The fifth annual Bed-Stuy Pride transformed Herbert Von King Park this past Sunday into a space for the celebration of LGBT, two-spirited, and gender-non-conforming people of color living in Central Brooklyn. Local artists, small businesses, and non-profits came together to create a day of performances, workshops, and music that felt more like an activist picnic than the corporate-sponsored NYC Pride that’s held in Manhattan every June.
Bed-Stuy resident Cherno Biko likened the event to a family reunion and said that she was happy to have a space where she could be fully herself. “I think that when we show up whole and authentically we allow other people to do the same,” she said. “In so many places I can go and I can be black but I can’t be trans, or I can’t be LGBT. Or if I go to a LGBT space I can’t be black, I can’t talk about race. So it’s good to come to a place in Brooklyn where I can bring my whole self and see reflections of me in the people who are organizing it and participating in it.”
The event’s organizer, The Safe OUTside the System (SOS) Collective, is an anti-violence program housed under the larger Audre Lorde Project, which has been organizing LGBT people of color in NYC for 21 years. SOS uses community-based strategies like Bed-Stuy Pride to challenge hate and police violence, and is comprised of volunteers mostly from Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, and Bushwick. Support from non-LGBT and white allies is welcome, but the collective itself is made up of LGBT, two-spirited, and gender-non-conforming people of color.
The activist roots of the collective showed clearly at Bed-Stuy pride; the event closed with a chant from the stage led in both English and Spanish: “It’s our duty to fight. It’s our duty to win. We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”Eugene Carrindton, an SOS volunteer who helped to plan the event, recalled a Bed-Stuy that just eight years ago saw violent homophobia and a few murders, where a man couldn’t walk on the streets dressed femininely or with his gay friends without having to worry about getting insulted. He said that SOS decided to target Central Brooklyn, “so that regular people could see that gays and lesbians are no different than anybody else in the neighborhood, that we don’t fit the stereotypes that some of these religious groups and other conservative outlets like to put on us.”
Though Carrindton has seen a marked difference in the attitude toward LGBT people in his neighborhood, he added that “some gay groups talk about New York as if it’s such a gay-friendly place, but it’s still homophobic. There’s still attacks on gay people in the city.”
The vendors tabling at the event ranged from organizations like Brooklyn Men (K)onnect, which was offering free on-site HIV testing, to artists such as Cristy C. Road, whose comics and books can be found in activist bookstores around the country, to Kemba Bloodworth, who runs a vintage shop a few blocks away from the park.
Bloodworth has been tabling at Bed-Stuy Pride since its inception five years ago. “LGBTQ people need to have safe spaces and be represented within Bed-Stuy,” she said about the event. “So it’s important to have events like this to remind people in Bed-Stuy that this community is here and a part of the larger community.”
Bed-Stuy Pride showed an antithesis of a tendency to disregard trans people and people of color when talking about LGBT issues — something that Biko pointed out when mentioning that she’s a part of the forthcoming film Happy Birthday Marsha, about transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson’s involvement in the Stonewall Riots of 1969, which spurred Pride events in New York and around the country.“Our work is not done, and that’s why I’m here,” said Biko. “Because I have to bear witness for the living and the dead. So when we think about pride, it means more than marriage, it means more than a parade, it means more than corporate sponsorship. It means protecting our community’s most vulnerable and at-risk communities, which is how this was started nearly 50 years ago with Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major raising hell at Stonewall and rebelling against the police… Which is really interesting, considering that next month a whitewashed Hollywood version of the Stonewall story will be released into theaters nationwide.” The film, Stonewall, has garnered criticism for claiming to be based on the true story but not including in its account trans people and people of color who were central to the riots.