In New York City this past Sunday, during the annual commemoration of the famous 1969 Stonewall Rebellion that was a seminal event in the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights, the third annual Queer Liberation March (QLM), organized by the Reclaim Pride Coalition, gathered in Midtown Manhattan’s Bryant Park, in the tradition of the original uprising 52 years ago. Unlike the larger, more well-known Pride March operated by Heritage Of Pride (HOP), the Queer Liberation March eschews corporate involvement at any level—no big floats or munificent sponsorships, no fancy VIP events, and no co-branding with top entertainment companies. QLM is a grassroots-level rally and march that focuses on LGBTQ issues of the day—transgender rights, the continuing murder of LGBTQ people in various countries around the globe, homo- and transphobia right here at home. The rally began drawing throngs of attendees well before its planned 2:30 PM start, with marchers from all over the world.

Queer Liberation March/City Limits

As the park filled with individuals and groups dressed in every type of expressive attire, carrying colorful signage calling attention to critical themes (”Black Trans Lives Matter!, Thank God I’m Gay!), the energy of the crowd grew with their rapidly increasing numbers. “We’re very happy with the turnout,” RPC organizer Reginald Brown told The Hollywood Digest.  “We’re gonna march all the way to Washington Square Park in the Village.” Filling Sixth Avenue from curb to curb, thousands stepped off in the city’s only in-person Pride March this year (HOP held localized, virtual “pop-ups” instead, which were televised by the local ABC-TV station).  Making their voices heard as they wound their way downtown, QLM participants demanded an end to the killings of LGBTQ people, particularly people of color, greater protections for trans youth, and restorations for indigenous LGBTQ Americans.

One main theme for QLM is their insistence on a NYPD-free March, which also tracked with HOP’s decision last month to ban the NYPD’s Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) from taking part in Pride Marches for the next four years.  “For many people in the community, that uniform is triggering, that creates a sense of being unsafe and unwelcome,” HOP co-chair Andre Thomas said in a press conference explaining his organization’s action. GOAL protested, saying a “few negative interations” between the NYPD and the LGBTQ community didn’t “cancel millions of positive experiences,” according to Sgt. Ana Arboleda of GOAL. Although the two sides have not discussed the ban further, both HOP and GOAL were reportedly open to future talks to resolve the dispute.

The issue at hand was brought into sharp relief sat the end of the Queer Liberation March, however, as marchers rallied at Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village between 6 and 8 PM, just steps from the route of both Marches. Apparently without provocation, citing people “blocking the sidewalk”, scores of NYPD officers converged on the park, many from the Strategic Response Group (SRG), a rapid-deployment unit that has lately been employed to quell public protests. As the cops poured into the area, skirmishes broke out between the police and the marchers. Witnesses reported seeing police use “pepper spray, shoving and beating” attendees, while blocking egress from the park, to facilitate arrests. According to an NYPD spokesperson, seven people were taken into custody for “disorderly conduct and assaulting officers”.

One Heritage Of Pride official, speaking anonymously, said the melee at QLM “underscored” their organization’s decision to eject the NYPD group from their march. GOAL representatives were unavailable for comment at press time. Both HOP and Reclaim Pride said their Marches would return in 2022.