At this year’s Pensacola Pride festival, there was a defiant protest of the organizers’ decision to ignore nearly 200 petition signers and lead off the festival with the pro-slavery U.S. national anthem. A group of 15 working-class people, mostly transgender people, voiced their principled dissent.
As the anthem was being sung at the beginning of Pride celebrations, protesters unfurled a banner that read, “O SAY CAN YOU SEE? FRANCIS SCOTT KEY SUPPORTED SLAVERY!” They held it up in front of the stage for the anthem’s duration and then marched with the banner around Seville Square Park where booths were set up.
This protest was led by Strive, an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist transgender advocacy organization. Several of its members are currently candidates in Workers World Party, and two of the candidates participated directly in the action, as well as this writer, a leader of Strive.
The protest came after several weeks of attempts to have the national anthem removed from Pride. Strive made a public statement outlining in detail the history of the song and the anti-Black, usually overlooked third verse, and the fact that Francis Scott Key was a fierce critic of abolitionism and proponent of slavery. The anthem is anti-Black, racist and outdated, and therefore has no place in Pride or in any sectors of the LGBTQ2S+ movement.
The Gay Grassroots organizers of Pensacola Pride acknowledged this anti-Black history, but chose to keep the anthem, citing, “their love of the military” over the protests of hundreds of Black and Brown, queer and trans people who supported its removal.
Strive’s line is that racism and imperialist war are fundamentally contradictory to the goal of LGBTQ2S+ liberation.
After being told by Gay Grassroots that “silent, respectful protests” would be allowed, Strive arrived at the park to be greeted by a hostage negotiator cop, who seemed to know about Strive’s protest before it even began. Gay Grassroots claimed that their organization had not called the cops — but someone must have.
Strive’s protest continued, despite this attempt at intimidation. Strive and allies put up an “empty-chairs” vigil to honor the 11 transgender women of color murdered in the U.S. so far in 2019. Tribute was also paid to Nigel Shelby, a 15-year-old gay Black youth who committed suicide in April due to bullying in Alabama.
In effect, the cops were called out on LGBTQ2S+ people because of a silent protest and a vigil dedicated to murdered Black transgender women and a gay man.
After the protest, Strive attempted to set up a booth to distribute free materials to the people — zines, buttons, papers and hygiene products. Strive did not register as a vendor because the organization was not selling anything (as is always the case). Also Strive did not pay the vendor fee because the $75 fee is an outrageous amount of money to pay at a Pride event in order to be visible.
In response to Strive giving away free materials to people, Gay Grassroots again called the cops — the second time cops were summoned against Strive in the same day at this so-called Pride event.
Despite not selling anything, Strive agreed to take its table down and continued a successful distribution on foot, receiving much support.
But one cannot overlook the alarming reality that a “progressive” LGBT organization called the cops on a group of transgender and gender nonconforming people — an act of violence that endangers people who face disproportionately high rates of police brutality.
And the Pensacola cops were called at a Pride event that marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, which was led by queer, gendernonconforming, trans people of color fighting police brutality!
This “rainbow capitalism” is a political plague in our LGBTQ2S+ movement that must be contained, fought and eradicated. Groups like Strive are working to do just that. There are already talks about an alternative Pride next year in northwest Florida: no cops, no corporate sponsors, no capitalist politicians, no big money, taken from the people and never accounted for again!
Such a Pride would follow Strive’s principle: All money from the community must be put back into the community.