New York City has an abundance of Pride this June, as an unprecedented influx of celebrants and activists -- drawn by Stonewall 50, WorldPride, and two disparate marches set for the same day -- arrive with their own interpretation of the month's meaning and purpose.
"Pride is like a Rorschach test," says Cathy Renna, spokesperson for NYC Pride organizer Heritage of Pride, which plays host to World Pride/Stonewall 50. "If you ask somebody what Pride is for them, everybody is going to tell you something different."
Heritage of Pride expects up to five million people at dozens of Pride-related events throughout the month, including a human rights conference, Youth Pride, and commissioning of 50 murals across the city. It caps off June 30, with a closing ceremony in Times Square.
"I'm imagining a queer version of New Year's Eve, but with nicer weather," Renna says. Set to take place earlier that day, HOP's annual Pride March has emerged as Rorschach's most revealing lavender inkblot card. A record-high 600-plus groups and 150,000 marchers are expected to participate in the march -- but not everyone will be in lockstep.
Ann Northrop of the Reclaim Pride Coalition, organizers of the other Pride march, sees its June 30 Queer Liberation March and Rally as an activist-minded alternative.
"In shorthand, ours is a political march and a people's march," Northrop argues. "We think the overall mood of the Heritage of Pride parade is a party, a more lighthearted celebration. And there is certainly an appetite for that. But we think we have, unfortunately, lost the political aspect, which is why the parade was created in the first place... In our march, we will mourn those we've lost. But we will also highlight the current issues," she says, including, "Trump's opposition to any known antidiscrimination law."
To that end, RPC eschews the festive floats and corporate presence of HOP's epic march, which clocked in at just over nine hours last year.
"Some folks are really uncomfortable with corporate sponsorship, and I get that," HOP's media director, James Fallarino, said in a December interview with the Los Angeles Blade. But, corporate contributions, he noted, are "the only way you can build together the amount of resources that you need to produce this size of an event."
Although Reclaim Pride argues the traditional Pride march "has been overtaken by corporate floats," Renna points out that over 80 percent of registrants are nonprofits and university or college groups, most of which do not pay to participate. Last year, corporate participants were preceded by up-front contingents such as Dykes on Bikes and the Stonewall Veterans Association. This year's march will pair corporate partners with community organizations, leaving Northrop wondering if those nonprofits are will be "tainted by the fact that they're marching with banks."
In another line of demarcation, the Queer Liberation March will have minimal use of barricades that separate spectators from marchers, thereby allowing people to join at any point along the route -- whereas Heritage of Pride requires all participants march with pre-registered groups.
Northrop recalls the New York Pride March having a different sentiment in decades past. Originally, she says, "the slogan was, 'Off the sidewalks and into the streets.' Everybody went because they knew it would be a chance to circulate in the streets, to go back and forth between various contingents, and express their political anger."
Reclaim hopes to create a march that "feels safe and welcoming for all parts of our community." The scope of that big-tent ethos can be seen in the Queer Liberation March slogan: "We are trans, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming-plus and allies."
But RPC's spirit of inclusivity has its limits. "What we're planning," Northrop adds, "is a march that welcomes all people, except police in uniform."
Colin P. Ashley, an RPC activist-organizer and adjunct professor at Hunter College whose research centers around issues of policing and social justice organizing, says the Heritage of Pride march's ever-increasing police presence and use of barricades has "represented its lack of awareness of certain issues faced by members of our community -- the overpolicing of marginalized folks, queer people broadly, and people of color."
Police shields and weapons on display in the HOP march itself, Ashley says, raise "questions around who the day is for. For a lot of people of color, especially the young people who hang out on the [West Village] piers, it's repetitive of other times in their lives where they're being policed."
Heritage embraces queer police, says Renna, who refers to a May 2018 statement on Medium, in which Heritage cited its "strong relationship" with the NYPD, which, in addition to coordinating security, marches under the banner of GOAL, a fraternal organization of LGBTQIA-plus law enforcement officers.
GOAL, Heritage noted, "had to sue in federal court to secure their right to wear their uniforms, and receive all the honors bestowed on other Department fraternal organizations that participate in parades and marches." That was "a touchpoint in the movement," according to HOP.
The HOP statement on Medium said the organization recognized "that our events only exist because our community fought back against city and police sanctioned violence and discrimination, in 1969 and beyond."
Other than both recognizing the NYPD's role in -- and responsibility for -- the Stonewall uprising, the two Pride groups have other common ground, such as their regard for the global scope of Pride 2019.
"I think that there is definitely a historical element to this that is very powerful," Renna says, noting the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots "is going to be something that is on people's minds at the march and is certainly going to be, I think, displayed in the way people express themselves."
Converging with Stonewall 50, WorldPride is taking place in the U.S. for the first time -- with New York State as its host and New York City as its epicenter. "That's going to have a huge impact," Renna says, adding that HOP expects dozens of international groups at its march, including Copenhagen Pride, Pride Amsterdam, and Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Reclaim has also had international outreach. "We can see there is a desire by people around the world to come and be part of our political march," Northrop says. The Queer Liberation March is expecting participants from around the globe, including the PT Foundation (Malaysia), Working for Our Wellbeing Cameroon, and Soul Sisters Berlin (Germany). Many groups will be marching in both parades.
"To have people from all over the world is going to be very powerful," Renna says. "Because, as we know, the climate in the United States is challenging for queer people, and it's also challenging in many other countries. So it will be a real opportunity to come together, take stock, and talk about moving forward."