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At homegrown marches, Pride goes back to its roots in protest

Regular events were canceled for June, but support for Black Lives Matter got people walking.
About 100 people march in downtown Tampa Sunday as part of a protest remembering those in the LGBTQ community that have been killed.
About 100 people march in downtown Tampa Sunday as part of a protest remembering those in the LGBTQ community that have been killed. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jul. 1, 2020
Updated Jul. 6, 2020

The day that would have been Pride, the city seemed to sleep in. St. Petersburg, on a hazy Saturday morning, had been stripped of its famed parade — another pandemic loss. A few rainbow flags caught the hot breeze.

In Straub Park along the waterfront, though, a red wagon appeared. TAKE WHAT YOU NEED, a handwritten sign said. WATER, SNAX, FLAGS. Josie Knieriemen and Libby Jourdan, both 23, told the people slowly massing in the shade, “We’ve got stickers, too. Please take ‘em.”

They’d come from Tampa for a LGBTQ solidarity march for Black Lives Matter. Both white, a lesbian and a queer woman, Knieriemen and Jourdan knew their history. They knew gay rights had come on the backs of Black queer and trans people, among others, who’d fought relentless police harassment. And now, 51 years since the Stonewall uprising, Black people were marching, daily, against police brutality. Black trans women were still being murdered. Knieriemen thought: “How can we protect one part of the community and not the rest?”

Near a table with free face masks, a woman knelt to make a poster. She quoted Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman and one of Stonewall’s icons: As long as my people don’t have rights across America, there’s no reason for celebration.

In roller skates and fishnets, leis and wings made of rainbow feathers, more than 100 marchers gathered under the oaks. A stereo thumped. Flags flew, black and brown stripes included. And 50 years after the first Pride march set out on Christopher Street Liberation Day in New York, marchers got going again. Asphalt hot underfoot, their chants echoed as they walked up Central Avenue: Black lives matter! Queer lives matter!

At midday Saturday, a LGBTQ solidarity march with Black Lives Matter makes its way through downtown St. Petersburg.
At midday Saturday, a LGBTQ solidarity march with Black Lives Matter makes its way through downtown St. Petersburg. [ Claire McNeill ]

At the roundabout at 13th Street, they circled up. Some sat in the road. “Anybody can say anything,” an activist announced.

Taylor Grimes, 28, wearing a rainbow face mask, walked up. Raised in Florida, he was here from Chicago, visiting a friend. He’d been watching anti-racism protests unfold, and as a white man felt he needed to step up. He saw a chance, away from Pride’s plastic beads and bank-logo floats, to mark the day with a reminder of how far America has to go.

“For me, as a gay man being raised in a family of law enforcement, I always believed that Black Lives Matter was a group that was not worth my time,” Grimes said, and people were quiet.

Arms crossed, posters tucked away, they sat in the paltry shade of palms.

“I have taken time to listen to the voices that are speaking every day, the voices that are fighting for equality in this world,” Grimes went on.

“Someone, somewhere is waiting for a voice to change their opinion. ... You guys changed mine, and thank you so much for that,” he said. Amid cheers, someone yelled, “We love you!”

Taylor Grimes, 28, spoke to the marchers on Saturday. "Even though I am gay, I am privileged," he said, "and I want to use my voice and use my privilege to support."
Taylor Grimes, 28, spoke to the marchers on Saturday. "Even though I am gay, I am privileged," he said, "and I want to use my voice and use my privilege to support." [ Claire McNeill ]

Eleni Sullivan, the 18-year-old high school graduate who organized the march, offered a shy, proud thank you, before turning the mic over to a mother of three Black sons, two of whom are gay.

“Statistically, not all three of my sons will make it—.” She paused and exhaled slowly, looking around from under her floppy hat. “— Will not die from a natural death.”

She asked the mostly white crowd to look at who they hire. To check themselves when they clutch their purses or hurry to close the elevator doors before a Black man walks in. To vote.

READ MORE: He was at Stonewall 50 years ago. In St. Petersburg, he remembers the before and after.

Across Tampa Bay, many of the loudest voices leading recent protests are queer people of color. Terron Gland in St. Petersburg is a gay Black man. Tampa’s Emadi Okwuosa is, too. For them, divorcing their gayness from their Blackness isn’t possible.

