Reclaim PRIDE – The Leather Contingent in Columbus, Ohio

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — For decades, the leather contingency in Columbus has participated in the PRIDE parade. Whether it was individuals jumping in and doing what we needed to do or fragmented groups, we were there. For the last four years, several leather organizations (this year Mid-Ohio Rose and Leather, Trident International – Columbus, and The Rangers sponsored entries) have joined together to host multiple entries in the parade to accommodate the capacity needs of participants from the state. We all worked together to organize so we could all march as one statewide representation.

Everything changed last year.

Not only were we dealing with the corporatization of PRIDE, something that is experienced across the country, our own organizers were involved in the marginalization of those who most needed to have their voices heard. For months, we debated whether to march in the parade at all. Such was the distaste for the brutality perpetuated against four transgender persons of color by Stonewall Columbus and the Columbus Police Department.

We had in-depth discussions with international representatives of our organizations as well as countless individuals. While we didn’t get everything we asked for, we did get a reduction in uniformed police, a volunteer committee for oversight of police activity at the parade, the resignation of the executive director of Stonewall Columbus, and a change in policy regarding first responders should there be another attempt at a disruption of the parade.

For us, PRIDE is forever political. As long as queer people are being murdered, as long as queer persons of color are marginalized, as long as our transgender family is brutalized and persecuted, PRIDE is not just a celebration for us.

It is rebellion. It is resistance.

By sharing our internal turmoil surrounding our local PRIDE parade and festival, we have worked towards greater community support from our leather organizations. As we watch the political environment in the United States become ever more frightening, we find ourselves needing each other more than ever.

The police in Columbus were not considered safe for transgender persons to engage with. We knew we needed to stand strong with our transgender family. Our answer was to create a space within a space no longer held for us. To insert ourselves and take a stand. To speak for anyone who needed it.

We participated, we marched, and we saw the grateful tears of many who felt our support and the collective rage for those who joined us in our PRIDE. We felt and saw sorely needed solidarity and finished the parade knowing we have a long fight ahead.

But we had made the right choice.

Submitted by Meitreya Mayako

Photos by Meitreya Mayako, Chester Beltkowski and Cody Feucht