“When the Providence Journal covered the first Pride parade in 1976, the headline read, City Tolerates First Homosexual Parade,” said Ray Sirico, President of Rhode Island Pride to the crowd of hundreds gathered in Cathedral Square in Providence. “I was 12 years old then. I had been bullied, harassed and assaulted for living my truth. Newspaper headlines have evolved, but oppression and injustice still rain down like hellfire. As he leader of the largest queer organization in Providence, I want to give you my assurance that I stand with you. Rhode Island Pride has your back in this fight.“
Rhode Island Pride’s 2020 Resistance and Resilience Rally for QTPOC (Queer/Trans People of Color) on Saturday afternoon followed the same route as the very first Pride parade in Rhode Island and on the same date. The route of the parade, held without the assistance or coordination of the Providence Police Department, followed as closely as possible the original 1976 parade. This being the era of COVID-19, attendees were encouraged to wear masks and practice social distancing. Everyone in attendance seems to have done so.
In 1976, about 70 people marched. In 2020, there were hundreds.
This being Pride, it started with music.
“A little over a year ago we gathered here as a demonstration of solidarity against the hateful words of Bishop Tobin… who wrongly accused our Pride community of being harmful to children,” said Ray Sirico, explaining why the march was beginning in Cathedral Square. “Today we gather here to demand justice for our trans siblings of color who systemically experience discrimination and oppression from the police. It seems more and more that we have transformed this place from a beacon of hatred and division to s symbol of solidarity and change.”
“We have yielded our platform for the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Tina Blenke, Vice President of Community Outreach at Rhode Island Pride. “Today we wanted to stand in solidarity. Originally, we wanted to have demands for our government, for our City and for our Police Department, but then as we were working through each of our demands, we realized that we needed to look art ourselves first, and we needed to make changes within our own organization first.
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‘That’s where change happens. You see what is wrong within, and you fix that problem.”
Blenke listed six internal reforms to Rhode Island Pride going forward.
- Rhode Island Pride takes the stand that police do not belong at Pride events, parades or marches. When we find adequate opportunities to provide security without the use of the police, those opportunities will be used first. Our commitment is to our community and not with the police.
- Rhode Island Pride pledges to dedicate resources to fight systemic racism in all institutions within Rhode Island, including but not limited to police departments, local governments, and community businesses.
- Rhode Island Pride will form a diversity committee that will be made up of LGBTQIA+ people of color and marginalized community members in an advisory role to the Board of Directors. Rhode Island Pride affirms that we are committed to promoting diversity within our Board of Directors and our membership.
- There are to be no uniformed or visibly armed police officers or their vehicles participating in the Rhode Island Pride Illuminated Night Parade. This extends to all law enforcement officers and agencies.
- All corporations and for-profit entities wishing to participate in Rhode Island Pride events must display a consistent and direct culture of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, and support racial justice reforms in government and law enforcement. This includes releasing a record of all political campaign contributions and a review by our vetting committee.
- We don’t want it to stop here in Rhode Island. Rhode Island Pride encourages Pride organizations worldwide to adopt these reforms.
“We’re pulling away from the trademark of Pride, because with no justice, there is no Pride,” said Blenke.
Next up were speakers, talking about their personal stories and calling for action:
Alexis Toliver led those in attendance in an eight minute and 46 seconds moment of silence in memory of George Floyd, who was murdered by Minneapolis Police Officers a month ago.
Taking the steps of the Rhode Island State House:
Upon arrival at the Rhode Island State House, Rhode Island State Police, including at least one K-9 unit, tried to stop the march from taking the top of the steps for their speaking program. Things were heated, but eventually the police backed down.
More speeches and music from the steps of the Rhode Island State House: