A group of LGBT immigrant-rights activists protested at the Phoenix Pride Parade on April 2, 2017. Pita Samayoa J/Special for azcentral.com
On Sunday, Dagoberto Bailón woke up early, gathered his signs and put on his black T-shirt, one that says “Trans Queer Pueblo” in pink, white and blue. He was ready for the Phoenix Pride Parade, one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cultural celebrations in Arizona.
A few hours later, he stood with friends as a group of parade attendees screamed profanities and racial slurs and shoved them.
In a video of the confrontation posted on Trans Queer Pueblo’s Facebook page, one woman shouts: “This is our day! This is our parade!” Others shouted: “Get out of the way! Go home!”
Bailón and the 100 or so other protesters with Trans Queer Pueblo repeated their own chant: “No justice! No pride! Sin justicia! No hay orgullo!”
It’s the same message they carried in Spanish and English on a massive banner they unfurled when they walked into the middle of the street and shut down the Phoenix Pride Parade for about six minutes.
One parade attendee charged at a protester, trying to push him out of the way. That’s when the police came.
Trans Queer Pueblo advocates for the rights of LGBT undocumented immigrants. Bailón, who is among the group’s leaders, was about 9 years old when he walked more than seven hours to cross the border from Mexico to Arizona.
On Sunday, he stood with friends and strangers. Many in the group are like Bailón, and know what life is like in Arizona for a gay person of color who lacks U.S. citizenship. Others, with legal status, were there to support friends and loved ones.
Trans Queer Pueblo wanted to disrupt the parade just long enough to send a message: Phoenix Pride has forgotten why LGBT pride marches started in the 1970s, and has failed to ensure that the principles it espouses apply to everyone in Arizona’s diverse LGBT communities.
And on a day dedicated to equality, Bailón fought for a few minutes to denounce what he saw as racial injustice against LGBT undocumented migrants of color and the Phoenix Pride-sanctioned police presence at the parade.
Equality for all
Like most non-profits, Phoenix Pride outlines its principles on its website.
A statement reads in part: “Phoenix Pride envisions a unified community where diverse individuals are celebrated and able to thrive as their authentic selves. Lastly, we believe that a denial of equality for any one aspect of our community is a denial of equality for all.”
Bailón said that if that were true, Phoenix Pride would already be doing more to protect its LGBT migrant communities of color.
“Why police should be out of pride,” he said, “is because some of us, every day, we live with police violence … our families are being deported and our friends live in fear.”
Bailón said he doesn’t understand why, in this heightened climate of hate and immigration enforcement, an LGBT non-profit would allow uniformed police access to the parade. Trans Queer Pueblo members worry that Phoenix Pride has become beholden to its corporate sponsors and political partnerships.
He said the group hadn’t even started its demonstration yet when a Phoenix police officer approached them.
“We told her (the officer) that our purpose was never to completely stop pride,” he said. “We wanted to present our demands to Justin (Owen, Phoenix Pride’s executive director) and then we were going to continue with the parade.”
Bailón said the officer told them police could not arrest anyone from the group for blocking the street because it was already closed for the parade. They told her they had paid the $75 fee to march in the parade. He said the officer warned that if Phoenix Pride officials asked, officers could arrest the protesters for trespassing.
After the officer left, the protesters walked into the street, following a float with police, and forced the parade to stand still. That’s when several attendees shouted racial slurs and shoved the protesters.
Phoenix police officers intervened and Bailón said the officers warned them that they needed to end their protest.
Trans Queer Pueblo stood its ground for a few more minutes, then continued with the march. Bailón said they were expecting some pushback, but nothing like what they witnessed.
“A lot of our members were feeling scared and there was a sense of vulnerability,” he said. “But we also understand that there is a lack of understanding from a lot of people who attend Pride, but don’t necessarily know the history of pride and how it started.”
What does Trans Queer Pueblo want?
Bailón said Trans Queer Pueblo has long felt alienated from Phoenix Pride leadership.
In 2015, the group marched in the parade in hopes of fostering stronger ties with leaders in the Phoenix LGBT community. They hoped to create greater awareness of the struggles LGBT undocumented immigrants, especially those of color, face.
Frustrations over a lack of understanding, combined with fears and anger over President Donald Trump’s sweeping federal immigration-enforcement guidelines and orders, played a part in Trans Queer Pueblo’s decision to protest this year, Bailón said.
On Thursday, Trans Queer Pueblo emailed Owen, the Phoenix Pride executive director. They outlined their concerns and demands, which they believe would make Pride safer for Arizona’s diverse LGBT communities:
- Deny police a float in the Pride Parade.
- Cut ties with corporate sponsors that finance prisons or detention centers.
- Establish a Trans Queer Pueblo-led committee for pride festivities.
- Leverage Phoenix Pride’s political sway to publicly lobby against laws that put LGBT migrants of color at risk.
