50 years ago, Greenwich Village in New York saw a team of police officers raid its gay club, Stonewall Inn. The acts of violence displayed that early morning led to protests, riots, mobs, and hospitalization for both club-goers and officers. Pride was born out of this resistance against police brutality.
In celebration and solidarity with this historical moment, Lansing’s 30th Pride parade and festival, held downtown near the Capitol Building, saw many people holding up posters as they marched alongside the parade. One teenager held up a sign saying, “No Cops at Pride.” Another held up a similar poster, saying guns shouldn’t be at Pride, with a crossed-out figure of a policeman. Yet, of course, there were police at Pride.
Police at this year’s Pride are shadowed by the events of this past Friday, when two officers, Lindsey Howley and Bailey Ueberroth, were placed on administrative leave for repeatedly striking a sixteen-year-old girl and threatening to break her leg. Not only is this kind of brutality alive and thriving, but it is also local. It is here in Lansing. The officers that led the parade, hung around the rally, and had a vendor’s table at the festival all worked alongside Howley and Ueberroth, in the same department.
When asked their thoughts about some of these juxtapositions, gay man Alex said, “It’s tough. I mean, on one hand, we want to feel safe from gay-bashers out there, but on the other, we don’t want to feel threatened by law enforcement officers.” Another, a teenage girl with a trans pride flag caped around her neck, said, “I like police officers, but I’m not safe with all these guns around. I’m just not.”
The parade started at noon, led by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. As the parade progressed toward the Capitol, the crowd joined them. It started out small, as one attendee said, complaining that this was going to be one of Lansing’s smallest Pride celebrations. But as the parade marched, the crowd grew. Hundreds became thousands, and the colorful crowd made its way to the Capitol steps. There were caped crusaders, drag queens, collared pup roleplayers, male models standing in briefs and shoes, and even a fursuiter!
At the steps, the rally began, with speakers like Nessel, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor, Rev. Phiwa Langeni of the Salus Center, the Michigan Pride Board, and two transgender teenagers. They spoke of the importance of voting, the importance of not just accepting who we are but also being proud of that, and the importance of progress, of just moving forward.
The festival however was where the capitalism of Pride really began to shine. The festival had live music performances throughout, and a very small space for the hundreds of people pouring in. The vendors seemed to be one of two extremes: either corporate representatives or queer independents. So, yes, we had self-published queer authors, craft makers, even an underwear seller, and the Lansing Area AIDS Network, but we also had AT&T and the Lansing Police Department. Because what true queer can say they’re even proud if they’re not supporting the #BlueLivesMatter movement? Or if they’re not even with AT&T? Can you hear our sarcasm now? Yes? Good!
For many this year, Pride was a place of community and support, and most had a good time, dancing to Lady Gaga, strutting their stuff down the sidewalks, supporting our local queer artists and authors, and cheering for progress, as the rally speakers advocated. You definitely could feel the energy, the positivity, the pride of people being there.
With Stonewall calling to us from the past, it might be worth wondering once more, however, our initial fights for that pride. Last week, Tennessee’s Knox County department has an officer who has said publicly, “God has instilled the power of civil government to send the police in 2019 out to these LGBT freaks and arrest them, and have a trial for them, and if they are convicted, they are to be put to death.” While it would be a far stretch to say, without evidence, that any of our local officers hold similar mentalities, the fact is that the system allows for these kinds of people to have that kind of power. How confident are we that our pride is just as strong as officers who can abuse their power? How certain are we that our rainbows can stop bullets?
Keep proud. Keep fighting.