Friday, July 27, 2007

More NYC Prides Run Into Trouble With Police, City

Pride season in New York certainly had its fair share of problems as organizers, activists and even average LGBT New Yorkers complained about permit denials and even alleged New York Police Department misconduct. Politicians, who always seem more than willing to curry favor with a potentially influential voting block, tend to dismiss any criticisms in the name of positive assessments and messages. This scenario played out as I examined these issues for a feature story in this week's New York Blade . Some pointed to terrorism concerns as motivations behind this year's events while others quickly assumed homophobia was a key factor. Both are potentially valid concerns but city bureaucrats created an unfortunate situation this year which threatened to tarnish an event important to a significant portion of the city's population -- and their constituency. The debate about who is to blame will certainly continue as next year's Pride celebration already approaches.

This time last summer, People of Color in Crisis was preparing for its annual Pride in the City events when it ran into a different kind of crisis. The National Park Service notified the group of new regulations, which according to POCC, would have limited its attendees and the health services it offers. After state and city lawmakers intervened, the main festival took place as scheduled at Riis Beach in Far Rockaway, Queens, drawing about 5,000 people.

This summer, more Pride organizers and activists across the boroughs have complained that that permit denials, city bureaucracy and even the New York Police Department put a damper on many Pride celebrations. The situation has lead many to question the reasons behind the sudden crackdown and bureaucratic red tape.

Queens Pride co-chair Daniel Dromm, who plans to launch his own 2009 City Council bid, said that the current situation results from two factors: homophobia and fears of terrorism.

He doesn’t believe city residents view the Pride events as dangerous or as a public nuisance that requires stricter regulation.

“I don’t think LGBT festivals are at the top of the list of people’s priorities,” Dromm said. “There may be some concerns around terrorism… I don’t really buy that 100 percent because these things can be policed.”

Dromm recalled no problems with city officials and police at the Queens Pride this year.

Bronx Pride 2007 chair Chanel Lopez, on the other hand, said she and her colleagues encountered numerous problems as they tried to stage their event in Barretto Point Park in Hunts Point on June 16.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that Bronx Community Pride Center executive director Lisa Winters complained to local politicians that Parks Department officials harassed vendors and others who attended Bronx Pride.

Lopez affirmed these allegations. She further speculated some officials may have objected to safe-sex messages and HIV testing in the park.

“I believe they had an issue with this type of event going on,” Lopez said.

Gays & Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered (GLOBE) also faced logistical problems with their annual Pride march in the predominately Latino-neighborhood in Brooklyn after the NYPD initially denied their permit because of a shortage of available officers to monitor the event.

GLOBE executive director Dee Perez said she feels homophobia was not a factor in the department’s decision. She expressed outrage, however, at the conduct of two NYPD officers she said mocked marchers after the June 16 march.

“There were some cops laughing and giggling, and I know it was toward us because a couple of girls were acting like themselves,” Perez said. “It made me feel disgusted because they’re there to uphold the law and to protect us.”

Allegations against the NYPD’s tactics during Pride season are nothing new. The Audre Lorde Project and other organizations protested the arrest of two people last June after they tried to re-enter the city’s Pride parade down Fifth Avenue.

During the City Council’s annual Pride commemoration late last month, members of the Radical Homosexual Agenda and ACT UP protested the NYPD and a new regulation that mandates a permit for gatherings of more than 50 people.

They criticized City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s perceived role in the legislation’s passage as they unfurled banners reading “Stonewall was not a permitted action” from the balcony inside the City Council’s chambers.

Openly lesbian Council Member Rosie Mendez (D-Lower East Side) voted against the new regulations. Perez also expressed her frustration with the potential 2009 Mayoral candidate. She said that Quinn failed to support her fellow LGBT New Yorkers.

“When you get elected to a higher position, you somehow forget where you come from,” Perez charged. “She [Quinn] could have done a lot more… she’s out in the Puerto Rican parade waving flags and stuff but when it comes to the LGBT parade she’s under the radar.”

Lopez said that local politicians need to do more to prevent problems during Pride season.

“Politicians should have done more,” she said. “They probably would have thought if they helped out, people would have thought they were gay or something.”

Quinn was quick to defend the way she and her staff worked with various Pride organizations. She told the Blade in a prepared statement her office is currently working with Bronx Pride organizers and Parks Department officials to schedule a meeting next month to discuss their concerns.

Quinn did not respond directly to other specific criticisms or allegations. She added, however, she and her staff will work to secure future Pride celebrations run smoothly.

“We are proud to have worked with community based organizations throughout the city to ensure a successful Pride season this year,” Quinn stated. “My office will continue to assist organizations with their events to ensure they are safe celebrations of our community’s pride.”

Tensions between bureaucracy and Pride planners came to a head—and made headlines—well before Pride month. In late April, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Community Assistance Unit denied Heritage of Pride’s permit application to relocate the annual PRIDEfest from Washington Street in the West Village to Eighth Avenue in Chelsea. HOP organizers canceled the event despite Quinn, state Sen. Tom Duane (D-Chelsea) and other politicians and activists’ efforts to urge the CAU and the NYPD to reconsider their decision.

CAU commissioner Patrick Brennan told the Blade in a previous interview the city could not accommodate an additional event in a different location.

HOP media director Dennis Spafford disagreed. He said the West Village location presented safety concerns and other logistical issues, such as the lack of amenities, for the hundreds of thousands of people who traditionally attend the street festival each June.

PrideFEST’s cancellation sent shockwaves across the city. Some activists accused city officials of homophobia while others added concerns about terrorism – and a moratorium on approval of new street festivals which took effect in 2003—factored into their decision.

Spafford dismissed allegations of homophobia, adding that “hard line politicians” forced HOP organizers to cancel PRIDEfest. “It was definitely a political game,” he said. “We’re all New Yorkers and we want to work with city officials and city government to produce these events.”

So what about People of Color in Crisis’ Black Pride events planned for next week, Aug. 1–5; have they experienced new or recurring problems with the Parks Department? POCC executive director Michael Roberson said he expects this year’s event will go off without a hitch.

HOP and other Pride organizations concede this year’s problems have forced them to re-evaluate the way they plan future Pride events. Spafford added he hopes organizers, politicians and bureaucrats alike can come together and find a solution.

“We’re going to work with these people, with city government, and come to a solution,” he said. “This year we created a dialogue—a conversation—and we will continue to carry it on.”

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