Controversy Brews Over Representation at New York City Pride

Heritage of Pride has scrapped a meeting with Mariah Lopez of STARR.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

After a group of trans leaders called on Heritage of Pride (HOP) to hand over control of New York City’s Pride festivities to Black and Brown transgender individuals, a planned meeting between the two sides was cancelled — and a bitter controversy flared up.

Citing a “history of antagonistic behavior,” HOP, which organizes New York City’s annual Pride march and related events, nixed a meeting with STARR director Mariah Lopez and accused her of using hostile language towards HOP members ahead of their planned discussion regarding representation at Pride.

“NYC Pride is always willing to work in partnership with any organization that is collaborating in good faith,” HOP said in a letter to STARR, which was also sent to Gay City News. “Over the course of the past few weeks, NYC Pride and STARR have engaged in discussions about the logistical details and content of our meeting. Given how this process has played out, we no longer believe this meeting would be appropriate or productive.” 

STARR’s original letter was sent on January 26 to the co-chairs of HOP and InterPride as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio and out gay Speaker Corey Johnson. Along with Lopez, it was also signed by activist Cecilia Gentili; City Council candidate Elisa Crespo of the Bronx; New York Transgender Advocacy Group founder and executive director Kiara St. James; Transgender Strategy Center deputy director Aryah Lester; LGBT Community Center of New Orleans president Syria Jackson Synclaire; Daronesia Duncan Boyd, the executive director of the Trans United Fund; Al Michaels, a relative of Marsha P. Johnson; and Marissa Miller, a national community organizer.

“We the undersigned call on InterPride, Heritage of Pride, and the City of New York to turn over the responsibilities of producing and coordinating the annual NYC pride festivities, to Queer Black, Brown, and Indigenous people of color,” the letter noted. The letter also raised concerns that Pride has become too commercialized, though these advocates are not calling to eliminate corporate ties to the events. Instead, the letter requested partnerships with Black and Brown corporate entities at the festivities.

However, discussions on those initiatives stalled before they could even begin.

“While we have extended every effort and attempt to collaborate, Mariah Lopez’s history of antagonistic behavior toward this organization and its staff has become an obstacle to effective and safe communication,” HOP added. “There have been repeated incidents of Mariah using incendiary language towards individuals, over email and in person. Much of the aggressive tone and language Mariah has used towards HOP over the years have continued in many of the emails we’ve received from her in the past few weeks. We are not willing to subject our staff, board, or volunteers to treatment that demeans, dismisses, or threatens them.”

The original letter also demanded Black and Brown-led festivities and Black and Brown performers and talent. Last year, Tangina Stone, a Black lesbian, sang the national anthem for Heritage of Pride’s virtual broadcast, and the grand marshals were the Ali Forney Center, which relinquished its role to Black Lives Matter; Victoria Cruz, a trans woman from Puerto Rico who worked with the Anti-Violence Project; Chinese LGBTQ rights advocate Yanzi Peng; and Dan Levy of “Schitt’s Creek.” The grand marshals in 2019 included the Gay Liberation Front, the Trevor Project, the cast of “Pose,” UK Black Pride co-founder Phyllis Akua Opoku-Gyimah, or Lady Phyll; and Monica Helms, who created the Transgender Pride Flag.

In the email, HOP pointed to growing disagreements with STARR and cited issues with selecting a “neutral moderator” and developing a plan for the discussion. HOP alleges that STARR invited political candidates to join the meeting, but they declined that offer due to their non-profit status. Furthermore, HOP’s leadership alleges that those seeking to mediate the discussion were forced to take “sides by individuals representing STARR.” 

In response to these allegations, Lopez accused HOP of being “sexist” and gaslighting her requests to make Pride more inclusive. When explicitly asked about HOP’s complaints about her behavior, she argued that the organization is exaggerating.

“How can emails about a moderator and an agenda reach a point where they’re like, ‘you’re antagonizing,'” she said. “Come on; it’s insulting.”

When Gay City News repeatedly asked her to clarify her comments, she doubled down on her passion and how it causes her to have strong reactions.

“I am not perfect, they are not perfect, and nothing about how this went down [and] how we reached this point has been perfect. We are human,” she said. “But the larger principles shine through. Black and Brown trans people should not have to go through white people for power or wealth.”

She added, “We should not have to go through white cis people for opportunity. We should not have to ask as a favor, that a parade and festivities meant to…honor our founders’ accomplishments doesn’t look anything like our founders.”

Johnson declined comment for this story and a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio did not respond to a request for comment.

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