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New York Pride marches on, outraged by Supreme Court's abortion decision

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NEW YORK — This was not how Daria Walcott, 39, wanted to spend the Friday night before Pride weekend — sweaty and anguished, crowded shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of other roaring protesters. Originally, she was going to stay home in Harlem, resting up before she’d “dance it out,” as she put it, at Sunday’s joyous annual Pride March downtown. But now, here she was, carrying a hastily made handwritten poster-board sign: “They Won’t Stop at Roe.”

“This felt important,” Walcott said of her decision to attend Friday’s impromptu protest. The Supreme Court “seems to think that everything is on the table,” said Walcott, who is bisexual, as protesters around her shouted profanity-laced chants that name-checked Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett M. Kavanaugh. “Gay rights, interracial marriage, same-sex marriage: All of those things now seem to be on the table.”

Here, in the city at the center of the country’s biggest LGBTQ population, the court’s decision Friday morning to overturn Roe v. Wade had come just as many were gearing up for what has become, over the course of five decades, an ecstatic, month-long celebration of community and identity, culminating in a jubilant weekend. Suddenly, less than 48 hours before one of the world’s biggest annual Pride marches, if not the biggest, they were dealing not only with the end to abortion access across parts of the country, but also Justice Clarence Thomas’s opinion implying that same-sex relationships, same-sex marriage and even access to contraception could be next in the crosshairs. It was the right hook many feared had been coming. The celebration had turned into a fight.

And yet, the celebration has always been a fight.

“Pride is always political,” said Jenny Romaine, 59, who was carrying a sign reading “Dyke Zombie 4 Abortion Access. Be Gay — Eat the Law!” and had draped herself, fabulously, in pink tulle, with pink claws and a fake eye popping out of her face for Saturday’s Dyke March. She’d whipped the whole thing up as soon as the decision dropped. “The queers work fast,” she said.

Switching gears to protest the “atrocious act of political violence” that is the end of Roe, she said, was natural. Pride for Romaine is a holiday with rituals meant to honor the work of “ancestors,” who in 1969 rioted against police raids on Stonewall Inn, then took to the streets to demonstrate strength in numbers.

Across the city, Pride weekend didn’t look all that different than it has over the past couple of decades: rainbow flags, fairy wings, queer cheerleading squads, bare breasts, revealing chaps, partygoers laughing about body-glitter woes while in line for the bathrooms at West Village bars, a topless dancer called Mary Magdalene in a leather devil’s costume waving a sign reading “Sex Work,” and Black drag queens lip-syncing past midnight to cheers and we’re-not-worthy bows in a church on Christopher Street.

But the tenor did feel different. A Pride rally that overlapped with Friday’s abortion rights protest was so sparsely attended that when the few people who did show up moved their lawn chairs into the shade, the area in front of the stage was left empty.

At Saturday’s Dyke March, Yanin Martinez, 32, said she had cried when the decision came down. As someone who’s queer, “I may not have an unplanned pregnancy through a partner,” but it all comes down to a lack of bodily autonomy, she said.

Beyond that, she wants to get married and cries every time she thinks about the possibility of that right also being taken away. “I’m first-generation Mexican American. My parents fought so hard to get here, and I’m like, ‘I kind of want to leave, you guys! I think you made the wrong choice!’ ”

Nicole Patterson, 26, who is from Mississippi, said lack of abortion access there “can be a death sentence to Black women.” Patterson, who is bisexual and had rainbow braids in her hair, had a panic attack on Friday thinking about losing the birth-control pills that regulate a medical condition she has and about her teenage sisters back in Mississippi. “What if they make a mistake and want to move on with their lives but instead are stuck being a teen mom?”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) had stopped by Saturday’s Harlem Pride celebration to hand out hope and hugs — her Democratic primary is Tuesday — and told The Washington Post that she had noticed the crowds were less “happy and exuberant” this year. “There’s a dark cloud. People are trying to break through, but the difference is palpable,” she said.

Women from New York and even visitors from Texas were collapsing into her arms and weeping, she said. She’d changed her schedule to spend all night at the Union Square abortion rights rally. “I can’t keep guns out of people’s hands here,” she said. “The Supreme Court tells me, as governor, I have to let concealed carry happen, but they’re also going to mandate people not be able to have abortions and have to have pregnancies. The world is chaos. My job is to restore confidence that people are going to be okay. We’re going to get through this.”

Saturday night at Henrietta Hudson, one of New York’s remaining lesbian bars, the person managing the long line at the door wore a “Bans Off Our Bodies” T-shirt. On the dance floor, amid a sea of neon glow-stick necklaces and couples kissing in matching rainbow bandannas, the DJ urged patrons to “rub up on each other — respectfully.” But on Monday, she added, “we get to f—ing work.”

