Paying Tribute to Charleena Lyles, No Justice No Pride Action Disrupts Pride Parade

by Kelsey Hamlin

The planning was set over the course of a week, organized by three core members. This year’s Pride Parade would feature a surprise altar for Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old pregnant mother of 4 killed by Seattle Police Department officers Steven McNew and Jason Anderson on June 18.

But the Pride announcers and marchers didn’t know what was to come, neither did the Seattle Police Department. The plan was kept secret. The time finally came. Protesters – calling themselves No Justice, No Pride – stalled a majority of the parade,  around 11:45 a.m, for 30 minutes to match the 30 years of life Lyles lived. Announcers requested silence, at the behest of organizers, in dedication for Lyles. A powerful 30-second dead spell overtook the entire blocks.

Altar activists created in tribute to Charleena Lyles. Parade marchers were welcomed to contribute to it. (Photo by Kelsey Hamlin)

Police and private security were on nearly every corner, and the gates lining the parade were either interlocked with metal or zip tied together. The organizers expected — and were prepared for — police confrontation and potential arrests. With the sight of a specific parade truck signaling them to do so, protesters breached the gates.

“Disrupting the violence that is normalized is important,” Estefania said. She was one of the core organizers, with a megaphone in hand throughout the disruption. “We intend to polarize, and ask them to make a choice.”

The choice, she explained, was between fighting against the norms of systemic, social, and economic violence, or choosing complicity within them.

“We are against corporations marching for human rights who are directly participating in assaults on human rights,” the No Justice, No Pride organizers stated in a press release. “We do not buy into Seattle Pride’s vision of LGBTQ diversity and inclusion, which gives a pass to companies and governments to make money off of poisoning people, locking people up, and paying people unlivable wages.”

To these activists, a truly representative and honest pride would mean that black lives matter, along with immigrant, refugee, Muslim, Indigenous,  Two Spirits, queer and trans lives.

After approximately 30 organizers entered the parade, they immediately laid down white sheets, laden with bouquets and cardboard signs. They then began singing, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest ‘til it’s done.”

The song has a background. It was composed in memory of Ella Baker, a key organizer in the civil rights Freedom Movement. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights states, “The song is an anthem, a meditation on the ultimate lesson of the freedom fight passed down generationally by Ms. Ella herself that is meant to be spoken boldly out loud or under one’s breath as the situation demands to empower both purpose and resolve.”

Pride announcers slowly realized the parade was halted because of this action. Announcers already designated for the Westlake stage — Lady B, Abbey Roads, and DonnaTella Howe — acquiesced to the organizers. One of them advised the DJ to stop playing music so the protesters could be heard.

The Lady B eventually descended from the stage and spoke with Estefania. Though engaged in conversation and allowing the action to continue, the trans performer had some contentions.

“While I’m in support for what’s happening right now, I don’t feel this is the best way,” The Lady B said, speaking after her conversation. “I also understand the criticism of Pride. How do you take this energy…to be leveraged?”

She was curious about the organizers’ future plans.

The Lady B talks with Estefania about the disruption as media and strangers alike crowd around with cameras, GoPros, and phones. (Photo by Kelsey Hamlin)

“I am here because Black Lives Matter,” activist Rashad Barber said, “as long as we are in a city that still incarcerates youth. There is no liberation unless all of us get freed.”

Another activist at the march commented on bringing in Latinx people, with a fellow activists stating that Pride is full of rich, white people and corporations which isn’t representative of the community from which Pride arose.

David Moreno, hired security for Pride, watched from the sidelines. Moreno came to Pride from Alaska specifically to experience it in Seattle as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“I’m ok with it because we need to accept everyone,” Moreno said. “There’s a lot of love down here.”

Gabby Courser, a 12-year-old crowd member, held the same sentiments. She felt the action was really sweet.

Once activists were settled in, they passed the mic to explain why they were present. KKS explained during her speech that anti-blackness is also in communities of color. She urged people to walk away from complacency.

Directly following those remarks was a Seattle University student, and activist who has previously been seen at Block The Bunker actions. Going by Robert, they identified as being aligned with BAYAN Pacific Northwest, a Filipino New Patriotic Alliance.

Organizer Robert speaking after a slew of activists, demanding that their people no longer be used to justify violence. (Photo by Kelsey Hamlin)

“I am from the proud, trans, queer people of the Philippines,” they announced. “They did not give their lives so our brown lives could justify violence. My ancestors did not die for this.”

The disruption yielded no arrest, nor any confrontation with police, parade members, or general onlookers.

Though, at one point during the stoppage, someone yelled “move it on!” At another, a white man in a red shirt asked to have the mic, but organizers declined, saying speeches were meant only for people of color. He appeared irritated, then used his own headset mic to announce his support for the disruption.

Organizers then wrapped up the demonstration, keeping two small white sheets with flowers and candles on the side of the street for the remainder of the parade. Pride marchers and onlookers were welcomed to add to the altar. The activists soon reconvened in another location approximately five blocks away to assess what they’d done.

At the reportback, Kelsen Caldwell called the disruption “wildly successful.” Nearly all shared the sentiment. Organizers went on to express gratitude, relief, exhilaration, empowerment, inspiration, and healing sentiments for what they had accomplished.

“This took a lot of trust,” Caldwell said. “There’s building that has to happen.”

The group acknowledged the Duwamish Tribe, as most of Seattle sits on their still federally unrecognized tribal land, before closing with Robert’s Filipino femme wisdom and meditation.

Already, the disruption elicited online backlash. People are irritated that No Justice No Pride interrupted another marginalized group. However, a majority — if not all — of the protesters are also members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

A live stream of the event can be seen through Block The Bunker’s Facebook page.

Kelsey 1Kelsey Hamlin is a reporter with South Seattle Emerald, and interned with the publication this summer. She has worked with various Seattle publications. Currently, Hamlin is a University of Washington student, and the President of the UW Chapter’s Society of Professional Journalists. Hamlin is a journalism major at the University of Washington with interdisciplinary Honors, and a minor in Law, Societies & Justice. Find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin or see her other work on her website

Featured Photo Kelsey Hamlin

6 thoughts on “Paying Tribute to Charleena Lyles, No Justice No Pride Action Disrupts Pride Parade”

  1. Thank you for telling their story. This was an incredibly beautiful and poignant moment that was so very needed, particularly this year. As a trans and queer person this is what makes me proud, not the corporate pride that has taken over the visibility in Seattle.

    In regards to the fabulous Lady B – she is a trans woman and performer, not a drag queen. Would you be willing to update the article?

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