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Shortly after the Columbus Community Pride festival started on Saturday, June 16 at Mayme Moore Park in Columbus, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy – an activist for more than 50 plus years fighting for Black Tran’s Liberation – gave a speech on stage to kick things off. She talked about how the LGBTQIA+ Community needs to continue to be more inclusive for the sake of Stonewalls Pride Festival and the importance of staying true to what the festival stands for.

Ariana Steele – founder of Black Queer Intersectional Columbus (BQIC) and Community Pride Director – told The Free Press, “We’re here at the Community Pride Festival. This is an effect of the protests that happened last year at stonewall pride parade, where four LGBTQIA+ protestors were arrested. This brought to a lot of people’s attention, that there is an issue within the LGBTQIA+ Community where people of color are not really thought of. So when they’re not thought of in a movement, it can often lead people to be forgotten about and can leave their needs forgotten as well. Having a heavy police presence at the Stonewall Columbus Pride, makes people of color in danger because, as we have seen time and time again, the police are very violent especially towards people of color and other marginalized folks. That is why we’re here today, to create space for people of color specifically within the LGBTQIA+ community. We are also here with grassroots, as opposed to corporate, so we took only donations for this and no sponsorship. We also did not hire the police or invite them to this event.”

Many people who felt forgotten as Ariana Steele said, including a young artist who belongs to the Diné – popularly referred to as the Navajo by Europeans who colonized America – Tribe. You can see some of her art @artistlivbarney on Instagram. This young artist, who goes by the name Liv Barney, shared with us why she, along with other Native people living in today’s times, feel left behind. She also explained to us what her art stands for, why she makes it and what she hopes people take from it.

“I’m from the Navajo Tribe and we call ourselves Diné which translates to ‘The People.’ I do a lot of art that is based on Native Americans, Dancers and selfless imagery to incorporate bits and pieces of my culture regionally and also where my people are from. Since I am Native myself, for me, why I make the art, is because it’s about representing who I am and representing indigenous cultures as a whole and just having it out there to start conversations. People will ask me about the art, recognizing it is Native American and this starts a dialogue for people to learn about Native Americans. I think we’re forgotten about and a lot of times Natives for most ethnicities, are thought of as something from the past or something you see or learn about in history books. I don’t think the majority of people know that Native Americans are still alive and present in our communities. That is why I try to represent and show my culture through art so that people know there is still Natives who make art today. It is also to show that we still have our traditions and try to keep them alive.”

As Liv Barney makes art to represent and keep her traditions along with her culture alive, the Columbus Community Pride is also trying to keep and bring their traditions and culture back as well. Liv explained how she feels about people calling the Diné Tribe "Navajo," she said, “Younger people like myself and other artists who are natives, try to use traditional terms that our people use or interchange them to like I said before, Keep our culture alive.”

The Columbus Community Pride Festival's mission was to do everything it could to stay true to their values and to stay true to the purpose of the event without being hypocritical. They even went as far as not having the Highland Security and Investigations run security for them after recent news that this security firm, has contracted with ICE and let police officers work for them.

Helen Stewart, with BQIC, noted, “On Wednesday, we found out that Highland Security and Investigations security firm, which is a black Trans owned firm, unfortunately has contracted with ICE and has hired Police officers in the past and recently. Once we found this out, we quickly took all of the concerns of our community very seriously. We reached out to people to have them tell us how they felt and we decided it would be best not to have them be present today. We let Highland Security know and they were very understanding about it and I think they are going to take those notes back and figure out how to assess their message. For us, it was very important to stay true to our values and the whole purpose of this event which is to combat state sanctioned violence, drawing visibility to police brutality and combating that at all costs and just being really inclusive of everyone. We can’t really do that if we know that there are people who don’t feel safe being here.” 

Helen explained what the Columbus Pride Festival did for security: “With the help of the amazing community, we we’re able to organize in ten plus hours, a community security of our own… we’ve had a lot of professionals, street medics, legal observers and people knowledgeable about de-escalation and self-defense, come in and provide three quick trainings throughout the last three days with one just ending this morning.” Helen said that they had evacuation plans put in place as well as 16 individuals who were tasked with circling the perimeter, along with the parking lots, at all times.

Helen shared some of the history behind the Columbus Community Pride Festival along with what it stands for. She also told us more about Miss Major Griffin-Gracy who had spoken at the beginning of the event. “Miss Major Griffin-Gracy is an activist that has been doing work for 50 plus years fighting for Black Trans liberation. It’s amazing that she could be here and help us understand how to extend her work and how to pay respect to it. She was one of the people in the Stonewall riots of 1969. She was doing activist work before then but clearly extended on that as far as shaping Pride in a sense and making sure that it was as we’re saying, back to our roots now with true activism and grassroots work.”

The Free Press had the honor of meeting and speaking with Miss Major Griffin-Gracy herself to hear her thoughts on Columbus Community Pride and what it means to her. “This is an accumulation of girls who have died and struggled and fought for it to get to here. So seeing this is a beautiful thing because you just see a mixture of people. A gathering of folks who are a community and accepting and realizing that. This is to stand up and do something to let them know that we’re not going to be pushed aside. We’re not going to be stepped on, murdered and killed without raising hell about it. This pride event to me is a wonderful thing. It gives me strength to get through what’s coming next and it erases the harm and danger and fear I’ve went through to get here. People need to know about it and support it to help get rid of the prejudices and harm that this country is perpetrating right now. We need to care about one another, hear the people of the LGBTQIA+ communities’ stories and love who they are.” That is the message that Miss Major Griffin-Gracy left The Free Press with.

References:

https://www.britannica.com/topic/grassroots

http://www.nbc4i.com/news/police-three-arrested-at-columbus-pride-parade-after-confrontation-with-officers/1064779603

Free Press History: