On Saturday, June 28th of 1969 a riot against police antagonism and brutality against queer and trans people, led by trans women of color and other queer people of color, broke out at the Stonewall Inn in New York. This marked the annual tradition of what is now known as Pride, an event which has seemingly entered the liberal mainstream but is still surrounded by iterations of violence against LGBTQ folks, people of color, and Black people especially, by the police.
On Saturday, June 17th of 2017 a group of protesters interrupted the Stonewall Pride Parade in Columbus, Ohio to call attention to issues affecting LGBTQ people of color in the city, nation, and world at large. They were standing against the corporate co-optation of Pride; the lack of marginalized representation and the appalling police presence at the event; the acquittal of the officer who murdered Philando Castille; the trans women of color murdered so far this year; and the continuous silencing of marginalized communities in Columbus.
Their protest was silent and peaceful. Organizers took the street, blocking the parade, and asked simply for 7 minutes of silence for Black and trans lives lost to oppressive forces and state violence. Within seconds, they were met with police pushing them with bikes, spraying them with mace, forcing them to the concrete and piling on top of them to keep them on the ground. Two Black trans organizers were arrested, misgendered, and sexually harassed by Columbus police. One of them, a Black trans woman, was held in solitary confinement in a men’s prison. Two other Black organizers were also arrested and treated similarly.
The arrestees, now known as the #BlackPride4, were treated negligently, receiving little to no medical treatment for the chemical burns developing on their skin from mace, offered no food, water, or bathroom breaks for nearly an hour (and for some, even longer) after being arrested. Three of the four, Wriply Bennet (she/her/hers), Kendall Denton (he/him/his), and Ashley Braxton (she/her/hers) were released on bail that night. Deandre Miles (they/them/theirs), the last of the #BlackPride4 to be let out of jail, was released on bail two days later, and is facing a felony charge of aggravated robbery for allegedly trying to take an officer’s weapon while being arrested. Considering CPD’s reputation of cover ups and lies (look to the cases of Tyre King, Henry Green, and more) as well as video footage of the protest, if you ask me, this charge is nothing more than trumped up bull___ (fill in the blank) in an effort to cage another Black life as a lesson to the rest of us that resistance will be punished.
As all of this transpired, Stonewall Columbus - the event host - worked tirelessly to save their reputation, feigning care for the lives of these protesters. This statement was posted to Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival and Parade’s Facebook page the day of the protest:
“We are aware that several people were arrested at the Pride Parade today. We have contacted the highest county and city officials in order to guarantee their safety. We have sent representation from Stonewall to assist those that have been arrested. This situation is ongoing, and we will comment further when we have more facts and can be sure those in custody are safe.”
Beyond scolding and condescending protestors for their actions, Stonewall has done jack to ensure the safety and freedom of these community members.
Their “assist of those that have been arrested” was actually just a Stonewall representative speaking with organizers protesting for the release of the #BlackPride4 outside the Franklin County Correctional Center on Saturday about trainings they’ve performed with Jackson Pike County Jail staff on properly handling trans inmates, including separate housing (often in the form of isolation) for their “protection.” During this conversation, Stonewall’s representative essentially blamed organizers for the brutality they faced. Their stance is that organizers should have told Stonewall about their protest beforehand so that they could coordinate with police to let them hold the demonstration. Stonewall believes that organizers should have not only worked with the same police force they were protesting against, but also asked for Stonewall’s permission to protest in the first place.
Stonewall has continued to work with and defend the Columbus Police Department throughout this ordeal. Karla Rothan, Stonewall’s executive director, posted this statement to the Facebook page on Sunday:
“Stonewall Columbus Pride had many successes this weekend. We came together with over a half a million people strong. Some came to march for the first time others marched to honor their history, many attended to celebrate their families and the community came together for change. Stonewall works with our Columbus safety division to make sure that all of us have a safe event. It is our top priority. Members of the LGBTQ community staged a protest during the parade and were arrested as a result. We acknowledge those activists and their need to have their voices heard. We want you to know that we hear you not just at Pride weekend but all year round. Stonewall Columbus has been in contact with some of the members of the protest and we are hopeful that we can create a meaningful discussion that will make significant change and heal our hearts. Stonewall Columbus and Columbus Pride are here for everyone so that all of us feel included and valued. We need everyone as we strive to create a stronger LGBTQ community.”
Through their strong ties with CPD, Stonewall has made it clear that the safety of LGBTQ people of color is of no importance to them. “Meaningful discussion” means nothing without meaningful actions. If Stonewall was truly concerned about including and valuing all members of the community, they would be offering legal support and representation to the #BlackPride4, free of charge, and sever their ties with Columbus police. They would have the foresight to keep police out of all their future events, including the annual Pride parade and festival. They would not be shaming victims of police brutality for taking a stand against state violence and erasure.
Stonewall Columbus is an organization that exists for, and because of, the Columbus LGBTQ community. They must be accountable to that community for their actions. All Columbus LGBTQ folks and our comrades in the city must come together and organize for this accountability, for justice for the #BlackPride4, and for real change for the marginalized in our community.
For those looking for ways to support these organizers you can organize solidarity actions in your city against police brutality and transphobic violence, demanding that the charges be dropped against the #BlackPride4. You can also share and donate to the legal fund at this link: