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Protest planned for Stonewall Riots' 51st anniversary, Black Lives Matter

People walk by the Stonewall Inn, an iconic

People walk by the Stonewall Inn, an iconic bar for the LGBTQ community, on Thursday in Manhattan. Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Organizers of a splinter LGBTQ Pride group plan to march Sunday to mark the Stonewall Riots’ 51st anniversary — having scrapped online-only plans due to outrage over George Floyd’s bystander-recorded death while a Minneapolis cop pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck.

The march, starting at 1 p.m. at Manhattan’s Foley Square and heading north for a 4:30 p.m. arrival at Washington Square Park, is a “Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality,” according to the group's website.

The precise route is being kept secret because, “We don’t want to give the NYPD any opportunity to throw up roadblocks for us,” organizer Jay W. Walker said. The route is expected to pass several landmarks in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer history, including the Stonewall Inn, site of riots that began June 28, 1969, and the Christopher Street Piers, a locus of 1970s gay activism, nude sunbathing and cruising.

The march is organized by a group called the Reclaim Pride Coalition, formed two years ago with the belief that the main Pride parade had become too corporate — and NYPD-friendly. Citing the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio in April canceled the official Pride parade, which last year drew up to 5 million people, and its organizers, the rival Heritage of Pride, said they’d put the event online.

Reclaim Pride also was planning for an online-only event, said Walker, 52, but then “the world saw Mr. Floyd being murdered,” and by early June, “We had to go to the original concept of having an actual, live march.”

“That march would be explicitly for Black lives and against police brutality,” he said. Among other changes, organizers want a $1 billion cut from the NYPD’s $6 billion budget, when the city’s fiscal plan is finalized. 

Both the Reclaim Pride and the Heritage of Pride events commemorate a riot against the NYPD — the raid of the Stonewall Inn, when patrons fought back during an NYPD raid of that bar, which is credited with catalyzing the modern gay rights movement. During these sorts of raids, the police would beat patrons, but that Saturday night in 1969, patrons and others hurled bricks and fists and trash cans at the cops, and protests and unrest lasted days.

Now the parade marking those riots, the Heritage of Pride event, has corporate sponsorship and NYPD marchers. The Reclaim group eschews both.

Tawni Engel, director of Pride for Youth, an LGBTQ-support organization in Bellmore and Deer Park, said she and her clients found out too late to go in person this year, but several plan to watch a livestream.

“We really relate to the cause. Reclaim Pride is all about taking back the original intent of what Pride is and getting away from corporate sponsors and actually having some meaning and not just having it be just this big party,” she said, adding: “It’s not all about Budweiser.”

Like Heritage’s main event, which is virtual and being broadcast on WABC/7, the Reclaim event has an online component, which will include livestreaming the march itself. Among the hosts directing the ceremonies from Stonewall is poet, actor, teacher and activist Pamela Sneed.

Walker said participants are being encouraged to wear masks at the in-person event, and that face coverings will be available to attendees, to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

He said the organizers aren’t sure how many people will show up. Last year, he said, there were about 45,000.

“Sometimes we feel like if we build it, they will come,” he said. “Other times we feel, it’ll just be our friends who show up.”

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