While many Pride attendees expressed dismay and devastation, few sounded shocked. The biggest Supreme Court decisions have always come out the week before Pride, around the time the court typically goes into recess, said Jodi Kreines, 34, an organizer for the Dyke March. There’s always been something to protest, or, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, which codified same-sex marriage in 2015, something to celebrate. And she knew from past statements that Thomas would come after Obergefell.

“This is something that, as a gay woman, I have been preparing myself for every summer,” Kreines said. “What’s the new one that’s going to happen? And it’s a really sad and disappointing reality, but that is the lived experience of every queer individual in the United States. There’s no bottom. There doesn’t seem to be a bottom.”

As a Black bisexual woman, Kamini Wright, 45, said she felt particularly un-shocked. Wright, who had braids in pink, purple and blue (“the bisexual flag”) had been protesting all week: fighting money being taken from public school programs, fighting gun violence after a girl was shot in her neighborhood in the Bronx. She’d been raised by her grandmother and had heard stories of separate drinking fountains and doors, of Black women dead in alleyways from trying to end unwanted pregnancies.

“A lot of friends of my grandmother couldn’t have kids after botched abortions,” Wright said. Now, trans women have been found dead in alleyways. She fears the rights of Black and Brown people are going to be next. What right did the government have to tell her 14-year-old daughter what to do with her body? “They’re not trying to tell men what to do with their bodies!” Wright said. “What about all these men who don’t pay child support. Why are they not forcing them to get vasectomies or something like that?”

Pride organizers have always been careful to use the word “march” rather than “parade,” said Sue Doster, the co-chair of NYC Pride, who has helped organize Pride in New York for 30 years. And, Doster said, the sense that gay rights and trans bodily autonomy were under threat had been growing every year since former president Donald Trump’s election. Sandra Pérez, executive director of NYC Pride, echoed that sentiment: “We have always been very clear that this is more than just a celebration, because we are not yet assured of our human rights.”

The fun of Pride, though, even in the midst of all this, is still important. It’s what motivated Mel Baker to get her husband, Andrew, and her three children — Sophie, 14; Lyla, 9; and Jackson, 5 — into their coordinating Pride shirts and whisk them from West Orange, N.J., to Central Park on Saturday for Youth Pride, a lively festival geared toward children and teens. Cheerleaders in rainbow-trimmed uniforms with iridescent pompoms welcomed families at the entrance; a pair of middle-schoolers ran around with a Pride flag held between them, narrowly avoiding bowling over other attendees; and dancers dropped into splits all over the stage.

For Baker, Friday’s Supreme Court ruling made for “just a downer of a day,” she said. “Having two girls, the implication that what they do with their body is no longer their decision is really problematic.

“That’s kind of why we came today,” Baker added. “We wanted to come and immerse ourselves in love and happiness and joy on a beautiful day. I think it was kind of our way of getting away from it.”

Anisa, a 13-year-old (and a Cancer, she volunteered) who came out late last year as bisexual, traveled from Atlanta to attend her first Youth Pride. In line for the event on Saturday, with her aunt and grandma beside her, Anisa, who spoke on the condition that only her first name be used to avoid unwanted attention, said she regretted not dyeing her hair for the event. “Pink, to match my outfit,” she said.

Anisa barely remembers an America where same-sex couples couldn’t get married. Friday’s ruling, and especially its implication for Obergefell, left her in “a little bit of disbelief,” she said. “I just don’t know how they could do it.”

On Sunday, the city’s annual Pride March went forward as usual, with a hefty and palpable dose of abortion rights sentiment. At the corner of Fifth Avenue and 26th Street, an organized horde held magenta signs reading “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” on one side and “Together We Fight for All” on the other; some, in the heat of both the 86-degree noon sunshine and the sheer density of humanity, used them as fans or shades. Cutting through the sensory overload of celebratory whistles and the smell of sweat were rainbow Planned Parenthood flags and a few scattered green scarves, a nod to the ones worn by the abortion rights movement in Latin America.

A few blocks away, John Miranda, 58, watched the march with his sister and niece. He was dressed in a rainbow basketball jersey and a rainbow hat, and he carried a sign reading “Thank God for Abortion.”

“The Supreme Court ain’t got no right to take nobody’s rights. A woman has a right to her own body, and as a gay man, I’m fighting here for gay, lesbian, transgender and women’s rights,” he said. Miranda, whose husband was at home in the Bronx, had worried over the past 48 hours about the court’s plans for same-sex marriage. “The Supreme Court is going to try to take it away,” he said. “We need to fight for those rights harder than we used to fight for them.”

Walcott, meanwhile, attended the march with the campaign to reelect New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), then moved on to the Queer Liberation March at Foley Square. For her, the weekend was a celebration with a renewed sense of urgency: “There’s this meme that’s been going around that’s like: ‘It’s no longer Gay Pride Month. It is now Gay Rage Month,’ ” Walcott said with a rueful laugh. “I feel that very deeply in my soul.”