To me, the only thing that feels better than walking in a LGBT pride parade is watching LGBT youth walk in pride. I've seen tears stream down their faces as they are celebrated and validated and applauded by crowds for who they are. As a community organizer, when I first got confirmation that The LGBT Service Network cancelled the Long Island Pride Parade -- a parade that was legally fought for 25-years ago -- I knew something had to be done. In a time where LGBT folks in other states are losing their basic civil rights, I could not believe our own community was eliminating history. The LGBT Service Network informed me, however, that there would still be a PrideFest in the park with headliners Belinda Carlisle and 10,000 Maniacs (neither of which are LGBT).
The Long Island Pride Parade is steeped in 25 years of rich history. In the early 1990s, our community fought in the courts to march and celebrate, because Long Islanders were told that only "traditional" parades were allowed. The first Long Island Pride Parade was held in 1991 and grew annually over the years. It grew so much that several years ago the community members who had organized the parade felt it was time to give it to an organization that could better fit the event's growing capacity -- The LGBT Service Network took on ownership of the event. However, over the past few years, what occurred instead was the corporation and monetization of a community event. Upon becoming the producers of the Long Island Pride Parade, the organization first changed the day of the parade from a Sunday to a Saturday, to allow the sale of alcohol, subsequently shortening the route (as the town wouldn't allow the closure of Main St. on a Saturday). Historical photos of Long Island Pride Parade were then removed from the event, local organizations were restricted and charged tabling fees, and local LGBT performers were quickly replaced with heterosexual celebrities, with a stark lack of representation for transgender people, LGBT people of color and other marginalized people.
When I received no follow-up from The LGBT Service Network about the cancellation of the parade, I began organizing support to reinstate it or create our own. I posted that we would "push back" and demand answers and visibility. Instead of answers, I received a call from the Hate Crimes Unit of the Suffolk County Police. The Network had reported me for a hate crime for speaking out online. The officers assured me I had freedom of speech and were surprised to find out that this organization had at times worked with me at events. I assembled a committee of local individuals who showed interest in organizing our own parade and a boycott of the LI PrideFest event. We are growing daily, and have not received any responses or welcome from the organization. Instead, we have been blocked from their Facebook pages, our comments erased and general community members who ask about the cancellation on their Facebook page are met with swift deletion. The LGBT Service Network has not responded to us and they have not held a community forum to address the cancelation.
The Long Island LGBTQA+ community deserves better than to be silenced for the corporatization of Pride. The community deserves the joy of the parade, the connection to other members, to teach spectators about our history, to be seen and to be heard -- the community deserves visibility. That is why the coalition has come together to keep the tradition alive in the community for the community. We, the Long Island LGBTQA+ Visibility Coalition, are proud to join in the #NotOurPride movement happening in Los Angeles and all over the country. We stand in solidarity with others who call for the centering and celebrating of the most marginalized voices in our community over corporate bank sponsorships and straight white pop singers from the 1980s to draw a crowd and make money.
We now call for a boycott of LI PrideFest and offer instead a walk for community visibility on June 12th in Sayville Long Island at 12:30 p.m. by meeting us at the Sayville Train Station.