On Friday, Owen responded to the group in an email obtained by The Arizona Republic. He wrote that because of Trans Queer Pueblo expressing concerns at such a “late hour,” he would be unable to meet with the group prior to the pride festivities. He offered to meet after the celebrations ended.
“It is my genuinely-held belief that we are strongest as a community when we are unified in our cause, and it is not the intent of Pride — nor my intent, personally — to marginalize or ignore the concerns of anyone in our community, especially when those concerns are reasonable and brought with integrity,” he said.
Owen invited the group to participate in the parade, asking that members allow pride festivities to continue peacefully.
“We stand with you in the cause of achieving equal status for all, and I am personally eager to work with you as we move ahead,” he said.
Bailón said they wrote Owen back, saying they understood he was busy and the parade was imminent.
“We explained that we would not shut down the parade completely,” he said. “We just wanted our moment to have our voices heard.”
To explain their concerns to a broader community, the group shared a video on social media that described their cause and its place in the history of the LGBT civil-rights movement.
They recalled the Stonewall riots and LGBT people of color like Sylvia Rivera who stood up against police and fought for their rights. They recalled the day, June 28, 1969, when officers with the New York Police Department, as part of a crackdown on gay bars, which authorities claimed were serving liquor without a license, raided Stonewall Inn. Police arrested 13 people at the bar. Over the next several days, community members held demonstrations and endured violent confrontations with police.
In an interview with the late author Leslie Feinberg, Rivera talked about how police treated her community.
“We always felt that the police were the real enemy,” she said. “We expected nothing better than to be treated like we were animals — and we were.”
Rivera is among the LGBT leaders who viewed the Stonewall uprising as a turning point in more vocal and confrontational forms of gay-rights advocacy.
Following the Stonewall riots, gay-rights organizations were established in cities across America and pride parades and festivities were created to commemorate the 1969 demonstrations.
Bailón said before Sunday’s protest, the priority was to demonstrate against Phoenix Pride leaders who seemed blind to their concerns. Now, he said, they must decide how to move forward after confrontations at the parade.
“We still have Pride not sponsoring our liberation campaigns for asylum seekers or undocumented LGBT or not taking a stand on racial justice,” he said. “People always profit from black and brown bodies, but they are never really willing to stand when it comes to real issues, like policing that affect us every day.”
People attend the Phoenix Pride Festival at Indian Steele Park in Phoenix on April 1, 2017. Courtney Pedroza/azcentral.com
Phoenix Pride: ‘Continue to fight the injustices’
The Republic requested an interview with Owen. Jeremy Helfgot responded, saying on Tuesday, that Phoenix Pride officials asked his company, J.M. Helfgot Communications, to address questions about the protest. He said Owen offered to meet with Trans Queer Pueblo, but has yet to hear back from the group.
Owen had released a statement on Friday responding to the planned protests.
“While we continue to fight the injustices that exist in our society, it is important to take stock of advancements we’ve made and to celebrate the victories that we have achieved together,” he said. “We are aware that there are still many causes that need attention, and we always stand willing to work with members of our community to end oppression and injustice of any kind and against any individual or group.”
Owen said the organization would maintain its partnerships with public-safety agencies.
“As we do every year, we are working with our public safety partners at the City of Phoenix to insure a safe event for all who attend,” he said. “Interference with the parade route, or direct disruption of the parade or festival, will not be permitted, as a matter of safety for the public.”
Phoenix Pride would honor any individuals who wanted their voices heard, he said.
“We have tremendous pride in the protest history of our movement, and as always, we will welcome peaceful protests by those who wish to express their concerns about any issues of social justice,” he said.
Responding to claims by Trans Queer Pueblo that Phoenix Pride officials summoned police during the confrontation, Helfgot stressed that no one associated with the organization called police on the protesters.
“What happened, to my understanding, is that there were some spectators who were not pleased about the interruption of the parade and started becoming confrontational,” he said. “The Phoenix Police Department, under their own initiation, stepped in because there were safety concerns.”
Helfgot said that no protesters were arrested to his knowledge. Bailón confirmed that no one from his group was arrested.
Helfgot listed a series of policies established in recent years by the Phoenix City Council and the Phoenix Police Department to advance LGBT rights and limit bias against the community. Regarding Trans Queer Pueblo’s concerns over a lack of representation of LGBT undocumented migrants of color among Phoenix Pride leadership, Helfgot said Phoenix Pride doesn’t ask its board or committee advisory members about their legal status. However, he said, leadership is aware of at least one volunteer with the Phoenix Pride event “who has volunteered that they are in an undocumented immigration status.”
Helfgot said he couldn’t predict if changes would be made to address Trans Queer Pueblo’s concerns.
“Phoenix Pride is always open to listening to the concerns of the community,” he said. “How the issues will be addressed I think is going to be dependent on the outcome of the dialogue.”
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