Ann Northrop modertes a meeting of the Reclaim Pride Coalition. Credit: Jackie Rudin
The People’s Forum on 37th Street was bustling with big personalities on Dec. 5 for the weekly meeting of the Reclaim Pride Coalition (RPC). An old Hispanic man donning an enormous purple hat, gold chains and a turquoise necklace sat to my left. On my right was a gentleman sporting a navy cravat with polka dots, wide rim glasses and buckled brown shoes. Among the others present were a woman with bright red boots and a matching scarlet blouse, a dude with scruff and a snoopy T-shirt, and an old man with bright orange hair and a full, green beard to rival Merlin’s, his pants and shoes covered with colorful splotches of paint.
RPC, an LGBT group that opposes the NYC Pride March’s “corporate saturation, unnecessary restrictions, and excessive police presence” had assembled with the purpose of discussing the overall vision of their June 2019 Pride March, which will mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, widely regarded as the beginning of the gay civil rights movement.
According to RPC, the annual Pride March has strayed too far from its informal, activist roots. The group is trying to plan a simpler, non-corporate march that “highlights the most marginalized members of [their] community ... recognizes the powerful legacy of the Stonewall Rebellion,” and also “makes a commitment to the ongoing fight for LGBTQIATS+ rights worldwide,” according to its website.
After a brief video comparing the simpler, more activist-oriented 1970 march with the colorful, more corporate pride marches of recent years, Jim Fouratt, a veteran activist who was present at the 1969 Stonewall riot, took to the stage.
“There was a moment I will never forget that sparked across the world a message that changed forever how we see ourselves,” said Fouratt. “Despite our racial differences, despite our age differences, despite cultural differences, lesbians and gay men of all gender expressions suddenly rebelled against internalized homophobia ... and felt for the first time, the spark of freedom ... We were not in a bar, we were not in the bushes, we were not in toilets in the subway, the places that they allowed us to be as gay men ... We were in the street, and we saw each other. I cannot ... I wish ... I could tell you what [the magic of what] that moment was like.”
In the spirit of Fouratt’s words, the assembly voted unanimously to have its march follow the original 1970 pride march route, which would start in the Village at Sheridan Square, continue up Sixth Avenue, and conclude in Central Park.
Gene Fedorko, a voter from the Gay Liberation Front, which formed in 1969 after the Stonewall riots, noted that “there is a huge poetic justice to reclaiming that route ... and marching up Sixth Avenue to Central Park.”
Other topics addressed included having a concert at the route’s end in Central Park, a ban on the use of floats, and limiting barricades “so people can join the March at any point,” according to a leaflet that was handed out at the meeting. Ann Northrop, the meeting’s moderator, drolly noted that “Sister Lah-di-dah,” a member of the voting body, “will be in charge of all police negotiations.”
Many people voiced concern about not only the fragile rights of the LGBT community in the U.S., but also of the rights of LGBT people abroad. Until all LGBT people are free from discrimination, then “none of us are free,” said one speaker. Members expressed a strong desire for RPC’s march and its subsequent gathering to be a space for serious dialogue.
I could not help but feel inspired. In a political climate as cynical as our own, it was refreshing to see such an optimistic, fired-up group of people, young and old, and from different cultural backgrounds, gather together and to decide how they wanted to be represented. And then they voted. The exchange shows that democracy is alive and well. If this group of people, with their strong passions and big hearts, is the future of the LGBT community, then I am proud to be a part of it.
You can get involved with the Reclaim Pride coalition by attending one of their weekly meetings at The People’s Forum, or visiting www.reclaimpridenyc.org.