Reclaim Pride March shifts narrative around LGBTQ+ celebration: ‘Why are we still celebrating when we are still fighting?’

The organizers of Sunday’s event are pushing to turn the city’s Pride parade into a nonprofit entity with a “diverse board” focused on protecting its “true soul.”

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Supporters march down the street during a rally for the Chicago Reclaim Pride March in Lake View East on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Supporters march down the street during a rally for the Chicago Reclaim Pride March in Lake View East on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

With Pride Month now in full swing, dozens gathered in Lake View on Sunday to shift the narrative around the annual celebration of the LGBTQ+ community.

The Reclaim Pride March — a partnership between the Drag March for Change and Pride Without Prejudice — stepped off from the Belmont CTA station in Lake View and culminated in an at-times scathing news conference at the newly opened AIDS Garden Chicago along the nearby lakefront.

Jeremy Saxon-Maldonado, who identifies as “gender-queer” and uses they/them pronouns, urged the crowd to “imagine a better world” while bemoaning the pop stars, politicians and corporations co-opting Pride Month to advance their own interests. 

“July 1 comes along and all those profile pictures turn back into their normal colors. The rainbows get tucked away for another year,” Saxon-Maldonado said of the selective allyship of some companies. 

Jeremy Saxon-Maldonado speaks about standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during a rally for the Chicago Reclaim Pride March at the AIDS garden, Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Jeremy Saxon-Maldonado speaks about standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during a rally for the Chicago Reclaim Pride March at the AIDS garden, Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

That trend has effectively devolved into an opportunity for “putting our gay dollars in their straight pockets,” Saxon-Maldonado said, insisting it’s “time that we stop spending money during Pride Month” unless it’s directly benefitting someone in the LGBTQ+ community.

Saxon-Maldonado called for solidarity among members of the LGBTQ+ community as they reflected on two incidents over the weekend in which extremists targeted a Pride parade in Idaho and a “drag queen story hour” in California.

“They are not taking one day’s rest until we live in fear again. We are not going back,” they said, urging members of the community to look out for each other and ensure everyone gets home safely.

Jeremy Saxon-Maldonado speaks about standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during a rally for the Chicago Reclaim Pride March at the AIDS garden, Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Jeremy Saxon-Maldonado speaks about standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during a rally for the Chicago Reclaim Pride March at the AIDS garden, Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Ahead of the march, the organizers also released a list of demands. 

Perhaps most notably, the organizers are advocating to turn the city’s Pride parade — set for June 26 — into a nonprofit entity with a “diverse board” focused on protecting “the true soul” of the event. In addition, they’re looking to classify violence against trans people as a hate crime and to shift three-quarters of the city’s police budget to fund “social services and community programs.”

But the organizers also focused on certain hot-button issues, pushing for stricter gun laws and for abortion rights “to be protected in perpetuity.”

Zahara Bassett, a trans woman who founded the nonprofit social services organization Life Is Work, represented those disparate calls in a single chant: “One issue affects all.” 

“You’re not gonna force a woman to conceive a child that she does not want to bear,” Bassett said. “We’re not gonna stand for that … Because if we allow you to pass that law, then the next law you’ll be attacking us as a whole, as a human whole, telling us what we can and cannot do with our bodies, telling us we can’t get transplants if we need them.”

Zahara Bassett, founder of the nonprofit social services organization Life Is Work, speaks about the attacks on the Black trans members of the community during a rally for the Chicago Reclaim Pride March at the AIDS garden on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Zahara Bassett, founder of the nonprofit social services organization Life Is Work, speaks about the attacks on the Black trans members of the community during a rally for the Chicago Reclaim Pride March at the AIDS garden on Sunday, June 12, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Bassett also called for “stronger gun restriction” as she reflected on the anniversary of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people were killed and 53 others were wounded on June 12, 2016. 

Yet Bassett’s most passionate appeals related to the perils and needs of trans Chicagoans. She called for justice for Black trans women who have been found dead in the city and for investment and opportunities for members of her community.

“[In] 1969, a riot started off the backs of Black and Brown trans women [who] were sick of police … sitting up there triggering them and attacking them that threw the first stone,” Bassett said of the Stonewall riots in New York City that sparked the first Pride marches. 

“After the riot, a white man took everything away and it became a Pride parade,” Bassett added. “Why are we still celebrating when we are still fighting?”

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