They keep chanting, Silence is compliance, and for Okwuosa, he’s speaking to everyone: White people with backs turned, Black people who are antigay and LGBTQ people who’ve stayed complacent with Black lives at risk.

For many young activists, the modern incarnation of Pride Month has left them with a sour aftertaste. They see largely white crowds at June events, knocking back drinks, along parade routes flanked by police officers. They grow tired of floats that preach acceptance when they suspect they are mostly being accepted as potential customers.

This year, they wanted to celebrate their way. On Sunday, 22-year-old Stephanie Sanchez of TalkYoShxt would throw a Pride Protest for Black Lives Matter in Tampa. She envisioned a Pride that put a spotlight on Black and brown queer and trans people — a day for the people who get outshined.

Sunday's event in Tampa brought out about 100 marchers. Passing through downtown streets, they took a moment between chanting "Black trans lives matter" to sing to a Kendrick Lamar song: "We gon' be alright."
Sunday's event in Tampa brought out about 100 marchers. Passing through downtown streets, they took a moment between chanting "Black trans lives matter" to sing to a Kendrick Lamar song: "We gon' be alright." [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

In oppressive heat, 100-something young people — Black, brown, white, Indigenous — would march downtown. They’d pause with their freshly painted BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER banner outside One Police Center to recite the names of the dead: Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Riah Milton. Breonna “BB” Hill. “If you had been murdered for being Black and trans, you would want someone to say your name, too,” activist “Z” Ramos shouted into a megaphone.

In Tampa, the names of Black trans people killed were read out loud outside of police headquarters. In a speech later, protester Serena Scott told the crowd: "You can’t have equality for all Black people if you’re not including all Black people."
In Tampa, the names of Black trans people killed were read out loud outside of police headquarters. In a speech later, protester Serena Scott told the crowd: "You can’t have equality for all Black people if you’re not including all Black people." [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

They would spread blankets at a riverfront park, prop up their ABOLISH THE POLICE signs, snap to spoken word poetry — and vogue.

The Tampa march Sunday followed a similar effort in St. Petersburg on Saturday. Organizer Stephanie Sanchez said, "We're all really taking a moment to look at the bigger picture. I don't want this to be stereotypical Pride."
The Tampa march Sunday followed a similar effort in St. Petersburg on Saturday. Organizer Stephanie Sanchez said, "We're all really taking a moment to look at the bigger picture. I don't want this to be stereotypical Pride." [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

In St. Pete, Saturday’s march went on as so many marches have in the last month: with swells of energy and lulls, disjointed chants and old standbys. Heat poured down, medics passed out water, cyclists waved away cars, shopkeepers and renters watched or clapped from patios and balconies, and the intersections rolled by.

There were rainbow tutus, Doc Martens and one tiny, glittery cowboy hat.

At one point, shuffling along a silent stretch of 1st Avenue S, chanting to what sometimes felt like nobody, the momentum faded.

Then somebody put on Diana Ross.

“I’m comin’ out!” the marchers sang, lifting rainbow flags to the blank blue sky. Grimes snapped open a unicorn fan, and people belted: “I want the world to know, got to let it show.”

Chants started anew, and someone played We Are Family. As the group took the final stretch down Beach Drive to I Will Survive, they were practically bouncing.

Political organizer Miranda Day, 24, took the megaphone. She spun, taking in red-faced marchers still catching their breath.

“If you’re anything like me, you’ve grown up with corporate Pride, grown up with the floats from the banks and the politicians and whoever else,” she said. “And it’s nice to have their support.”

“But it’s important to remember our roots,” she said, cheers rising. “This is what Pride is all about.”

READ MORE: It’s LGBT History Month and National Book Month. Here’s how to celebrate both.

Protesters invoked the name of Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans activist who played a key role in the 1969 Stonewall Inn uprising. Johnson protested against oppressive policing and fought for the rights of society's most marginalized people.
Protesters invoked the name of Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans activist who played a key role in the 1969 Stonewall Inn uprising. Johnson protested against oppressive policing and fought for the rights of society's most marginalized people. [ Claire McNeill ]

Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com. Follow @clairemcneill.