In 1969, the night of the Stonewall riot, was a very hot, muggy night. We were in the Stonewall [bar] and the lights came on. We all stopped dancing. The police came in.” – Sylvia Rivera
As members of Philadelphia’s queer and trans communities, we are writing in response to the decision by Philly Pride Presents to host GOAL (the Gay Officer Action League) as one of the Grand Marshals for this year’s Pride Parade. We are deeply concerned about the message that this decision sends about which LGBTQ lives matter and the impact this will have on accessibility and safety at the Pride event for the members of our community most harmed by police violence. We urge the staff and volunteers of Philly Pride Presents to rescind their decision to make GOAL one of the Grand Marshals this year.
We believe that the honoring of GOAL is antithetical to the spirit and history of Pride, which grew out of the commemoration of the Stonewall riot – a riot against police violence -– started by Black and Brown trans women and drag queens, who were then and continue to be the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community. This choice is not only grossly ironic, but participates in a revision of history that erases queer and trans resistance to state violence as well as the ways in which the majority of queer and trans people have had to literally fight for survival in a system that has used every mechanism, including and particularly policing, to marginalize and harm us.
It is our understanding that GOAL grew out of a desire to recruit LGBTQ individuals to the police force. We are aware that institutionalized and interpersonal workplace transphobia, homophobia and racism harms LGBTQ police officers. We support all queer and trans people in their struggle for freedom from violence and oppression. However, we refute the notion that LGBTQ cops’ ability to be out on the job is a measure of our movement’s progress when the police, as an institution, continue to carry out racist and transphobic violence. Just last month, the Boston pride parade revoked the invitation for an openly gay police officer to serve as a grand marshal after it was discovered that the officer had written racist messages online shaming poor residents of Boston. As civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
In the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which affirms the value of Black life and fights anti-Black racism and police violence, choosing GOAL as the Grand Marshals for 2016 is a move that is at best privileged and isolated, and at worst directly undermines this critical work. It indicates a disturbing lack of awareness for the existence of marginalized queer and trans people of color and ignores both the symbolic and practical consequences of such a decision. The Pride festival at Penn’s Landing is already financially inaccessible to many due to its entrance fee, but to literally place the police (gay or not) at the front of the parade through the gayborhood into the Pride celebration creates an environment that is unwelcoming and even unsafe for many members of our community. Additionally, it creates yet another barrier to accessing the critical resources available at Pride, such as free condoms, HIV testing, case managers, and information on community organizations for those who need them the most -– including LGBTQ youth.
So, as the theme of this year’s pride celebration is, “Are You Connected?,” we ask the organizers of Philly Pride Presents: What connections do you value? For at least the second year in a row, the marshals and friends of the parade have been chosen from the same pool of people, primarily centered in Center City and City Hall. Yet Philadelphia does not lack for inspiring leaders who are creating a new vision for the future. We are fortunate to have LGBTQ communities full of people and organizations doing transformative work to improve the lives of LGBTQ people, to create more space for marginalized voices, and to work towards a world with greater freedom from violence for us all.
It is for these reasons that we cannot condone Philly Pride Presents’ celebration of an institution that continually targets queer and trans people of color with deadly state violence. Instead, as stated above, we urge the staff and volunteers of Philly Pride Presents to rescind this decision, as well as listen to and engage with members of our communities who are working to dismantle the root causes of violence and create a new future for queer and trans liberation.
Caitlin Barry, Dot Goldberger, Laura Sorensen, Andrew Spiers, Elisabeth Long, Kristina Mitchell, Qui Alexander, Elicia Gonzales, Matty Stardust, Mal Durham, Kai Yohman, Em Gormley, Asa khalif, Melissa Hamilton, Teresa Sullivan, La’Donna Boyens, Lane DiFlavis, Caitlin Shanley, Kel Kroehle, Lucy Gleysteen, Jose DeMarco, Mindy Isser, Seth Lamming, Erin Bree, Olivia C. Webster, Suzy Subways (survivor of police assault, former member of Grassroots Queers Philly), Sadie Flesher, Lauren Forst, Rowan Avery McWade, Naiymah Sanchez, TJ Burk, Timothy Colman, Phantazia Washington, Ovid, CA Conrad, Nova McGiffert, Lynne Demmer, Layne Mullett, Alexander Lopez, Ezra Berkley Nepon, Robert Winant, Basha Smolen, April L. Murdock, Sarah Morris, KMC, M Anemone Schlotterbeck…
ACT UP Philly, Juntos, Migrant Power Movement, Hearts On a Wire Collective, Workers World Party Philadelphia, International Action Center Philadelphia, Positive Women’s Network USA Philadelphia Regional Chapter, North Philly Food Not Bombs, Gran Varones.