Trans Queer Pueblo

Queer and trans immigrants rights activists in Phoenix blocked the route of the city’s Pride parade on Sunday with a huge banner that read “no justice, no pride.”

About 100 activists blocked the parade for roughly 5 minutes, just as the Phoenix Police Department float and the newly elected Maricopa County Sheriff, Paul Penzone, started marching. The protesters actually took over the route immediately behind the police float and blocked Penzone from continuing.

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Sheriff Penzone jumped in a car and drove away. The activists ended up marching down the parade route to loud booing from spectators.

The activists were protesting law enforcement participation in the event, as well the presence of corporate sponsor Bank of America, one of six banks that have been leaders in funding private prison companies that operate immigration detention centers, according to a petition published by the LGBTQ immigrant rights group Trans Queer Pueblo.

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“We hope that people are able to understand that equality is possible when we work together and support each other,” Dagoberto Bailon, who helped organized the protest, told me in a telephone interview.

Bailon said his group intended to block the parade until Phoenix Pride organizers agreed to have a meeting with them. They decided to march down the parade once police threathened to arrest them. The activists say Phoenix Pride should use its connections with elected officials to call more attention to immigrant rights.

(UPDATE: Phoenix Pride organizers told me after this article was published that they have every desire to meet with the activists. They claimed they didn’t receive the group’s demands until Thursday evening, just hours before Pride festivities officially kicked off. They said this was too late for any practical solutions to be discussed.)

The protest and reaction from some frustrated onlookers in Phoenix highlights a rift between the broader gay rights movement and LGBTQ immigrants of color. Trans Queer Pueblo marched in the Phoenix Pride parade in 2015 with hopes of connecting the fight for gay marriage with immigrant rights, but after little progress the group decided to protest at this year’s event.

A protestor gets into a heated exchange with a Phoenix Pride parade goer. Photo: Trans Queer Pueblo

Pride celebrations honor a movement that was founded on civil disobedience—much of it by trans and queer people of color—but in Facebook Live footage of the Phoenix event, you can see and hear spectators yelling at the activists. “Shame, shame, shame,” one white man yells.

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“This is not your day, go do this at the park, you’re ruining our parade,” a woman wearing a purple hoodie and a rainbow fedora hat shouts.

The comments heard in Phoenix sound eerily familiar to those heard at a 2015 White House Pride celebration, when immigrant rights activist Jennicet Gutiérrez interrupted then President Obama’s speech. “This is not for you,” a male voice yelled, after Gutiérrez told Obama to release transgender women detained in men’s immigration detention centers.

“[Pride goers] showed a lack of understanding of the history of Pride, and highlights the current times where racism and xenophobia reign,” Bailon, 30, who is undocumented, told me.

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In a statement to the Phoenix New Times, Justin Owen, executive director of Phoenix Pride, said, “We are aware that there are still many causes that need attention, and we always stand willing to work with members of our community to end oppression and injustice of any kind of and against any individual or group.”

Owen went on to say, “As always, we will welcome peaceful protests by those who wish to express their concerns about any issues of social justice.”