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Pride organizers say police brutality protests a familiar story

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend,

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., speaks at the Long Island Pride celebration hosted online. Credit: LGBT NETWORK

Bricks and trash cans and fists hurled at the cops. Crowds refusing orders to disperse. Protests and unrest lasting days over long-standing abuse by society and the police.

Long Island’s livestreamed Virtual Pride event on Sunday afternoon hinted at the riotous roots that helped grow America’s modern gay-rights movement — likening what happened beginning June 28, 1969, at Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn to the protests and unrest globally sparked by viral video of George Floyd’s death.

“Pride started as a riot. Pride started because of police brutality against the LGBTQ community. And it was the few brave trans women of color who threw that first brick when they said, ‘you know what, we’re not going to take it anymore’ and fought back,” said David Kilmnick, event organizer and president of the LGBT Network. “And so here we are, half a century later, with the Black Lives Matter movement fighting for racial justice against police brutality.”

Sunday’s event, coming at the start of nearly the third week of such protests, was streamed online and telecast instead of a parade and related celebrations at Jones Beach as planned. Kilmnick in April canceled the in-person gathering because of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Politicians, singers, actors, schoolchildren and other ordinary Long Islanders celebrated the cause and shared stories of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or those who just offer support.

“I can’t believe how big it’s grown since Huntington,” said Tracey A. Edwards, Long Island regional director of the NAACP and commissioner of the state Public Service Commission. 

Huntington is where Long Island’s Pride originated. In 1991, the town initially refused to issue a permit.

“We were denied the right to march in every single township that we applied to,” Kilmnick recalled Sunday, but the town relented under pressure from a federal judge and allowed the Island’s first gay and lesbian pride parade.

That was 22 years after Stonewall, when patrons fought back during an NYPD raid of that bar. During these sorts of raids, patrons would routinely be beaten by the police.

Kilmnick was one of the organizers for the 1991 parade.

“There were snipers on the roofs. There were the hateful signs, you know, the Jesus signs against LGBT folks,” he said.

Samuel Chu, LGBT Network board member and Edgewise Energy chief executive, said, “Long Island hasn’t always historically been that accepting.” 

But 29 years later, as at other Pride events across the country, Sunday’s livestream was a who’s who of the region’s politicians, including the executives of both counties, Suffolk’s Steve Bellone and Nassau’s Laura Curran; U.S. Reps. Kathleen Rice and Tom Suozzi; state Attorney General Letitia James; and both U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.

He said one of the “the first things we’ll put on the floor of the Senate” if he becomes majority leader is the Equality Act, which would extend anti-discrimination protections based on “sexual orientation, gender identity” or “sex-based stereotypes.” He said the fact that the legislation hasn’t passed is “outrageous, outrageous, outrageous.”

Among the reasons there’s conservative-driven opposition: It would prohibit discrimination in sports and at places such as bathrooms and locker rooms, based on gender identity — an inner sense of male, female or a hybrid of both or none at all — not just what’s on one’s birth certificate.

Whether current federal law from 1964 — outlawing discrimination on the basis of sex — already covers LGBT people was argued last year before the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, by a 6-3 margin, the justices ruled that the law does extend beyond sex to include sexual oritentation and gender identity. 

Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and the first openly gay person to be a major presidential contender, said at the virtual Pride event that “every struggle is different, but every struggle is connected.”

“Whether you participate in Pride every year, or if this is your first, or if you are not yet ready to come out or can’t do so safely,” he said, “I am with you no matter what in that celebration and in that struggle.” 

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