Queer Insurgency hopes to fill in the blanks at Noho Pride

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By: Tynan Power/TRT Reporter-

On May 7th, more than 70 contingents are expected to march into history as part of Northampton’s 30th Annual Pride Parade and Rally-but one LGBTQ group won’t be among them.

Instead, Queer Insurgency-a recently-formed regional grass-roots group-will stand on the sidelines with signs that ask open-ended questions about the issues the group feels are left out of Pride today. The signs are designed to be thought-provoking: “What about racism?” “What about transphobia?” “What about teen suicide?”

“We’re trying to fill-in-the-gaps,” as transgender activist Bet Power explained. “We’re not going to disrupt Pride.”

Queer Insurgency has a list of issues members think should be on the Noho Pride agenda, from transphobia and HIV/AIDS to unemployment and the prison industrial complex. Yet racial and ethnic diversity have taken center stage in the controversy around the protest.

A Queer Insurgency press release stated that only one person of color sits on Noho Pride’s twenty-seat committee. The entertainment lineup is also almost entirely white and all four Parade Grand Marshals are white.

Critical statements quoted in an article about the controversy on the MassLive website-and in reader responses to it-prompted Noho Pride’s entertainment chair J.C. Ortiz Calcaño to refute the comments.

“As the only ‘Black/Person of Color’ and most senior member in the new Noho Pride organization, I find a lot of this so-called feedback regarding ‘commercialism’ and lack of ‘political’ focus unfounded and outright hilarious,” Calcaño wrote. “Diversity and inclusivity goes far beyond inclusion of ‘token’ persons of color or representatives of minority groups within the LGBTI community.

Barbara Allen, a past co-chair of Northampton Pride, recalls the challenge of putting together a diverse lineup for the event.

“I booked the people on stage for the five years I did the Pride March with Melinda [Shaw],” Allen said. “I remember we had eight weeks to organize, get permits, entertainment, food, insurance, etc.-not much time to pull off a huge event … and we did it!  Over the years we had Matt Yee (an Asian gay singer), an African-American drag king, a Trans speaker when people were first talking out loud about being Trans, a gay comic, and Barney Frank, to name a few.”

“We worked to be inclusive,” she said. “Yes, it was hugely time-consuming-and a great thing to do!”
However last year, Northampton Pride ceased to exist. Instead, its successor “Noho Pride” was formed and incorporated as a 501(c)3 organization.

This year’s Pride committee has no doubt faced some challenges. Calcaño stated that Noho Pride originally did have people of color in the entertainment lineup.

“For unfortunate reasons, those persons were not able to meet their commitment,” he said.
That has left Noho Pride in a difficult position.

“Right now,” Noho Pride Director Bear White said, “they are saying we should get somebody up there just because we don’t have people of color, not because of the person. That doesn’t seem like it’s a very good way to do it.”

White feels that Noho Pride still includes diversity in other important ways, such as having lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Grand Marshals, award-winning transgender actress/author/activist Calpernia Addams and Deaf performer Robert DeMayo. Noho Pride also has a liaison to the transgender community and an ASL coordinator who serves as a liaison to the Deaf community.

Power doesn’t feel those successes make up for the lack of racial and ethnic diversity, though. He also questions whether having a “transgender liaison” is the same as being trans-inclusive.

“It’s like we’re an outside group they need a liaison to talk to,” Power said, clearly mystified.

Organizers are finding the criticism frustrating, especially as it has come so late in the planning process.

“Having this come up three weeks before Pride is not that productive,” White said. “In September, we asked everyone to please be part of our committee. If they expressed interest by sending any one of us an email saying ‘I would really like to on the committee,’ we would have gladly invited them to come on, because all of the people [on the committee] are volunteers.”

Even the best of intentions, however, can fall flat.

Nelson Roman, President of the Holyoke For All-Holyoke “Para Todos” Board of Directors, tried to get involved last fall after meeting one of Noho Pride’s Board members.

“I emailed her twice and never heard anything back,” Roman said.

Amaad Rivera, Springfield’s first openly gay city councilor, also would have liked to have been involved with Noho Pride. He admits to having been surprised that he wasn’t approached to participate.

