“Love is Love is Love” was chanted as we marched through downtown Baton Rouge. Capital City Alliance’s Baton Rouge Pride March held Saturday, June 17th, 2017 was an energetic and passionate display of solidarity and I was honored to have been a part of it. This being my first year as a CCA board member, I spent my nights making posters, spray-painting PVC pipes, but best of all getting to know my fellow CCA pals.

The day’s events began early as CCA board members and volunteers, myself included, mobilized to get the event ready. Once everything was in place, the rally at the Louisiana state capitol steps started with speeches delivered by CCA Board Chair Jena Ourso, Elliot Wade of Louisiana Trans Advocates, Shaena Johnson with Empower – BR, Pastor Keith Mozingo with Metropolitan Community Church, and CCA Board Member Cody Mack. Mack’s speech detailed his experiences of when he lived in Orlando and accompanied a beautiful rainbow banner memorial with the names of the Pulse Nightclub victims and “Dance in Peace” in big bold letters.  CCA Board Member Alexis Gonzalez then led the audience in a response of “Say Their Names” as he listed out the names of the 49 Pulse Nightclub victims in Orlando and 3 Louisiana transgender murder victims.

With recent activities at the Pride parade in D.C. the tone was set the minute Elliot and Shaena spoke.  We must be inclusive of all injustices, especially those concerning the queer trans people of color community. Cody’s speech left the crowd speechless with his last line asking the crowd to promise to “keep dancing” and tears began to swell in the crowd’s eyes as Alexis read the names of the mostly latino victims, which highlighted that marginalized communities face imminent danger. It’s clear that all movements must work towards intersecting collectively or injustice will continue. I was proud and honored that while the spotlight of the day was on the queer community, the focus was on inclusion.

Once the banners were displayed and pictures were taken, it was time to march to the River Center for the second part of the day, the 11th Annual Baton Rouge Pride Festival. Among many of the tasks I was assigned, leading the chanting (accompanied with the bullhorn) was another.  I joked with my fellow board members that they’d regret that decision as I have a loud voice and I’m not afraid to use it. To know me is to know that I’m an entertainer at heart. There are those who fear and shy away from public speaking, but I wasn’t born with this fear.

The night before I had pulled a few chants from the internet and tucked them away in my pocket for the next day. Little did I know I was tucking away figurative weapons to shield and defend ourselves. As we started the march I rallied the audience, encouraged them to shout more, made them laugh to ease off the struggles of the day (mainly the heat), and guided them through the cadences… And so we walked.

Further down our route we were met with protesters whose loud voices and bigoted signs attempted to drown out our voices, but we were strong. Fearless in the face of homophobia, we chanted “Love is Love” growing louder and louder. We sang “I will survive” (or at least the first verse), smiling and entertained – nothing would deter us from our goal. As we approached the River Center entrance, more counter protesters were in place, their eyes glaring and their voices waiting for a moment of silence, but we wouldn’t give it to them. At this point under the River Center walkway, we continued to chant and even dance as we played Lady Gaga’s Born This Way over the bullhorn. The moment was symbolic of our day, but also a promise we made earlier to keep dancing. We chanted, we played music, we were bold and unapologetic.

The march used all my energy. I was weary, light-headed, and very hoarse after the event, but felt a sense of accomplishment and community. We worked hard to provide a march and memorial that our community could be proud of and we did just that.

Quotes from friends about march…

“Though I’ve lived in or near communities where much larger Pride events have taken place (Baltimore, Boston, New York), my first ever Pride experience was on Saturday. I ended up having a great time. I spent most of my time having conversations with vendors and attendees as well as discovering the large amount of LGBTQ friendly spaces that exist in the Baton Rouge area. More importantly, I met people from across the country who gave off positive energy and warm vibes! It’s events such as Baton Rouge Pride that provide opportunities for us to come together as a community and celebrate the cultural diversity that exists here as well.”

“Pride was emotional- from the fiery chanting that love is love to the unapologetic dancing. It was reverent and beautiful, and undoubtedly one of the best and most open experiences that I have been a part of in my life.”

by Christine Assaf
CCA Board Member

Keep Dancing: Baton Rouge’s 1st Annual Pride March
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