“We Will Not Be Quiet! Stonewall Was a Riot!”: Queer Liberation March Returns Pride to Radical Roots

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Four million people took to the streets of New York City Sunday in the largest LGBTQ Pride celebration in history. There were two marches to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising that sparked the modern day LGBTQ movement. Revelers marched down Fifth Avenue cheered on by millions for the WorldPride parade. And in Sheridan Square, at the very site where gay and trans people clashed with police on the early morning of June 28, 1969, tens of thousands of activists gathered for the anti-corporate Queer Liberation March. Their chant was “Stonewall was a riot! We will not be quiet!” Democracy Now!’s Tey-Marie Astudillo and Libby Rainey were there in the streets. They spoke to some of the activists who were there in the days of the Stonewall uprising 50 years ago, as well as those who carry on the tradition today, among them Raquel Willis, who recently became the first transgender woman to be executive editor of Out magazine. But we begin with veteran activist and journalist Ann Northrop, co-host of the Free Speech TV show “Gay USA.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Four million people took to the streets of New York City Sunday in the largest LGBTQ Pride celebration in history. The demonstration just one of many taking place around the country and the world this weekend. North Macedonia held its first Gay Pride parade ever Saturday. In Paris, thousands demonstrated in the streets. Trans and gay activists in Istanbul forced to disperse after Turkish police attacked them with tear gas and rubber bullets. This came after the governor there banned a planned annual Pride march for the fifth year running. And in Singapore, activists demanded an end to a law banning gay sex.

But back here in New York City, there were actually two marches to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising that sparked the modern-day LGBTQ movement. Revelers marched down Fifth Avenue, cheered on by millions for the WorldPride parade. And in Sheridan Square, at the very site where gay and trans people clashed with police on the early morning of June 28, 1969, tens of thousands of activists gathered for an anti-corporate Queer Liberation March. Among their chants, “Stonewall was a riot! We will not be quiet!”

Well, Democracy Now!'s Tey-Marie Astudillo and Libby Rainey were there in the streets. They spoke to some of the activists who were there in the days of the Stonewall uprising 50 years ago, as well as those who carry on the tradition today, among them Raquel Willis, who recently became the first trans woman to be executive editor of Out magazine. But we begin with the veteran activist and journalist Ann Northrop. Among other things, she's co-host of Free Speech TV’s show Gay USA.

ANN NORTHROP: I’m Ann Northrop. I’m one of the organizers of the Queer Liberation March for Reclaim Pride. The point of this march is that we are a people’s community political march. And that’s what this march used to be when it was invented and for several decades. The heritage of Pride main parade has evolved into a corporate party, and we just think that’s ridiculous and insulting and demeaning and disempowering. So we got together to bring the community back into the streets. That’s the whole point of this: bring the community back into the streets and make clear our grievances, our demands for liberation and justice, and to mourn our dead and certainly to celebrate our victories.

A lot of the issues have not changed from 50 years ago. There is still enormous violence perpetrated on our community, certainly trans women of color being murdered on a regular basis now, but still violence against members of our community across the board. Policing—the police are still picking up people on the street for no reason, just because they don’t like us, and putting us in jail, still entrapping gay men all over the place. And nondiscrimination—we do not have a national law that protects us from discrimination in housing or employment or public accommodations. And this is going on all over the world, especially as right-wing dictators take power in more and more places, whether it’s Brazil or Hungary or the United States of America.

RAQUEL WILLIS: My name is Raquel Willis. I am out here at the Queer Liberation March to be with our radical folks who are really fighting for the things that people like Marsha and Sylvia were fighting for at the original Stonewall riots. So, I’m excited to be here. We’re talking about decriminalization. We’re talking about ending the violence that our people are facing across different sectors in the world. And so, it’s important to be here today.

LIBBY RAINEY: What does it mean to be here 50 years after the Stonewall uprising? And as you said, people here are making clear that was a riot. So, what does it mean to be here, and what does it mean to be building on that history?

RAQUEL WILLIS: I think there’s a lot of excitement. But I also think that there’s so much left for us to fight for, and that’s what we’re talking about here at the Queer Liberation March. I think about the ways in which they were fighting against police brutality, fighting against all of the state violence that was being faced, and how we’ve still got to keep that fight up. I mean, we’ve lost so many black and brown trans sisters this year—this month alone, at least four or five. And so, it’s important for us to continue that fight and lift up the real legacy that happened on that fateful night in June 1969.

LIBBY RAINEY: And what’s your message for corporations, for New York City? I mean, you know, this march is taking place in the heart of Manhattan, just weeks after Layleen Polanco was found dead in a cell at Rikers Island.

