Out on the town
Rapper Lizzo headlines SacPride 2019, which also unveils a new art installation and honors the 50th anniversary of Stonewall
“We’re still here.”
Three simple words that carry so much meaning, depending on the speaker. Throw an exclamation mark at the end, and it becomes a bold cry of revolution, a scream from the marginalized declaring they’re taking the space they deserve.
This month, the phrase is both a remembrance and rallying cry. June is LGBT Pride Month, but it also marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, when members of the LGBT community protested a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Today, the riots, and the trans women of color who sparked it, are considered a touchstone in the fight for gay rights in the United States.
Sacramento commemorates both June 8-9 with SacPride 2019, a two-day event featuring a parade, a performance from singer-rapper Lizzo and the unveiling of a new art installation dedicated to uplifting the voices of the past.
It’s more than just a celebration, however; it’s part of an ongoing effort to understand what it means to still be “here.”
Sacramento’s Pride Month festivities kicked off this week with the unveiling of Colors of Progress, spearheaded by artist Phil America in partnership with local arts organizer Tre Borden. The temporary installation was inspired by a newly redesigned pride flag that incorporates additional stripes to symbolize marginalized LGBTQ voices. It includes hand-painted flags from across the country. With quotes such as “Silence is Death” and “United we stand, divided they pick us off one by one,” the messages are both thought-provoking and heart-wrenching.
The exhibit—which will go to other cities this year, including Santa Monica, New York and Fargo, N.D.—debuted on Capitol Mall with a two-day run before moving to outside Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office at the state Capitol, where it will be on display the rest of the month.
Such a large-scale installation dedicated to gay pride history, its creators say, would be cause for celebration if not for the current social and political climate.
“I can imagine in a different time, this would be a purely jubilant moment,” Borden said in a recent phone interview. “It would be a ’look how far we’ve come, we have more rights than ever and laws are changing in our favor’ type moment. But it isn’t.”
Instead, he said, Colors of Progress reflects a sobering message: “The people whose voices we are trying to elevate are under new threats.”
Despite this, Phil America, a Sacramento-born, internationally known installation artist, says the exhibition still recognizes history and progress.
“What I really want people to take away from the project … is that the voices that have been left behind in past movements aren’t going to be ignored. That they belong here,” he says.
That idea of belonging carries over to this year’s SacPride. The theme is “Legacy of Stonewall,” and the festival will feature a mix of art, dancers, DJs and live performances, all culminating with Lizzo headlining its Sunday night close.
With a two-day ticket costing less than $20, the event is designed to be accessible to people from all walks of life, covered in glitter and wearing flags as superhero capes.
There are also numerous all-ages events. For example, the Imagination Station, in partnership with the CA Children’s Museum, will provide a space for kids to “bounce, learn, paint, imagine, invent, and play,” according to SacPride’s website. There will also be a game tent to play cornhole, checkers and Jenga, as well as listen to musical performances from Erica Ambrin Burnett, Planet Booty and Drop Dead Red, among others.
SacPride 2019 will also showcase local organizations such as the Sacramento LGBT Community Center (the event’s organizers) which will have tables to provide information on mental health, support groups, legal services and more. Festival goers will also get the chance to honor the past with The Legacy of Stonewall, a temporary interactive installation.
In another nod to Stonewall, organizers asked Sacramento Police not to participate in uniform in the parade and festival this year. Law enforcement will be on duty and in uniform for street closures and security. Private security and plain-clothes safety teams will also monitor the event.
The move has caused some public backlash but also support on the center’s Facebook page.
The center reversed its decision Thursday. In a statement, Sacramento Police said that it had reached an agreement with the center, which included establishing an LGBTQ Community Advisory Committee in the department; developing new, LGBTQ-focused officer training; holding community forums; creating a new Sacramento Police LGBTQ liaison position; and establishing a program for reporting crimes and complaints to Sacramento Police within the center.
“The Stonewall riots were an uprising against law enforcement led by transgender women of color like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and queer youth, many of them poor, against unjust raids, abuses and violence,” Carlos Marquez, the center’s board president, wrote in the statement. “This partnership is about healing and propelling us forward.”
In response, a petition representing 21 staffers at the center called for the resignation of Marquez and other board members who agreed to the reversal, and for uniformed officers to be uninvited.
“On this, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we not only wanted to honor the lives of LGBTQ+ pioneers that fought against police brutality, legal injustices and societal persecution,” Krystal Peak, the center’s assistant director, said in the petition, “but we also wanted to create a space where those often given the least power could feel comfortable and safe at Pride.”
The original decision was not just a token move, but a necessary statement, local activists say, because the Trump administration has taken or attempted numerous actions against the LGBTQ community, including a ban on transgender members in the military.
Today, SacPride is taking on a renewed meaning, says local advocate Romel Antoine.
“For me, it’s always been about ’we’re still here,’ but now more than ever,” Antoine says. “After the height of HIV/AIDS, we’re still here. After all the gay bashing and beating, we’re still here. With our black and brown trans siblings getting murdered, we’re still here. After everything, we’re still here.”
Note: The story has been updated as of Friday, June 7.