This weekend millions will converge on New York’s annual Pride parade, the culmination of a week of gay-oriented events around the city branded by tourism officials as the “Rainbow Pilgrimage”. While the floats and throngs of dancers will be a spectacle to many celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, others in the LGBT community have been growing frustrated with Pride.

On Friday, members of the group Radical Homosexual Agenda staged a countermarch. With no permit, the group led its own parade of about 100 participants from Washington Square Park to the Christopher Street Pier with banners exclaiming “Stonewall was an un-permitted act” and a small contingent of bucket-drummers leading the chants and cheers.

“The mainstream gay march is nothing but an exploitation of commercialism that has nothing to do with the Stonewall Riots,” said a marcher who wished to remain anonymous. “The people that participated in the Stonewall Riots were absolute defenders of freedom. They were up against odds where police were literally beating them. There’s no remembrance of the struggle at Pride. What about Alan Berkman who just passed away? Or Silvia Rivera? Those are the heroes of the gay rights movement – not Starbucks and the floats and the dance clubs.”
“Pride has a long legacy,” says Mark Tribe, an artist who came to record the event. “When it began, it was a very different form of protest. It inspired some of the the culturally oriented forms of resistance that emerged during the counter-globalization movements of the 90’s. But now it’s been largely de-politicized and this march is an attempt to find the other end of the spectrum.”

As the parade continued down West 4th Street, police eventually joined the fray with a troupe of officers on foot and in police cars treading behind the protestors. While there was no unrest or arrests, for many of the participants the fact that police were called on to survey the march touches on another aspect of the action – defending the freedom of assembly.

In fact, flyers promoting the event gave more emphasis to defending the first amendment than with the gay rights struggle. With a large banner exclaiming “Defend our freedom of assembly” across the top; the flyer continued “Our heritage is a rich one of brave resistance to police violence, homophobia, unjust laws, invisibility, and assimilation. But, the politicians and the corporations are determined to whitewash our struggle against oppression.”
“I think staging a protest march without a permit is way to memorialize Stonewall, the beginning of the gay liberation movement, which was un-permitted action against police brutality and homophobia,” added Tribe.
Despite its broad scope, not all the participants were happy with the march. Some criticized the turnout and lack of energy, others the parade’s overall objectives. “I don’t know where the energy is and why people don’t get it,” said a protestor. “It’s not about a banner or banging drums – all that’s fine - but you have to do the work to make sure people remember oppression. Straight, gay or whatever – you need to remember where you come from and it seems like it’s become more about tattoos and image and looking good.”