RAQUEL WILLIS: Right. Well, I think that we have to be very strategic about where the dollars are being placed in the different efforts in our community. If you’re not prioritizing the lives of black and brown folks, all your other fights don’t really matter. Because what are we fighting for if the people are not here to enjoy this world that we want to see so very much liberated?

I think the other part of that, too, is that we have so much visibility now. And that is a great thing, but we’ve got to move beyond visibility to focusing on vitality and how we can keep folks alive, and also crafting a new vision of liberation for these next 50 years. Because when the glitter settles, the crowds are gone, people are putting up their rainbow flags, what are we going to be doing on July 1st, moving forward?

SOPHIA: My name is Sophia, and I’m here because I don’t want to attend WorldPride, because of the corporate neoliberalism that’s going on. So, I think it’s important to have another event, beside WorldPride and beside Pride in New York, to liberate the queers and to honor Stonewall 50.

LIBBY RAINEY: Your sign says, “Trans rights now,” and on the other side it says, “Abolish ICE.”

SOPHIA: Yeah.

LIBBY RAINEY: Tell me about that.

SOPHIA: Well, recent events just show me that it’s very important to not stand up for queer rights, but trans rights, in general, because of the military ban. And there have been 14 trans women killed in the U.S. since January, and it’s very important to honor that and to honor the fact that black trans women are the women that get killed on a daily basis, and no one is investigating. And so, that’s what the sign is about.

LIBBY RAINEY: This march is taking place on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, or just a day or two after. You know, what does it feel like to be out here today, 50 years later?

SOPHIA: Well, it feels very—I am very proud and very honored to be here, because, obviously, I didn’t experience Stonewall myself, so it’s very important to honor Marsha and all the black trans women, who did what they did for us. And 50 years later, nothing changed, so we still have to fight for the rights they did.

JAY TOOLE: My name is Jay Toole. I’m 71 years old. I’m a butch. And I’m out here with Reclaim Pride Queer Liberation March, because I can’t stand the corporations anymore or the cops. And it’s been 50 years, and it’s time we go right back to our roots.

The night of the Stonewall riots, I was homeless, a kid, and sleeping in Washington Square Park. And news filtered down to the park, because the village was much different. You know, word spread like wildfire, was our cellphones. And we all rushed out this way, you know, and the place was packed. You know, everybody was out here, hundreds of people. And they had arrested the guys already, you know. And when I got here, they were pushing us down towards the women’s prison, which was on Greenwich Avenue and Christopher. And a lot of them came around the building, the Northern Dispensary, a very short building. So, it ended up being us, the cops, us. And people were throwing things and setting garbage cans on fire. The Stonewall window was smashed by a garbage can. And then they called in the TPs, which is the tactical police force. And they actually had shotguns and billy clubs. And it was just—it was like—it was exciting. You know, it was time for us to push back, and we all came together to do that.

This year, you know, the Queer Liberation March, what it means to me is, it is a liberation. You know? It’s us coming together and saying no to everything that the “parade” does. You know, I’ve never called it a “parade.” You know, a parade is for people that have all their rights. I’m still fighting. I’m still marching. So, today is really big for me, to get back to where we started from and bringing everybody in this time and not leaving anybody behind. You know, a lot of people were left behind in the other movements.

SHANELLE ELAINE: Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Cops at Pride have got to go! Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Cops at Pride have got to go!

My name is Shanelle Elaine. And we are honoring—first, we are honoring our ancestors in the fight for liberation, who started this all 50 years ago at the Stonewall bar.

LIBBY RAINEY: You’re chanting “Hey! Ho! Cops at Pride have got to go!” Why is that such a crucial part of what this march is all about?

SHANELLE ELAINE: Well, first of all, because the march is about love. And it’s about equality and about liberation. And cops kill people every day—black, brown, gay, lesbian, trans black women. And they don’t care about our lives or our body. They do not protect us. We do not see them as a safety net.

BRI’ANNA: My name is Bri’anna. I’m out here today with ACT UP. We’re a group of people that act together to fight for AIDS awareness and AIDS treatment. So, today we’re representing the 17 people who have died in ICE custody that were HIV-positive or had AIDS. No one should be in ICE custody, but it’s especially heinous that ICE has—they’re not getting people the proper medication that they need, so they’re dying. And it’s all under our government. People should be outraged about it.

ALMA ROSA SILVA-BAÑUELOS: My name is Alma Rosa Silva-Bañuelos. I’m coming from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’m two-spirit Mexica, Azteca. And I’m here to bring two-spirit medicine to the Queer Liberation March.

Currently I’m working to support trans asylum seekers. The unfortunate part is that transphobia is rampant in different countries, and the violence towards our trans community is incredibly intense. And so, our family, our relatives are fleeing for their lives. This is not just because there’s some kind of discrimination. Their lives are being threatened. Their friends are being murdered and killed. And they have to leave. If not, it’s their life.

