By KJ Philp, June 2017 Issue.
On the morning of April 2, more than 12,000 spectators lined Third Street, from Thomas Road to Steele Indian School Park, awaiting the Phoenix Pride Parade. The annual procession, according to phoenixpride.com, comprises more than 2,000 individual participants with decorated vehicles, colorful floats and festive walkers.
This year’s event was met with a protest by members of Trans Queer Pueblo (TQP), an autonomous LGBTQ+ migrant community of color that “works to create community solutions to build the leadership of our people and the power of our community to create concrete social change here in Phoenix.”
The message: Phoenix Pride should be using its influence to make both Phoenix and Pride safe for LGBTQ+ people of color (POC).
Following the protest, Echo Magazine caught up with Dago Bailon, an assistant with TQP who has been organizing to create safe spaces for people who identify as undocumented and queer since 2011.
Echo: For anyone reading who may not know, will you describe Trans Queer Pueblo, how it came about, it’s mission and some of the ways in which you achieve/support the mission?
Bailon: In the hostile environment of Arizona, LGBTQ+ migrant and undocumented community of color faces racism, transphobia and homophobia. Trans Queer Pueblo is one of a few safe havens for trans and queer migrants and trans and queer people of color.
Trans Queer Pueblo was founded by a group of community members and continues to be grassroots and democratically run. Through family acceptance, health justice, community defense, economic justice and grassroots arts and activism, we create community solutions to build the leadership of our people and the power of our community to create concrete social change here in Phoenix.
Echo: TQP was a Phoenix Pride Parade participant in 2016. At what point did you collectively decide that this year was going to be different? How did that meeting/conversation go?
Bailon: Every year, our participation in Pride is decided by our membership and community with the goal of bringing back the spirit of Pride. We host a community meeting to think about the origins of Pride, the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and how today’s celebrations reflect the struggle for justice in the face of state violence [made by] Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and the other patrons of the Stonewall Inn on that night in June. We ask ourselves whether today’s Pride marches are accessible and relevant for our LGBTQ+ communities of color. This year our community determined that, though the first pride was a protest against police brutality, today it celebrates the police and takes money from sponsors that finance mass incarceration, criminalization, the stealing of native lands and more. This year, our membership felt great urgency to bring back the spirit of Pride … [which] means honoring our full identities, like the distinct and different colors of the rainbow flag. We are trans, queer, immigrants, POC, poor [and] undocumented people. Just like our rainbow flag, we can’t choose just one color or stripe to uphold or defend [because] we are all of them at the same time.
Echo: What led up to the protest spectators saw on the day of the parade?
Bailon: All of our work is community led. That means that we carried out a democratic process with discussion, research, debate and, finally, planning to determine how we would bring back the spirit of Pride. We slowly created our message and made specific plans to engage Pride participants in a theatrical intervention to bring Pride back to its roots. Then, over the month of March, community members spent days and evenings creating art and preparing and practicing.
Echo: What was the message TQP was sending?
Bailon: We hear from our community that for queer and trans people of color, especially undocumented people, Pride is not a safe place to celebrate because they collaborate with the police who deport and persecute us and they promote and accept funding from companies like the Bank of America and Wells Fargo, that finance our detention and incarceration.
Furthermore, despite important political ties, Pride does not use its influence to make Phoenix safe. Despite close ties with the Mayor and City Council, Pride is silent when it comes to the struggle for justice of migrant communities or communities of color here in Phoenix.
So, we propose two solutions:
1. Make pride safe for LGBTQ+ people of color:
- End police collaboration
- Cut ties with companies that finance mass incarceration like the Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
- Create a POC-led review committee of Pride accessibility and accountability to LGBTQ+ people of color.
2. Use Pride’s influence to make Phoenix safe for LGBTQ+ POC:
- Support campaigns to get trans and queer migrants out of detention.
- Publicly denounce the racist law SB1070 and Phx Operation Order 4.48
- Publicly denounce the transphobic Phoenix Manifestation Law.
- Use Pride’s political influence to end these laws or move the city of Phoenix to defy them.
Echo: Do you feel that it was understood by the intended recipients? Why or why not?
Bailon: We received an outpouring of support in the weeks after Pride from LGBTQ+ people, especially LGBTQ+ people of color, who were excited that finally the voice of the community was heard in a mainstream LGBTQ+ event. We heard from former employees and board members of Pride that they had been struggling for years to make Pride safer and more accountable to LGBTQ+ people of color from the inside with little change from the organization. We heard from community members who shared with us concerns that they had raised as black LGBTQ+ people, native LGBTQ+ people and other parts of our community that had been dismissed by the organization over the years. The message – of bringing Pride back to its roots … and honor[ing] all of the identities of the community – resonated deeply with everyone that reached out to us from Phoenix and around the nation.
Echo: What was the most surprising response the group received?
Bailon: We were excited by all of the community support that we received following the action. It is clearer than ever that the LGBTQ+ establishment in Phoenix, including Phoenix Pride, must respond to the needs of the whole LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ justice means also working for racial, gender, trans and economic justice.
