An estimated 30,000 people converged in West Hollywood on Sunday to protest systemic racism and police brutality and to shine light on the specific needs of black LGBTQ people. The event, which took place on the 50th anniversary of the LA Pride Parade and Festival, started out as a Black Lives Matter solidarity march — but it ultimately showed the divisions between two overlapping civil rights movements.
The event’s original organizers found themselves the recipients of backlash when they announced their plans in early June: Christopher Street West (CSW), the historic, mostly white-led organization that typically produces LA Pride, never reached out to coordinate with Black Lives Matter activists about the march. In addition, they hired an event organizer who applied for a police permit for the parade — a move seen as offensive by black activists in the midst of anti-brutality protests.
For many people at the march on Sunday, the backlash highlighted how the growing Black Lives Matter movement had the power to force ostensibly progressive LGBTQ organizations to grapple with blindspots and long-unaddressed histories of exclusion.
CSW canceled their solidarity march shortly after the backlash, and Gerald Garth, one of the few black board members at CSW, formed a new council with a group of black LGBTQ leaders. Together they announced a new march, dubbed the “All Black Lives Matter” protest, without CSW’s involvement. The result was Sunday’s all-day event, featuring a march starting on Hollywood Boulevard and ending in West Hollywood, as well as lively performances, art, and nonstop dancing.
“Putting Protest Back in Pride” originally aired on the Weekend Report on Quibi. Watch the full video here.
“A big part of the conversations that I had to have often was that even though things were well-intended, that didn’t make it any less wrong or impactful,” Garth told NBC News. “And plus, too, through the lens of CSW being this legendary white agency proposing this Black effort, [the] community really received it as CSW, you know, aiming to co-opt or, you know, capitalize.”
Luckie Fuller, an artist and trans activist, said that a formal police presence “would’ve kept people from coming out here. It would’ve hindered a lot of our voices, and it would’ve dampened our voices.”
Miss Shalae, a Beyoncé impersonator who performed at the march, said that when she first moved to Los Angeles she could not convince white-owned LGBTQ bars and clubs to book her for performances. She didn’t have faith CSW would learn from mistakes without a change in leadership.
“They’re not giving us a seat at the table, which I feel like is super important. How can you know what we want without asking us what we want? There is no black trans woman on the board,” Miss Shalae said. “And it is definitely a time for that to change, absolutely.”
CSW’s executive director, Madonna Cacciatore, said they are committed to making sure this doesn’t happen again. “And we’re having the hard conversations now, to be honest with you,” she said. “Because there’s been a history, not only with our organization, but you know, everybody’s being asked to reexamine themselves. And to look at ourselves through a different lens. We have been, you know, we always try to do the right thing. We sometimes don’t do it well.”
For some, the new march and the organization’s apology was too little too late.
Ashlee Marie Preston, a black trans writer and former board member of CSW, decided she wouldn’t attend. “What made me so frustrated about all of this is that I have direct relationships with people on the board,” Preston said. “It’s this idea that saviorism is solidarity… when we say Black Lives Matter, we need to also emphasize that Black leadership matters and that we have to trust that leadership.”
Still, many in the crowd hoped that CSW, and other similar organizations, would learn from this year’s mistakes. Brandon Anthony, an event producer, called CSW the “guinea pig” for the transformations black LGBTQ activists want to see more broadly.
“Our target is not just CSW and LA Pride,” he said. “We’re going to challenge all nonprofits and corporations… change your infrastructure and reexamine how black lives are being treated.”