Columbus would “no longer contract with or engage the CPD for security during Columbus PRIDE and other Stonewall events.” The Columbus Pride Festival and Parade's safety and security have been provided by volunteers, including some off-duty CPD.
"Like any vendor with which we contract, we have to ensure our constituents are satisfied with the service the vendor provides," Porteous said.
For a brief overview of where Stonewall Columbus got its namesake from, check out this (614) article here.
Porteous is hopeful for a future, though, where police and citizens can co-exist peacefully.
"We have a firm belief that Columbus has the opportunity to be an exemplar for what community, government, and police can do when we all come together and think intentionally about the work that needs to be done to move us forward," Porteous said.
Tolls on the number of people infected and killed by a disease have been an unavoidable modern-day nightmare that has plagued screens across the world. Intermittently throughout the 2012 documentary How to Survive a Plague, the number of those taken by the AIDS epidemic that spiked in the late 1980s starts at just over half-a-million in 1987 and climbs to 1.2 million by 1989.
The numbers are catastrophic, and they really put into perspective what a deadly pandemic looks like. Or what it looks like when the government ignores your faction of life.
Every faction of the gay community has its own battle. At times they’ve been divided over their different fights, but fighting back against authority has always been in the DNA of any LGBTQ+ movement. While the disease was “mysteriously” killing gay men, thousands took to the streets pleading for a cure.
The loudest of these voices came from Act Up, a grassroots group that took it upon themselves to end the AIDS epidemic. The epicenter of this epidemic was Greenwich Village, New York City. This is where leaders of the LGBTQ+ community, like Larry Kramer and Peter Staley, fought word-for-word with New York politicians, demanding equality and progress toward a disease that was 100 percent fatal without a cure.
So much like today, in a time when people aren’t asking for ridiculous demands, peaceful protestors during the AIDS crisis would be dragged away by police into vans. While police brutality has continued under the eye of America, in the 1980s, the LGBTQ+ community was losing two wars: the one against the police and the one against AIDS.
With no one coming to their aid, gays became their own doctors, drug smugglers, physicians, drug dealers— a product of a society ignoring their needs.
The eerie score of cellist Arthur Russell throws the viewer into a helpless abyss. The most haunting example of this comes when protestors throw the ashes of their friends and AIDs victims over the fence guarding the White House. It has to be one of the most dynamic images of the neverending LGBTQ+ struggle.
Act Up does end up making a difference in the long battle against AIDS, but it’s not before the disease has taken over 8.2 million lives worldwide.
These are the numbers you see when a government doesn’t step in.
How to Survive a Plague is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Since 1981, Pride has long been one of the defining spectacles of Columbus culture. While the parade itself has been moved to October this year, the month of June is still Pride Month. After weeks of protests, many are calling it the most authentic pride since it began.
If you’ve ever wondered where Stonewall Columbus got its namesake, you can trace its roots back to the Stonewall uprising of 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York City, New York. It was a landmark moment for LGBTQ rights. Not long before the uprising, doctors would refer to homosexuality as a disease and would even go as far as forcefully administering a medicine that was considered a psychological form of waterboarding.
Outcasted by society, those in the LGBTQ community frequented bars like the Stonewall Inn. These were bars that were considered safe havens, where those in the LGBTQ community could dance freely without the public looking down on them. The mafia owned these bars, watering down the liquor and upcharging customers to profit off their outcast status.
All that changed in the early morning of June 28, 1969. New York City police entered the Stonewall Inn and arrested bartenders for selling liquor without a license, as well as patrons for violating the state’s gender-appropriate dress codes.
As police attempted to move people into vans, the LGBTQ community fought back. The aftermath of these protests led to advances in society like the formation of the Gay Liberation Front.
The history of Pride Month is juxtaposed against the modern-day protests against police brutality toward black people. Pride Month in 2020 is being viewed through a different lens because of these very modern issues. Though COVID-19 caused the Columbus Pride Festival and Parade to be moved to Oct. 2, the LGBTQ community is still finding a way to honor the history of Stonewall this month through solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against police brutality following the death of Geroge Floyd.
“That's definitely a way that energy has been kind of usurped from these different identities,” said Letha Pugh, co-owner of Bake Me Happy, co-founder of Black Out and Proud, and recent recipient of the Steven Shellabarger Illuminator Award. “It should be a solid commitment to marching for any inequality.”
Pugh’s story is especially important this month, as she belongs to both the LGBTQ and black communities. That distinct viewpoint informs her belief that change will happen–albeit at a slower rate than most hope for.
“As a black lesbian, (we know) this movement is a...slow process that each generation moves forward a little bit at a time."
That’s made even more relevant in the lens of this week. Before Monday, it was legal for an employer to fire someone for being gay, bisexual, or transgender. The Supreme Court changed that on Monday with its ruling in a 6-to-3 decision that “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
If you’re trying to find a way to celebrate Pride this weekend and stand for equality for all on Juneteenth, a march will take place at 6 p.m. from the police department to MPACC on Mount Vernon to celebrate black LGBTQ individuals.