As Alicia T. Crosby reminded RevGals last week, the first pride was a riot.

In her beautiful description of being a barrier between hate speech and pride celebrations, Crosby asks us about how we assure safe space for LGBTQ+ folx:

How are you positioning yourself between people experiencing oppression and those calling for and actively engaging in their subjugation? How are you reflecting and affirming the sacred beauty present in those experiencing marginalization?

Who are we facing? Who gets our backs? How are we postured? What are we doing? How are we positioned to express solidarity and care?

These are crucial questions, during Pride Month and always.  Two weeks into Pride Month, I want us to think about her questions even more deeply, and how we might carry that “posture” into our congregational life the whole year.

The first pride was a riot.

In 2015, Denver police murdered 17-year-old queer Latinx Jessie Hernandez as Jessie and friends sat in a car in an alley early in the morning.  Not one officer was ever held accountable for Jessie’s murder.

Queer/trans youth of color (QTPOC youth) repeatedly asked the Denver LGBTQ center to speak out for Jessie, to condemn police violence, to show some kind of solidarity with Jessie’s grieving family.  But the center refused to respond. So the QTPOC youth decided to disrupt the pride parade in June 2015, with Jessie’s siblings and some white accomplices, to declare that Pride be in honor of Jessie.

justice 4 jessie
Icon of Jessie on Rev. Anne’s protest stole, carried over her heart (still).

With giant banners with Jessie’s name and image, the group moved into the parade and stopped its movement while QTPOC youth read a statement.  A couple of us went into the center’s rooftop party to negotiate that the livestream hold silence while the statement was read.

The response from white gays and lesbians was…horrible.  White gays/lesbians, including staff of the center, yelled at, cursed at, and shoved the QTPOC youth.  We were threatened with arrest.  The yelling and cursing continued when we joined the TransFamilia group to walk the rest of the parade route.

I’ll never forget how angry the white gays/lesbians were, or how the center’s pride director yelled in my face: “You’re ruining our pride.”

The first pride was a riot.

A riot against police violence, to protect the lives and dignity of LGBTQ+ folks, led by lesbians/transwomen of color.

For years, QTPOC beloveds have been disrupting pride parades when white gays/lesbians refuse to listen to calls for solidarity against police violence and “rainbow-washed” corporate sponsors who do immense harm in communities of color.

What does this have to do with churches?

After Jessie’s murder, white Christians, including clergy, were also absent from efforts for solidarity.  When I approached white clergy colleagues about their congregations perhaps sitting out that year’s parade and publicly showing solidarity with Jessie instead, they shrugged and chose to march. “It’s important folks know we’re welcoming.”

As a queer clergywoman, believe me when I tell you it’s crucial for congregations to be vocally and publicly unequivocal in our welcoming of LGBTQ+ folks into the life and full leadership of our churches.

And as a white person, it’s crucial I am – and we are – always interrogating who that welcome is actually for.

Crosby’s questions are useful here: “How are you positioning yourself?”  During the rest of the year, what are white Christians doing to assure that QTPOC beloveds are valued and their safety centered?  How are we, as white Christians, positioning ourselves in the fight for collective liberation?

Obviously, we can show up for folx of color fighting against police violence, including getting police out of pride events.  And also, we can work in our own congregations to reduce and even eliminate our own reliance on policing.

Policing in the US is a white supremacist system that enforces enslavement, colonization, and borders.  As Andrea Ritchie makes clear in her book “Invisible No More,” one of the key roles of policing is to enforce gender identity, expression, and binaries.  Simply put, when white congregations rely on policing we give moral credence to that system and make our spaces less safe for QTPOC folx.

When we march in a policed pride, but don’t show up for the Jessies in our community, what we’re really saying is that we’re welcoming whiteness.

The first pride was a riot against police violence that also opened up our imaginations about what it means to keep one another safe.  QTPOC folx then and now know that communities can love and protect one another.  We don’t need systems of state violence to do that on our behalf.  See the alternative pride in Columbus, OH, for one of many examples.  Alicia T. Crosby’s questions to us invite us right into that liberative imagination.

As ever, in honor of Jessie.  Jessie vive, y la lucha sigue.


Rev. Anne Dunlap is a pastor, activist, and herbal warrior; the Faith Coordinator for SURJ; and UCC Community Minister who recently moved to Haudenosenee land currently called Buffalo, NY. She is committed to fierce love and collective liberation, working in freedom movements with folks across race, gender, and class lines for nearly 30 years.  Follow her on Twitter/Insta @fiercerev. Her website is fiercerevremedies.com.


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3 thoughts on “The Pastoral Is Political: The First Pride Was a Riot

  1. Oh, wow, Anne. “When we march in a policed pride, but don’t show up for the Jessies in our community, what we’re really saying is that we’re welcoming whiteness.” That’s the whole thing right there. Thank you for the challenge and for your witness.

    Liked by 1 person

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