BOYSTOWN — Thousands of people marched across the North Side on what would have been Pride Parade day, hoping to bring the LGBTQ holiday back to its radical protest roots.
Organizers of Sunday’s march — which started in Boystown and weaved through Wrigleyville to Uptown — stressed the demonstration was to be a protest, rather than the usual Pride party.
Instead of the rainbow balloons, corporate floats and alcoholic beverages that have come to define Pride over the years, protesters carried Black Trans Lives Matter signs and bullhorns. They spoke out against racism, police violence and Chicago’s ballooning police budget.
“We’re taking Pride back,” said protest organizer Ashabi Owagboriaye. “The LGBTQ movement could not have started without two amazing trans women of color — Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera — and we cannot forget the people who built this community so we can live proudly and unapologetically.”
Johnson and Rivera have been credited as leaders in the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion against police violence, which galvanized the LGBTQ liberation movement.
“Police brutality is not a new issue. It’s the reason Pride even started,” said Alexis Abarca, a transgender woman who also organized the protest. “Remember that as we march today.”
Protesters demanded justice for Tony McDade, a Black transgender man killed by Tallahassee police; Selena Reyes-Hernandez, a transgender woman fatally shot in Chicago last month; and other victims of anti-trans or police violence.
At least 16 transgender people have been violently killed in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Last year, violence against transgender people was classified as an epidemic by the American Medical Association.
Protesters hoped to re-center Pride around the Black, Brown and transgender people who led during the early LGBTQ movement.
“Pride has been about rainbow capitalism that mostly serves white gay people while the contributions of Black transgender people are swept over,” said Chijioke Williams, of Logan Square. “Pride is fun, but people in our community are still suffering, so we need to be about justice and accountability.”
The 3-mile march kicked off at the Belmont Red Line Station and went north on Halsted Street to Addison Street for a brief stop outside the 19th District Police Station.
Dozens of officers circled the station’s perimeter with their bicycles while a sea of protesters chanted, “No justice, no peace. Defund the police.”
Organizers played a message of support from Strawberry Hampton, an incarcerated transgender woman who was being held in a men’s facility until December 2018, while discussing police violence against Black and trans people.
Jayda Van, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, called for more civilian oversight of Chicago’s police by passing the city’s Civilian Police Accountability Council — or CPAC — ordinance.
If passed, CPAC would create an elected board with the power to appoint the police superintendent and members of the police board, as well as create Police Department rules and regulations. The board would have the power to approve contracts with police unions.
But the ordinance is not supported by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a number of aldermen, including Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and Ald. James Cappleman (46th), whose wards the protest went through.
Protesters accused Lighftoot of abandoning her campaign promises of police reform and suggested her policies do not benefit the greater LGBTQ community or other Black queer people.
“If you’re opposing [defunding police], closing schools and mental health centers, and gentrifying poor and working-class neighborhoods, you’re not on the same team as Black Lives Matter,” said Benji Hart, a Black, femme and gender-nonconforming activist. “Just because someone is gay does not mean they’re on our team.”
Protesters responded by chanting, “Lori Lightfoot, get on the right foot.”
The march went into Wrigleyville, where protesters shouted at people dining in restaurants to get “out of the bars and into the streets.” A few onlookers responded with “All Lives Matter” chants, but the protesters were undeterred.
They continued toward Uptown, stopping outside the Broadway Youth Center, 4009 N. Broadway, for another brief rally before finishing the march toward Uptown’s Stewart School Lofts.
Abarca, one of the protest’s organizers, thanked the Broadway Youth Center, which serves LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, for helping her get a GED and bachelor’s degree in college.
“When we say defund the police, this is the kind of social services we want funded instead,” Abarca said. “We want to fund services that empower Black and transgender people to become leaders in our community.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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