For Brian Heck of Chelsea, who has volunteered with Heritage of Pride since 2011, this year’s LGBTQ Pride March was supposed to be his shot.
In his first nine years of volunteering, he had worked on the massive arches of rainbow-colored balloons that signal to parade-watchers that the marchers are approaching. He later handled talent who graced the variety of events that HOP — also known as NYC Pride — produces in Manhattan each June.
Last August, Heck was elected to be the volunteer march director, a post he assumed after Julian Sanjivan, who had overseen the march for a number of years, including for 2019’s humongous Stonewall 50/ WorldPride record-setter, moved on.
Then came the coronavirus — which led the city to cancel the numerous large-scale public gatherings held each June.
“I was not disappointed,” he explained just after noon on June 28 as he stood preparing for a symbolic procession of grand marshal-less grand marshal vehicles filled instead with rainbow arrays of balloons. “I was disappointed for the community. But it was much more important that people stay safe.”
Working with ABC-7, which has broadcast several hours of the march each June for several years, HOP decided to do the symbolic procession from 25th Street and Fifth Avenue to the West Village to bring some feeling of New York’s streets to the two-hour programming.
“But what’s much more important,” Heck explained, “are the powerful messages prepared for the broadcast.”
He continued, “We are front-lining Black Lives Matters, to make sure we show that we stand with them.”
Even before the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Heck emphasized, Black lives — and particularly the epidemic of lethal violence against transgender women of color — were a key focus of HOP’s thinking about the program. In recent years, he pointed out, the march has given pride of place up front to groups representing communities of color and transgender folks.
And Heck pointed to the proliferation around the city of “Unity Flags,” combining the rainbow colors with black and brown stripes and the colors of both the Transgender Flag and the Bisexual Flag.
The ABC-7 broadcast highlighted the event’s four grand marshals — the homeless youth services group Ali Forney Center, which relinquished its role and air time to Black Lives Matter, Victoria Cruz, a transgender woman born in Puerto Rico who long served as a domestic violence counselor at the New York City Anti-Violence Project prior to her retirement, Chinese LGBTQ rights advocate Yanzi Peng, and Dan Levy, the creator and star of the hit comedy series “Shitt’s Creek.”
The broadcast also featured performances by Janelle Monáe, Billy Porter, Deborah Cox, Rufus Wainwright, and more, and appearances by Wilson Cruz, Angelica Ross, Gloria Estefan, Mj Rodriguez, and Margaret Cho, among others.
As Heck was preparing to head downtown with his symbolic procession, singer Tangina Stone was already in front of the Stonewall Inn in the West Village opening the broadcast by singing both The National Anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” customarily thought of as the Black National Anthem. Between the two songs, Stone took a knee and raised her right arm in a fist.
Several city leaders joined the symbolic HOP procession at points along its route. At 25th and Fifth, Mayor Bill de Blasio, joined by his wife Chirlane McCray, said, “What’s different, of course, is we all can’t be together, which I miss immediately, right? One of the most joyous, positive, warm events of the entire year in New York City and it’s an event filled with solidarity, filled with love, but at the same time we’re going to make it happen a different way. The feeling doesn’t go away just because of the coronavirus, and there’s actually an even more powerful feeling of solidarity this year, in terms of the rights of LGBTQ people, but also the rights of Black people, people of color in this country — there’s sense of solidarity between all communities that have had to fight and struggle together.”
At bottom of Fifth Avenue, outside the 2 Fifth Avenue former homes of the late Larry Kramer and Edie Windsor, New York State Attorney General Letitia James honored the two as “icons.” She also reiterated de Blasio’s message that Pride is a spirit of a community whether or not it’s out in the streets.
“We don’t necessarily need to march” to feel that, James said.
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