LGBTQ PrideMilitant Journalism

NYC activists reclaim spirit of Stonewall: Black, queer resistance

Fifty-one years after a LGBTQ rebellion against police repression at Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn ignited the queer struggle in the U.S., New York City activists reclaimed the true spirit of the day and directed this year’s Pride celebrations to Black liberation.

With the usual corporate sponsored Pride events cancelled, radical celebrations took center stage. City-wide, a “Reclaim Pride” march united activists across the city; afterwards, a Pride speakout organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation at the Marsha P. Johnson Memorial Fountain, named after a Stonewall Rebellion veteran. Here, organizers deepened political education and shared the true meaning of Stonewall.

‘Reclaim Pride’ unites struggles

In recent years, LGBTQ Pride celebrations in Manhattan have been dominated by sponsors that fly in the face of the original spirit of Stonewall, as police unions, the military and banks bought up center stage. This takeover has been met in recent years with a “Reclaim Pride” march that continues the legacy of radical queer and trans activism. With corporate pride cancelled due to COVID-19, and the Black Lives Matter movement renewed nationwide, this year’s Reclaim Pride march was the main Pride event in the country’s largest city.

March passes Stonewall Inn. Liberation Photo.

Support for Black Lives Matter movement

The march drew thousands united across the city’s activist groups: housing activists; prison abolitionists; socialists including members of PSL, Socialist Alternative, and DSA;  trade unions including those from the ongoing struggle at HIV/AIDS services non-profit Housing Works, and many more. The crowd reflected the true diversity and progressive legacy of the queer and trans community, all united in a crystal clear message of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The march began in front of the Federal Building at Foley Square, passing by an ongoing encampment at New York City Hall demanding to defund the police. The march continued on to the Stonewall Inn itself in the historically queer neighborhood of Greenwich Village, now one of the most expensive and gentrified areas of the country.

Police attack crowd

A smaller group of roughly 2,000 continued on to Washington Square Park where, just as they did fifty-one years ago, the police attacked the crowd in an attempt to suppress the march, using clubs and pepper spray. Though New York City and the queer movement have changed drastically over the decades, the struggle against racist police brutality so fundamental to this country must continue.

Speakout near Marsha P. Johnson Memorial Fountain. Liberation photo.

Speakout politicizes Pride celebrations

After the march, Pride celebrations continued as hundreds roamed and danced freely in the area, gathering especially at the Christopher Street Pier, a long-time queer gathering spot. Hundreds of people out celebrating the day still carried the spirit of Black liberation in action and word, with colorful signs like “All Black Lives Matter” and t-shirts memorializing George Floyd. Here, PSL members organized a speakout to deepen political education and carry on the legacy of Stonewall.

Several speakers stressed the importance of rejecting the surface-level police reforms promised by the capitalist elite. Brooklyn-based organizer Kerbie Joseph stated that “you can’t reform a pig that puts their knee to somebody’s neck. You can’t reform 73 gunshots to somebody in Brooklyn,” referencing the NYPD murder of Malik Tyquan Graves on June 2. “While we are discussing reforms, Black trans women are dying every single day,” emphasized Aya Salem. “The daily police brutality against Black people and oppressed communities must end now!”

The crowd hushed to hear a recording of Sylvia Rivera, veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion and founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, pipe through the loudspeakers.

Many people spoke to the need for housing rights, free trans-affirming healthcare and an end to mass incarceration. “We know what we need and we know how to take care of each other,” said activist Belle Darling. Rally attendees took care of each other by wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Brooklyn-based organization Freedom Arts Movement distributed free masks, food and water to anyone in need.

Gabriela Silva, an organizer from Queens, led the crowd in saying the names of Layleen Xtravaganza Polanco, Roxsana Hernández, and Johana Medina León, three trans women of color who died after horrific treatment at Rikers Island and in ICE custody. “The best way we can honor their memory is to continue fighting, to continue organizing, to continue rebelling against the racist system that criminalized them,” she continued. 

Silva then encouraged the crowd to fight back against LGBTQ oppression: “If you stand for the entire LGBTQ community, then you must join the struggle to abolish capitalism. You must join the struggle to build socialism in this country!” Community members passing through celebrating Pride stopped to talk, listen, and share their own thoughts.

Fifty-one years since the original Stonewall Rebellion, it is clear the racist system of capitalism cannot bring about liberation for any oppressed people. Corporate pride was not missed, and instead the people proved that our liberation is bound up together, and we must struggle as one.     

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