And right now we’re working to free Alejandra Barrera, who’s from El Salvador, 20-year trans activist that was threatened and had to leave her country. She’s been detained for two years now. And we are asking ICE to release her. We’re asking that she be able to be released from detention so she can fight her case from the outside.

LESLIE CAGAN: I am Leslie Cagan. I’m part of the core organizing team from Reclaim Pride. I’m part of this effort because not only am I a lesbian for many, many years, and not only do I know that the fight of the queer communities—and there are many subsections of our community—not only are those fights far from over, but we’re also at a critical moment in the history of this community and so many other communities, that we must find a way to bring a greater cohesion and unity to our struggles.

So, today, we are all about lifting the notion of liberation, that it’s not—that equality is not enough. Acceptance is not enough. Being integrated into the norms and the structures of this society is far from enough. What we need to do is to be a strong enough movement, a queer movement, a diverse movement, a movement connected to other movements, strong enough to actually challenge the institutions and the structures that so rigidly define all of our lives.

TYANA TEAT: I’m Tyana. I’m out here because I’ve been coming to Pride since I was 13. My parents brought me. And it’s always where I felt like home. It’s always where I felt like myself. You know, being surrounded by all of these people, it’s just—it’s a magical day. It’s amazing, just to be able to fight for our rights. I mean, it’s ridiculous that we still have to do this, but at the same time it’s just nice to be able to gather together and be together.

LIBBY RAINEY: What’s your message to people—groups like Bank of America or Google, that, you know, have the rainbow flag but maybe don’t have the politics to back it up?

TYANA TEAT: Yeah, just do better. I mean, if you’re going to show that you’re full of pride, then actually be full of pride. You know, start hiring trans and queer, and no more discrimination, no more sexism, no more transphobia. You know, all of it’s ridiculous that we still have to fight for this, but at the same time it’s just like they need to wake up and realize that our march is not for their advertisement. It’s not for them to make money. It’s because this is what we need. We need more. We need justice.

PROTESTERS: Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The NRA has got to go!

AZI: I’m Azi. I’m with Sige–LGBTQ Filipinos. I’m out here today really protesting in regards to queer liberation, especially in the Philippines because of the increase of human rights violations that’s going on there. The people are frustrated that we aren’t able to get the necessary basic needs met, and the fact that the government and like the corporations are complicit to it. And like, we’re tired of it. And it’s time that we stand up and voice that. We’re going to continue marching until we are all free.

NORAH GETZ: My name’s Norah. I came in all the way from Chicago. I’m here mainly for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, to pay my respects. But I’m also here to march against the corporatization of Pride and the police presence that is in contemporary Pride fests these days.

LIBBY RAINEY: Your sign says, “Affordable housing for all, #Pride.”

NORAH GETZ: Yeah.

LIBBY RAINEY: Talk about how this march is engaging with all these issues—affordable housing, abolishing ICE.

NORAH GETZ: Well, I’ve seen multiple signs for all different kinds of issues. There’s one for intersex justice right there. There’s some for abolishing ICE. There’s one for keeping the police out of Pride. All these issues do, in fact, harm queer people, including and especially housing, because a disproportionate amount of LGBT youth are dealing with housing insecurity due to lack of family support. They would otherwise be able to stay at a mother or aunt’s place. And it’s really frustrating to see so many of my friends have to go through with it.

MARTHA SHELLEY: My name is Martha Shelley, and I was one of the people who started the Gay Liberation Front like within one week after the Stonewall riot. And we had our first protest march exactly one month after Stonewall, and there were about 400 people who showed up. For most of them, it was the first time they had been gay in public.

LIBBY RAINEY: What does it mean to you to be here today, 50 years later?

MARTHA SHELLEY: It is essentially the spirit that we had then—anti-corporate, antiwar, for liberation for all people. And the most important thing for us at that time was the right to control your own body, the right to have sex with the people of your choice, the right to ingest the drugs of your choice without being thrown in prison, the right not to have your [bleep] drafted and shipped off to Vietnam, and, of course, equal rights for everybody regardless of their color or ethnicity or religion. Those rights are starting to be rolled back by the current administration, and we have to fight back. We have to fight to save the planet, because if there’s a—you know, if we have a hot, uninhabitable planet, what good are our rights?

PROTESTERS: Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!

AMY GOODMAN: Gay Liberation Front founder and Lavender Menace member Martha Shelley, who was there 50 years ago today in the aftermath of the Stonewall uprising. The Queer Liberation March kicked off at 9:30 in the morning Sunday. Between it and the WorldPride march, 4 million people gathered in the streets of New York. The Pride march ended after midnight, the largest LGBTQ event in history.

Special thanks to Tey-Marie Astudillo, Libby Rainey and Emma Gaffney. That does it for our show. Happy Birthday to Isis Phillips. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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