Rainbow Rant: Protesting police violence is the best way to celebrate Pride

Joy Ellison
Dkeama Alexis, left, and Charlie Stewart, photographed in Mayme Moore Park in June 2019. Stewart, a member of Black Queer and Intersectional Collective (BQIC), has worked with other protest organizers to develop specific demands that were delivered to Mayor Ginther over the weekend.

Forget what you’ve heard; Pride was not canceled this year. The parade has been postponed, but queer and trans people in Columbus have marked the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in the most appropriate way possible: by demanding an end to police violence against Black people. 

“I was out protesting the first night it started,” said Tanner Gray, a Black genderqueer activist. “I stood on the front lines along with various Black, brown and white folks. We held our signs. We expressed our anger towards the police. We cried out in the names of all the folks we lost to police violence.”

Tanner said she felt safe surrounded by other activists, but that quickly ended when an officer pushed a protester in the face and police began pepper spraying the demonstrators. 

“The pepper spray was the worst pain I’ve endured to date. I couldn’t keep my eyes open longer than a second. My face, arms and legs were on fire. I could hardly breathe. People were running and trampling others over and I ended up falling and bruising my butt pretty good,” Gray said. 

Other demonstrators rushed to help. “A random woman, who I couldn’t even see what she looked like, held me and got me and my friends to safety in an alleyway. I was crying. Hard,” she said. “In the alleyway was a queer angel [that] I swear the universe sent to help me. They flushed my eyes out and calmed me down.”

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Like many protesters, Gray believes the Columbus Division of Police must be radically changed. “CPD [officers] do not want to keep us safe. They want to do the exact opposite,” she said. “CPD needs to start over.” 

Charlie Stewart, a member of Black Queer and Intersectional Collective (BQIC), has worked with other organizers to develop specific demands, which protesters presented at a demonstration outside Mayor Andrew Ginther’s house on Saturday, June 20. These demands include the resignation of Ginther and police chief Thomas Quinlan, the removal of police from schools, an end to qualified immunity of police officers, and the defunding of CPD. They say these demands represent “real steps we can take to build a world without police and prisons.”

Stewart also thinks the dangerous crowd control techniques used by Columbus police should be banned. 

Violence against demonstrators continued on Sunday, June 21. Lena Tenney, a white, nonbinary activist with TransOhio, was one of several demonstrators whom police officers pepper sprayed and beat with bicycles. “We weren’t doing anything except for standing in the street, and they just keep shoving everyone and started macing people,” said Tenney, who also sustained injuries earlier this month when police shot them with a wooden projectile.

“The reason why so many white people were brutalized is because they were repeatedly asked to protect Black bodies, and did,” Stewart said. “We need to push hard for accountability for this and even harder for all those who’ve lost their lives to police violence.”

Stewart sees the recent protests as part of a legacy of Black resistance. “Protesting is important to me because it was important to my ancestors,” Stewart said. “It is the way we, as Black people, have achieved justice — by demanding and forcing change, not begging for it.”

Sarah Green, a local Black comedian and activist, believes that for Black queer and transgender people, these protests reveal a truth their community already knows intimately. “[Protests are] shining a light on things we already knew were happening,” Green said. “This means for the time being, white people — LGBTQ and straight — are finally taking notice.”

Pride commemorates the 1969 Stonewall riots, which were sparked by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn. Led by Black transgender women and gender nonconforming people, including Marsha P. Johnson and Stormé DeLarverie, they were sparked by racist police violence just as much as homophobia and transphobia.

The uprising against police violence that is shaking our streets this June would make our queer and trans ancestors prouder than any parade.