Queer Insurgency also hopes to draw attention to the shift members feel Pride has made from being a political march for LGBT rights to being a big queer party.

“The theme now is parties and more parties,” Power said. “I’m not against partying, but if you put politics into the party, then you’re leading people somewhere.”

Now, Power feels, people are being “herded like cattle” to an increasingly commercial event.

White pointed out that the “commercial” vendors at Noho Pride are mostly for local LGBT-owned businesses. Vendors and business sponsors are welcome, according to White, because the committee is determined to keep Noho Pride free. Marching in the parade and attending the rally are both free.

Still, the costs of the full Pride experience-including Kate Clinton’s Friday night performance, lunch and bottled water at the rally, a Noho Pride t-shirt and 30th anniversary commemorative book, followed by attending a post-Pride after-party-add up quickly. Power and others in Queer Insurgency feel that Noho Pride has turned into a business venture.

“The purpose of a Pride march is to recreate Stonewall,” Power said. “[Noho Pride] replaced our annual march for our rights. It co-opted it.”

While White has said that establishing Noho Pride as a 501(c)3 non-profit last year will mean greater stability and legal standing for the event, Power believes it has taken power away from the community.
“It’s seen as ownership,” Power said. “But no one asked the community.”

In contrast, when Power was on the Northampton Pride committee in 1993, he explained, there were community meetings of hundreds of people who voted for Pride committee members.

Noho Pride’s constituent community has changed since the ‘90s, though, as the event has become increasingly regional. Northampton Pride’s former chair Melinda Shaw recalls that regionalization as part of growing and promoting the event.

“We reached out to all of New England for marketing, to get folks to attend. We reached as far and wide as we could afford for performers,” Shaw said.

Roman, of Holyoke For All-“Holyoke Para Todos” also feels that Noho Pride organizers need to reach out to the rest of the region-not just for attendance, but for involvement and representation of diverse populations.

“Northampton is a different universe than the [neighboring] cities,” Roman said. “But the spirit of it is beautiful. I wish that they could bridge the gap and really come down to us and say ‘How can we get Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke or the lower Valley involved.’”

Springfield City Councilor Rivera knows that closing the gap may not be easy-but it is necessary for a truly representative regional event.

“There can be bridges between those communities,” Rivera said. “I do often think there is an assumption that there is not a strong LGBT community in Springfield. I think it’s because [some] are poor or they are people of color and therefore they are perceived to be invisible.”

Rivera and Roman aren’t wasting time waiting for Noho Pride to build bridges, though. Both are actively involved in a planning a regional pride in Springfield for 2012, an event they say will be consciously inclusive of the area’s diverse population and will include bilingual speakers.

Roman also isn’t letting his dissatisfaction with Noho Pride keep him away from the area’s largest LGBTQ gathering of the year. He plans to be in Northampton on May 7th to support Holyoke’s GSA students and to spread the word about the 5th Annual Western Mass Youth Prom slated for May 14th.

Meanwhile those who have put tireless hours into making Noho Pride a reality-however flawed-share concern that Queer Insurgency’s protest will be divisive.

“I believe people should spend less time and energy criticizing an event that was meant to bring together our community,” Calcaño said, “and spend more time offering help/support for change and awareness.”
Bear White acknowledges that Noho Pride can learn from criticism.

“This isn’t really what I want to talk about on our 30th Anniversary,” White said, referring to the media coverage of the Queer Insurgency. “But protest is what we have always done [in the LGBTQ community]. We do get praise for the things that we do and we also have to be able to recognize some of the things that we don’t do. I think that is important.”

Bet Power said he hopes that Queer Insurgency’s action will have a positive impact.

“I’ve been through this,” he said. “This is good. It will lead to something better.”

Queer Insurgency will present The Black and Radical Origins of the LGBTIQ Pride Movement on May 7th at 7pm at the Media Education Foundation in Northampton, MA. Anyone wishing to get involved with Noho Pride for 2012 can visit www.nohopride.org or contact info@nohopride.org. Anyone interested in performing or speaking at next year’s event may contact the chair of entertainment by emailing entertainment@nohopride.org.