New Jersey activists call for an end to genocide, healthcare apartheid, and for liberation at NYC Pride

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Queer Liberation March banner, a black background with pink and white letters on Seventh Ave. in NYC outside of "Village Cigars" youth hold the front of the march, with signs, joy, ready to march for their rights.
Front of Queer Liberation March; photo by Lana Leonard

“We don’t stand behind the barricades,” Jay W. Walker, co-founder of The Reclaim Pride Coalition, yelled into the crowds forming behind police barriers. “Pride is a march!…Whose streets? Our Streets!” 

After the announcement, people pooled into Sheridan Square from all sides. They realized that they were not only in the march, they were the march. LGBTQ protesters, dissenters, and those “unified in anger” from New Jersey and throughout the region stood in community to march with — and as — the 2024 participants of the New York City Queer Liberation March. 

This year’s call-to-action was to march for Black, Brown, Queer, Transgender, Gender Nonconforming, and Nonbinary Youth, and against War and Genocide said the organizers. As the time to march neared, March organizers called young people to the front of the march. 

“Liberation, to me, is access,” said Reni, a 26-year-old from New Jersey. Holding the edge of the banner, she identified liberation as access to housing, food, autonomy, healthcare, and agency to “explore your hobbies, and yourself” in public without “fear or retribution.” 

She came to New York to support her neighbors. “I think [New Jerseyans and New Yorkers] make fun of each other, but I think both queer communities on both sides of the Hudson are grappling with the same issues. And I think if we come together, we can definitely fight them.”

LGBTQ youth, and transgender youth in particular, have been a target of anti-LGBTQ extremists in recent years even more than usual. 

Reni, black, short braided dark brown hair, with round sunglasses and a pink shirt stands talking to a reporter. Pink vests and shirts gloss the background of the photo with a beige bricked building.
Reni, 26-years-old, Jersey City resident, at the 2024 Queer Liberation March; photo by Lana Leonard

In 2023 New Jersey had eight anti-trans bills introduced into the State Legislature, according to Trans Legislation Tracker, compared to 229 nation-wide. Even though each bill failed to pass, they each targeted youth and their public education. “Parents rights” extremists and designated hate groups like Moms for Liberty continue to influence anti-LGBTQ propaganda tactics against LGBTQ people in public school districts throughout the Garden State. 

Young people like Reni have been at the forefront of fighting back. Behind her, the crowd thickened and lengthened into the intersection behind the banner. Bright pink-vested marshals reflected down Seventh Ave., placing their bodies between the growing marchers and the largest police presence the Queer Liberation March has ever experienced in their six year history they said

The Queer Liberation March is organized by the grassroots collective The Reclaim Pride Coalition, in New York City every June since 2019. The march formed to honor and reclaim the spirit of the Stonewall Riots. It is centered on amplifying the voices and needs of marginalized LGBTQ communities. In the tradition of early Pride Marches, The Reclaim Pride Coalition rejects corporate sponsorship and police involvement. 

Reginald T. Brown, black, with short hair and earrings. They are wearing a bright pink vest and hold their fist up high into the sky.
Reginald T. Brown, Marshal, and original member of The Reclaim Pride Coalition at the 2024 Queer Liberation March; photo by Lana Leonard

One of the marchers, Reginald T. Brown, said they sued the University of Kansas in 1971 when they were 18. Brown was the president of the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front at the University of Kansas 50 years before. The university had refused to legitimize the group on campus. 

Like youth today, the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front pushed back.

“[W]e sued the university for not recognizing us,” Brown said. “We lost the case, but we formed the speaker’s bureau, and they went around and got recognized next year.” 

Brown says that was their first time standing up, and standing up for themself as a queer person. 

“The point is, we’ve been here before. This is nothing new,” Brown reminds youth. 

Brown says that he was almost murdered while protesting in honor of the the Kent State Four. The National Guard shot down four Ohio students protesting against the Vietnam War at thetime.

Brown came to New York City in 1975 after graduating from the University of Kansas. They haven’t stopped protesting for liberation since.

“So, I got shot at and the guy behind me got killed. I’m here doing the same thing over 50 years later. And it is necessary that we do this because if we don’t, then we’re erased,” Brown continued. “This is not a history book. This is happening right now!” Brown emphasized about genocide at home and abroad. 

Signs reading “Immunocompromised Have the Right to Protest,” “All Eyes on Sudan,” and “From New York to Gaza, Stonewall Was an Intifada” emerged from the mass of people marching in resistance to the oppression of LGBTQ people.

Janet Mayes and Jeri Hilderly, marched with the Workers World/Mundo Obrero Newspaper bloc. Mayes and Hilderly have been together for 15 years, with Mayes from New Jersey and Hilderly from New York. Mayes is also a doctor of psychology and Hilderly an artist and author writing novels about coming of age.

Janet Mayes, white, white long hair under a white hat and sunglasses stands with her partner of 15 years, Jeri Hilderly, white, short gray hair under a green cap. Hilderly's sign reads "End All U.S. Aid to Israel" and Mayes' reads "NYPD, KKK, IOF, They're All the Same"
Janet Mayes, doctor of psychology, and Jeri Hilderly,
author and artist of New Jersey at the 2024 Queer Liberation March; photo by Lana Leonard

“We know more Pride events are expanding into understanding how our problems are interfaced with all the world’s problems,” said Hilderly. “They’re all interconnected. And it’s all based on the wrong economic system.”

She explained that capitalism is a “dead end,” and the need to rebuild a system that honors people over money. “[A system] that recognizes all humans deserve the same rights: jobs, housing, healthcare,” Hilderly continued. 

Mayes said that autonomy to healthcare will depend on where one exists, the subjugation and control based on who they are, their race, gender, class, and location. “My friend Leslie Feinberg was not treated well as a trans person when she was very ill. It still goes on, and we have to keep fighting for having healthcare for everybody,” said Mayes. “[I]t took so long for us to fight for proper health care. People who were coming down with AIDS don’t stop, and now it’s going backwards.”

Feinberg was an American butch lesbian, transgender activist, communist, and author who died in 2014. Feinberg authored the 1993 classic Stone Butch Blues.

Massive threats to global HIV/AIDS accessibility and reproductive healthcare include nationwide attacks on trans healthcare and the closure of more than a dozen hospitals in the U.S. since the beginning of 2024, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. This doesn’t include the mass medical apartheid in hospitals from the Bronx to Palestine, where there are no fully functioning hospitals. 

For many, Pride needs to be a protest for education and to defend against erasure and distortion. In the words of The Reclaim Pride Coalition: “As a community, we take to the streets to challenge systemic oppression, advocate for justice, and create a world where all queer and transgender individuals are free to live authentically and without fear.” 

Editor’s Note: the reporter lost the last name of Reni in the recording process.

Lana Leonard
Lana Leonard (they/them) is a graduate from The College of New Jersey with a degree in journalism and professional writing. They work at the GLAAD Media institute and freelance for publications like LGBTQ Nation while working on their journalistic theory of change project: Late Nights with Lana, a talk show based out of 10PRL film studios in Long Branch, NJ. Lana's mission, in all their work, is to focus on people, their collective truths and how those truths form a community of knowledge towards change.