The fight continues for the Black Pride 4

April 25, 2018

The arrest of four Black and queer protesters at the Pride festival in Columbus, Ohio, last year called attention to issues that the movement needs to face--and ever since, hundreds of people in Columbus and beyond have been involved in a campaign to get the charges against them dropped. With this year's Pride events approaching, momentum is continuing to build, write Sarah Mamo and Kristen Godfrey.

SINCE THE June 2017 Pride festival in Columbus, Ohio, there has been sustained resistance to free the Black Pride 4.

At the festival, a group of 10 activists silently and peacefully blocked the parade for seven minutes to both protest the acquittal the previous day of the police officer who killed Philando Castile and draw attention to the injustices faced by LGBTQ+ people, especially LGBTQ+ people of color.

Although the parade wasn't fully obstructed by these protesters--videos show marchers continuing along the route--the Columbus Police Department rushed to repress the protesters with brutal force after less than a minute.

After four people were detained and charged out of the protest, activism to defend the Black Pride 4 began immediately, with people showing up to the police facility where they were taken after being detained.

Organizers in this movement hail from Black Queer Intersectional Columbus (BQIC), Showing Up for Racial Justice, GetEqual, the International Socialist Organization and the Ohio Student Association, along with unaffiliated activists. This struggle is engaging both new and seasoned activists in fighting oppression and police brutality in our city.

Activists rally in solidarity with the Black Pride 4 in Columbus
Activists rally in solidarity with the Black Pride 4 in Columbus (@BQIColumbus | Twitter)

Among the few demands posed by this movement, two have remained central since last summer. First is the resignation of Karla Rothan, executive director of Stonewall Columbus (SWC), the organization that runs Pride. Rothan has been complacent and indifferent to the seriousness of the charges against the Black Pride 4. The second is dropping the charges against the four: Wriply, Kendall, Deandre and Ashley.

There has been only a partial victory on one demand so far: Rothan's retirement announcement, which came under pressure from the Black Pride 4 campaign.

Wriply, Kendall and Ashley were sentenced on March 13. Ashley received the highest court fine at $200, and each of the three have to complete community service and two years' probation. Thankfully, none faces incarceration. Deandre's court proceedings for their felony charge have yet to begin.

In any case, the arrest and prosecution of the Black Pride 4 to begin with is an absolute shame.

The struggle to free the Black Pride 4 is one campaign among the growing trend of protesting racism and other forms of oppression, in addition to homophobia and transphobia, at Pride parades worldwide.

There have been anti-occupation protests at Pride festivals in Tel Aviv and Chicago, and anti-corporate, anti-racist protests in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.

With three of the four Black Pride 4 protesters having received their sentencings, Deandre's court case on their felony charge yet to begin, and organizing underway for a Community Pride alternate to Stonewall Columbus' Pride, this is a ripe time to discuss the events that led to where we are now--and the broader systemic implications that led to the protests at Pride.

AFTER THE arrest and release of the Black Pride 4, a second episode in the struggle came at Stonewall Columbus' (SWC) Community Conversation a month later. More than 200 protesters occupied the meeting space to confront SWC's hypocrisy in calling a "community conversation" after having done nothing to prevent or oppose the harm done to queer and transgender people of color at its own parade.

During the meeting, SWC's Karla Rothan said that she "didn't know how deep the pain in [her] community [was]." She apologized and expressed that she was saddened "that people don't feel included."

But these words rang hollow to the protesters who packed the room.

In fact, while SWC has made sweeping statements about creating a diverse Board of Trustees and proclaiming "Pride for all" as its theme for this year's festival, the organization has not expressed any tangible solidarity with the Black Pride 4.

SWC didn't provide legal support as promised on the day of the parade, it still hasn't denounced CPD's brutality or presence at Pride, and a few former employees of SWC known for their grassroots commitment to the LGBTQ+ community have resigned because of their frustration over how SWC responded. Even worse, SWC board member Tom McCartney testified against the Black Pride 4 in court during the trial.

Significantly, one of the SWC staff who resigned essentially spearheaded any and all transgender programming that the group funded. The other was a longtime director of Pride, Lori Gum, who in March called for a boycott of Pride 2018 and has been involved in the campaign to free the Black Pride 4 since their arrests.

Both resigned because of SWC's non-responsiveness to the campaign and its decision to prioritize their donors over the LGBTQ+ community.

In the face of the protests and resignations, Rothan announced her retirement on March 1. Momentum continues to build, with activists packing the court at Wriply's, Kendall's and Ashley's sentencings on March 13. The day before was a National Day of Action for the Black Pride 4, which produced solidarity rallies in five states in addition to the protest held that day in Columbus.

THE COLUMBUS cops' brutalization of Black trans and queer people doesn't come as a surprise in a city with a long history of excessive force by the police. Columbus ranks 12th among U.S. cities in the number of people killed by police between 2013 and 2017.

There are horror stories regarding individual officers. Zachary Rosen, a CPD officer who murdered Henry Green in 2016 and kicked a handcuffed person's head in the concrete in 2017, was reinstated to the Columbus Police Department. In January 2018, a deputy officer shot and murdered a 16-year-old white youth named Joseph Haynes in the Franklin County Juvenile Courthouse.

Police treatment of those who survive arrest is also horrendous. Wriply, a Black trans woman, was placed in solitary confinement in a men's prison directly after the protest last June.

The violence against the Black Pride 4 comes in the context of a nationwide attack on the LGBTQ community's rights by the state and the right wing, especially for transgender and gender non-conforming folks.

Donald Trump's announcement of a transgender military ban adds an additional layer of discrimination and disempowerment for transgender and gender non-conforming people, setting a standard for employers to refuse employment to this community if they're "out."

Since 2016, 16 states have taken up "bathroom bills" that police trans people's use of restrooms, and safe, inclusive reproductive services seem to be harder and harder to find. And Ohio and other states have refused to accommodate transgender persons' right to change their gender marker on their birth certificates.

When transgender and gender non-conforming people of color protest, as the Black Pride 4 did last year, it is not only resistance to oppressive conditions, but an assertion that we're here, out and loud.

COMMUNITY PRIDE, which is being organized by BQIC and others, will run counter to SWC's Pride in order to bring the LGBTQ+ community back to its radical tradition. "Our Pride," writes BQIC, "will not be for police and will be free from the capitalistic influence of corporate sponsorships."

The flare-ups of resistance at Pride parades worldwide show these two things--the presence of police and corporate influence--are incompatible with Pride's radical roots. Community Pride in Columbus this year will consist of celebration, community-building and protest.

To move this struggle forward, not only to win freedom for the Black Pride 4, but against racism, homophobia and transphobia, we will need to point to every instance of injustice that plagues our city and world, and flock to resist it.

Not only this, but we also need to deepen our understanding of gender and sexual oppression and how it shapes the material conditions of the working class. In Columbus, this means building a sustained, intersectional resistance to CPD's terror and seeking justice for its countless victims.

The more our struggles are connected and the more we understand their root causes, the better chance we have of pinning this monster of a system down and exterminating them entirely. Our local struggles are a product of greater events: of economic crisis, oppression and new wind in our sails for change.

When we chant "Free the Black Pride 4!" we also mean "Free all people of this world!"--because solidarity is not just a word, it is a path to liberation.

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