Dylan came out as trans seven years ago, when she was in fourth grade. “Growing up as trans has been hard,” she says. While her friends have stuck by her for the most part, she says she has also experienced physical bullying and cyberbullying. “People were saying things about me, and people were posting things about me…I had to switch schools; eventually it just got to be too much for me.”
Attending NYC Pride March, the annual pride parade has been something she looks forward to. However, on Sunday, Dylan and her family joined thousands of others at the Queer Liberation March, a feistier, more explicitly political celebration of the LGBTQ+ community that began in 2019 on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising that launched the modern gay rights movement.
Queer Liberation March (QLM) attendees gathered in Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square and marched to Washington Square Park. The event had neither corporate floats nor police barricades to separate marchers from onlookers.
“[It’s] a way to get away from all the serious discrimination in the real world,and just be with a community that supports you and cares about you,” Dylan told The Indypendent.
QLM was started to celebrate queerness, as Dylan describes, but also to approach pride as a protest rather than as a parade.
“[Pride] is overflowing with corporate floats and at the service of corporate money, the pride parade has become a new symbol of gay for pay,” states the website of the Reclaim Pride Coalition which organizes QLM. “The imposition of barricades along the parade route separated the participants from its audience, turning the Pride March into an entertainment venue instead of a true expression of our cultural legacy”
Queer Liberation March does not seek a permit to demonstrate and has marshalls rather than police presence or private security. Sunday’s crowd was diverse — labor unions, sex-workers-rights activists, social-justice organizations, as well as families and individuals participated. Speakers included activists Qween Jean, Ezra Brain, and Marti Cummings. The march has made attempts to become more accessible, with wheelchairs available and mask-mandatory sections.
This year’s Queer Liberation March took place at a time when the LGBTQ+ community is facing unrelenting attacks from right-wing homophobes. More than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year. The majority of those target trans youth, ranging from preventing children from receiving access to healthcare, to stopping them from being able to participate in school sports.
The theme of this year’s march centered on trans people: “Trans + Queer: Forever Here!” Many attendees The Indy talked to said they chose to come to Queer Liberation March for this reason.
“There was no chance I was going to go to Pride this year because of everything that’s going on,” said Clio Sherman, an organizer for New York City Mobilization for Reproductive Justice. “The revoking of Roe v. Wade, all of the different laws that are being turned against trans people. …I think that I think that this year is been like such a big turning point for so many people to realize, like, how far we can turn backwards if we don’t pay attention, and we don’t fight, the government and capitalism are not taking care of any of the people anymore, or ever.”
“I was particularly interested in supporting this organization as the sort of antidote to the corporate Pride that’s happening a couple of blocks away,” said participant Steve. The NYC Pride March welcomes sponsors such as Starbucks, which has recently come under fire for taking down pride decorations in their store, and Bud Light, whose parent company has been cited by the Council for Human Rights for caving to conservatives that boycotted over their featuring of a transgender influencer in a promotional campaign.
The problem with the pride parade goes beyond the issue of homophobic and transphobic companies being given a float in the parade, many say. It represents “an attempt to remake us into a sort of heteronormative image … what we should be, what our bodies should look like, how we should express ourselves, how we should organize socially, sexually, financially,” says Harold. Harold and Steve both said that they attended the march to show their opposition to the corporatization of the queer movement.
For most of the attendees, the ongoing fight for queer liberation is intensely personal. “The two of us are quite visibly a trans and nonbinary couple,” said Raven who was attending the QLM with their partner. “Queer liberation affects our ability to walk the streets safely and, honestly, to be able to exist without threat of extermination.” They emphasized that the gay rights movement started because of Black trans people.
“I would say to cis white gay couples and cis white lesbian couples who are enjoying a more comfortable existence,” Raven continued: “Don’t forget that your liberation came on the backs of queer trans black elders and they need you.”