No justice, no pride
Sarah-Ji Rhee (, Love and Struggle Photos

Last weekend, a broad coalition of progressive and community-based groups, led by the Trans Liberation Collective, stalled Chicago’s Annual Pride Parade for almost fifteen minutes. The groups that non-violently occupied the Belmont and Halsted intersection were comprised of members from the BTGNC Collective, Black Lives Matter Chicago, Jewish Voice for Peace, Assata’s Daughters and Pilsen Alliance–and other groups. I was among them.

I’ve been a supporting organizer in the Trans Liberation Collective since its formation. The collective was started as a response to an event that was being organized in Chicago against the recent wave of discriminatory Transgender bathroom bills, but the event itself was completely co-opted by the collective of white, cis, gay men who dominate the mainstream Queer political discussions on a day to day basis. In response to this, the Trans Liberation Collective staged a march for and by Trans individuals, which attracted over 1000 marchers on a chilly Chicago night. This became a catalyst for the community work I conduct that focused on keeping Trans and gender-nonconforming individuals front and center in the events that concern them.

As a cis* Queer, disabled Latinx woman, my role in the Trans Liberation Collective has been an interesting terrain to navigate. My co-organizers treat me as their equal, but I am functionally aware of my own CIS privileges in a transphobic society; especially one that has shown exactly how little it actually cares about Trans individuals. According to studies conducted by GLAAD, the deaths of 27 transgender people were reported the 2016 calendar year. That number does not include transgender people whose deaths were not reported due to misgendering in police reports, news stories, and sometimes by the victim’s family. In 2017 thus far, thirteen Trans individuals have been killed – all people of color. Among them was Keke Collier, a Chicago resident and black Trans woman shot on February 21 in Englewood, Chicago. She was 24 years old. These alarming numbers are reflection of the way in which the Queer community disregards the most marginalized members of their community.  This is in part a major reason that I felt it was necessary to participate in a shut down that halted the parade; the “T” is always erased at the expense of “LGB.”

My feelings for Pride are not a dichotomy; I have nuanced thoughts on the matter. Chicago’s Annual Pride Parade in Boystown has long been a staple of my childhood. Some of my oldest memories derive from watching the floats of drag queens dance by me as I excitedly reached out to catch beads from behind the barricades. These memories stayed with me while I was growing up and coming to terms with my own Queer identity.

The Chicago Pride celebration, however, has always had issues. For years we’ve lauded “Boystown” as a safe haven for Queers, but it is almost exclusively built as a space for white/cis/gay men. Lakeview is heavily policed, anti-black and hostile for people of color, unsafe for Trans and gender-nonconforming individuals, and has been the center of some of the most unwanted sexual aggression I have ever experienced. The Pride Parade is frequently an amplification of those dynamics.

So much of the response to our action has been affirming and uplifting, but there is a large population of the LGBTQ community that has responded negatively. Many have accused us of “hijacking” the parade for our own selfish desires, without acknowledging that celebrations like Pride wouldn’t exist without the likes of Black Trans femmes and Queer people of color. Women like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera made our modern-day LGBTQ movements possible. They screamed, marched, rioted, and laid their physical bodies on the line for the limited rights that LGBTQ individuals have scarcely attained in this society. The corporatization, whitewashing, gentrification, racism, and cis-normativity that have infused Pride are a slap in the face to the Queer activists who have sacrificed so much for our livelihood and safety.

I am beyond grateful to the Trans/gender-nonconforming individuals who risk their lives every day, Black/Brown organizers of this city, to the Chicago Queers who have created a home for me. It is in the company of these bodies that I have found value in my own. The value of any individual’s life should not be measured by their proximity to white cis people, and we intend to continue fighting against mainstream LGBTQ culture that has tainted Queer activism, until that message becomes clear. No justice, no pride. Happy Pride Month.

* Cis, or cisgender, is term for people whose gender identity aligns with the sex that they were assigned at birth.


Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.