What Really Happened at Pride Festival, Let the Healing Begin
The Ohio LGBTQAI community has gone through some serious soul searching in the last ten days. A failed attempt at a protest at the Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade 2017 by the group known as #BlackPride4 turned into the arrest of the four. Since then a flurry of accusations, infighting, and a torrent of social media interactions have turned the community upside down.
The group attempted to stop the parade for seven minutes as a form of protest to “highlight the lack of support for queer PoC trans folk within our community and the larger LGBTQAI community,” according to a statement one of the activists posted on Facebook.
The group was quickly apprehended and arrested by the Columbus Police Department, recorded on video that Ariana Steele from Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus (BQIC) describes as violent. According to Lori Gum, no one from Stonewall Columbus (SWC) was informed before or after the protest and they were first alerted of the incident through social media outlets. After the arrests Karla Rothan and SWC followed through with the Columbus police to verify the treatment of the four and attempted to verify that they had access to legal resources. The messaging from SWC failed to articulate that as a non-profit they are not authorized to provide money or resources for legal services, which added to the overall confusion and complaint from BQIC.
The BQIC attempted to arrange a meeting with Rothan, who later informed the group that they should meet with the SWC Board of Trustees. When the group arrived to meet with SWC they were informed that SWC wanted to reschedule to a time when the entire board could be present at the meeting. In the interim the message boards on social media were blowing up with accusations, calls for Rothan and others from SWC to step down, and demands for an investigation of the Columbus Police Department’s handling of the incident. While all of this was happening SWC issued one statement that did not satisfy many of their supporters, and left many still asking, ‘What happened at the parade? Who is #BlackPride4 and what were they protesting? Is the parade a protest or a celebration primarily for whites and corporate advertising?’
Many people just shut down, a common refrain being, “I can’t take it any longer.” They complained that their posts on social media were being hijacked by individuals who did not agree with their position. Meanwhile, members within the SWC organization were not satisfied with the response to the protesters. Lori Gum announced that she was stepping down due to a variety of issues within the organization and the handling of the incident, citing that it was indicative of how the organization had become. This was followed by another group of people within SWC announcing their departure for similar reasons. It was at this point that SWC realized that they had lost control of the messaging and were in full damage control mode.
Supporters for and against Stonewall Columbus were now clamoring for action. It had become a very volatile situation. While many were seeking for the community’s leaders to take a stance, the tone from organizations ranged from remaining quiet, to promoting solidarity, yet no one from any organization had risen as the voice of reason tor the communicator needed to begin the healing. Instead, the divisions remained leading towards isolation and exhaustion from all sides.
Ann Fisher was the first to present all sides of the arguments during an interview broadcast on NPR June 27th, 2017. Kim Jacobs from the Columbus Police Department (CPD) stated they were reviewing testimony and videos of the incident and that they are were arranging a future meeting with SWC. Ariana Steele from BQIC spoke on behalf of the #BlackPride4. She argued that the CPD mishandled the situation and should not have been an active presence at the parade. She stated that BQIC was protesting against the violence shown by the CPD during the incident, and the organization wanted to see better handling and less violence by the department in future. She also stated that the organization was upset by Stonewall’s failure to publicly condemn the actions of the Columbus Police Department.
When prompted with several questions regarding the incident, Steele failed to articulate the incident, citing that she was not present when it occurred and could not speak on behalf of #BlackPride4. She went on to describe the immediate goals the group is working toward which include allowing one of the accused, Deandre Miles, to complete his academic career, and dropping all charges against the four.
Fisher then brought recent resignee Lori Gum and current Stonewall Columbus Trustee Robert Podlogar from the Stonewall Board together into the studio. Gum explained her role as the coordinator of the Pride Parade and why working with the Columbus Police Department, Homeland Security and the FBI were necessary. She thinks the community needs to evaluate the type of Pride celebration they want. Do they want police and corporate sponsorship? Should it be CDP and private sponsorship? It was noted that the CDP decides how much enforcement staff is required for a parade permit, and in 2017 it cost $400,000 to put on the parade.
Podlogar stated that there is a time and place for protesting and advocating for change, noting that people need to understand that we need money to drive the change to move forward. Gum stated that the corporate presence represents progress.
The conversation moved on to the topic of how groups get lost in this mix. Podlogar asserted that “Organizations need to open their eyes to include those individuals. People may not agree with Stonewall over the last 10 days, we need to think about what we need to do to resolve this, especially with those that feel excluded.”
Gum ended the conversation with the following statement, “People of color need to be put into the decision-making process to define the decision-making process and it needs to happen now for inclusion.”
Through all of this, it is Willa Young who may have summed it up best: “It might seem illogical to you at first, but I believe it is possible to do all of the following at once: I blame the police; I honor and support the #blackpride4; I stand with Stonewall.”
Outlook Ohio reached out to BQIC for comment regarding this article, they declined.