We have been disappointed by the reaction from Phoenix Pride. Faced with an opportunity to embrace the voice of the community that they profit from and claim to represent, and learn how to walk forward together, they chose to silence the voices of community. On the day of the march, our group was informed by the Phoenix Police Department liaison that decisions about removing anyone from the parade route that day would be made by the Pride Parade organizers. Shortly thereafter, the police were sent to remove us just five minutes into our theatrical intervention thereby silencing our voices and putting our mostly undocumented community at great risk. We would have expected more from an LGBTQ+ institution that is supposed to carry on the tradition of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera’s struggle for justice.
Echo: What were the days that followed the parade like for TQP?
Bailon: We were encouraged by an outpouring of support from LGBTQ+ community of the message of bringing Pride back to its roots by making Pride safe for LGBTQ+ people of color and demanding that Pride stand with LGBTQ+ people of color in fighting for justice in our city.
Echo: In what ways has this helped your mission? Has your mission been negatively impacted in any ways?
Bailon: Our mission is to build the power and voice of the LGBTQ+ migrant community and LGBTQ+ people of color. This action brought LGBTQ+ people of color to the forefront and clarified what it looks like to stand as a unified LGBTQ+ community.
In this time of great threat from federal and state governments toward all of our communities, a unity of silence is not helpful and doesn’t protect anyone from transphobic laws in schools, from police brutality and persecution, from mass deportations or from threats to our health and wellbeing. In order to move forward in true and active unity, defending our communities and fighting for justice, we have to end the white supremacy, misogyny and transphobia that divide our LGBTQ+ community. We are often afraid to use these words – we might sound to angry, we might be dismissed – but we can’t solve a problem if we are too afraid or too complicit to name it.
If our LGBTQ+ institutions are allied with the corporations, police and governments that are carrying out acts of violence on migrants, native people, black people, trans people – in short, the majority of our community – then we are not standing together for LGBTQ+ justice.
Echo: Has TQP set a time and a place to meet with Phoenix Pride leadership?
Bailon: We set time to meet with Pride on the evening of the 28th of April. As queer and trans undocumented people of color, we face many threats and so we asked to hold the meeting in our office space, where membership is safe and secure. As an organization that is run by community members who volunteer hours of their lives to build justice in our city, we insisted that the same membership who planned the action and developed the demands be present.
Unfortunately, Pride chose not to show up at the meeting. They informed us that they would not come to our space and that they rejected a meeting with community members who were not on the organization’s board. Furthermore, the executive director Justin Owen stated that he would rather work with a “professionally led and organized agency.” This comment is just the sort of thinly veiled racism that is the crux of the problem: People of color are regularly dismissed for speaking their truth, as too angry, not professional or some other way to avoid discussing the content of the message. Again, this sort of racism is unacceptable.
Echo: What can readers/the community expect to see or hear from TQP in the coming months?
Bailon: We will continue the conversation about the political needs of the whole LGBTQ+ community, particularly trans and queer migrants and people of color, and how to hold the LGBTQ+ establishment accountable to the community they say they represent. We will host a series of evening conversations called Joti-PoliticAZ, the firt of which will be held in June …
We will also continue our work. Our team runs a free clinic for undocumented LGBTQ+ people, supports LGBTQ+ migrants in jails and detention centers, runs a legal course to support undocumented trans women in understanding the asylum process and other legal hurdles, supports migrant parents and families in learning how to best support their LGBTQ+ children. We work every day to survive as a community in a system that often persecutes, criminalizes, stigmatizes and brutalizes our people.
Phoenix Pride Releases Statement Regarding Planned Parade Protests
Justin Owen, executive director of Phoenix Pride, issued the following statement (dated March 31, 2017) in response to planned protests by immigrants’ rights activists at the 2017 Phoenix Pride Parade April 2, in Phoenix:
The annual Phoenix Pride Festival and Pride Parade serve as a community celebration to recognize the pride we have in our Phoenix LGBTQ community and to celebrate the advancements we have made in gaining rights, acceptance and standing in our city, our state and our country.
In recent years, we have joined together to revel in the national recognition of same-sex marriage, to rejoice in the defeat of dangerous and discriminatory policies like Arizona Senate Bill 1062, and to recognize the granting of equal rights protections in housing, employment and public accommodations by the City of Phoenix. 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.
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. The purpose of the Pride Festival and Parade is to honor our past, celebrate our present and look to our future, while providing the Phoenix LGBTQ community with a safe place to gather and enjoy.
Our first priority is always the safety and security of those who attend the Pride Festival and Parade, either as parade participants or as spectators, as well as those who attend the festival as guests. We are absolutely committed to this principle and cannot afford to condone any behavior that might disrupt the festivities in a way that could endanger anyone’s safety or security.
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. 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.
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. We ask our friends, neighbors and all fellow Phoenicians to respect our need to maintain safety, and to carry out any protest activities with respect and dignity and to not endanger themselves or any other members of the public.
“We anticipate a wonderful Pride weekend, and will look forward to resuming our normal business – including meeting with any members of the community who have concerns they wish us to hear – beginning on Monday.
As always, we express our appreciation for the support and assistance of the Phoenix civic, business and resident communities who make Phoenix Pride both possible and successful.
Source: Phoenix Pride.