NEW YORK (Reuters) - The world's marquee gay pride parade was preempted by thousands of anti-corporate dissidents who staged their own protest on Sunday, rejecting a uniformed police presence and commercial sponsorship while also demanding LGBTQ equality.
Hours before New York was set to launch what organizers are calling the largest gay pride parade in history for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, the Queer Liberation March proceeded in the opposite direction, starting at the historic Stonewall Inn and heading north to Central Park.
Meanwhile the city was expecting 150,000 parade marchers and millions of spectators to line streets for the main event running north-to-south towards the Stonewall, the gay bar in Greenwich Village where resistance to police harassment on June 28, 1969, triggered the modern LGBTQ liberation movement.
Similar parades were being held around the world. North Macedonia held its first Gay Pride march on Saturday. In Singapore, marchers called for scrapping a law banning gay sex. In Turkey, Istanbul's gay and transgender community gathered for a small rally that ended with tear gas and rubber bullets on Sunday after their annual march was banned for the fifth consecutive year.
In New York, even activists connected to the official parade sounded off about the true meaning of a movement that began when marginalized power fought back against the powerful.
"I don't want anyone to be fooled by the colours in the streets, the rainbow glosses around the ads of T-Mobile or any of the other wonderful companies, into thinking that we are free because we're not," Indya Moore, an actor from FX television series Pose, told a news conference held by parade organizers.
"And so to see today, on the anniversary of Stonewall, police heavy saturated in our streets, it's traumatic for some of us," Moore said.
New York was designated the site of World Pride this year, with corporate sponsors and uniformed police taking place in the parade, an unimaginable sight 50 years ago.
Straight allies joined LGBTQ people in waving rainbow flags and defending civil rights.
At the Disco Mass at St. Marks Church, dance and pop hits from Diana Ross, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams were mixed with traditional Episcopalian and gospel hymns in the theme of inclusion and freedom.
But organizers of the Queer Liberation March aimed to call attention to the killing of black trans women, protest U.S. detentions of migrant children, and oppose actions by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to curtail the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer people.
They marched behind a banner stating "We Resist."
"We're taking a stand, we're saying no to the police, we're saying no to the corporations," said Jay Toole, 71, who took part in the Stonewall uprising 50 years ago and will boycott the World Pride parade.
"I was here for the first night ... it wasn't just a bunch of white people. There were people of colour out here, there were trans people. We didn't have the words for it back then but, trust me, they were out here."
Marchers hoisted signs with statements such as "My trans pride is not business marketing" and "Decolonize Pride."
Alina Balseiro, 19, a student from Cambridge, Massachusetts, said she joined the alternative march because "I'm queer and we need to be here, stand up and fight back."
The Queer Liberation March observed two moments of silence, one in which protesters lay on the street, as if dead, to draw attention to the killing of transgender women.
At least 10 transgender people have been murdered in the United States in 2019 after 26 were killed in 2018 and 29 in 2017, according to Human Rights Campaign. Nearly all were trans women of colour.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Matthew Lavietes; Additional reporting by Richard Leong; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)