Popular images of the protests currently ongoing in New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and around the country often tend to favor young adults, but that wasn't the scene around Jane's Carousel in DUMBO on Friday, June 19. New York City's erstwhile Dyke March, originally reimagined for the era of COVID-19 as a virtual event, quickly reorganized to become a Juneteenth event called the "Break the Chains With Love."
The crowd, which gathered around the carousel as Friday afternoon, was diverse: in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, but also in terms of age. Elder members of the queer community—some of whom had been participating in Dyke Marches since their founding in 1993—mingled with young men, women, and nonbinary members of Gen Z, many of whom proudly held "Black Lives Matter" signs aloft.
The march was organized by Black activist and former Lesbian Avengers member Valarie Walker, and she quickly found her way to the front of the group, encouraged by Dyke March volunteers. Walker, wearing rainbow suspenders, addressed the diverse crowd—much of it comprised of Dyke March volunteer marshals wearing lavender armbands—with something between march directions and a motivational speech. "You are creative, you are faithful, you are compassionate, you are a down-ass human being," she said, powerfully projecting her own voice in lieu of a megaphone. "Some of you came here today with tasks and jobs, and you're showing incredible deference to me and I appreciate you, but I cannot answer every question. You were brought here to make something happen, and you know what to do because you have the experience, so pull up! Pull up!"
Walker's message was quickly put into action, with seemingly everyone committing to the task of making the day's mission—a march through DUMBO and toward the Manhattan Bridge—happen smoothly. Chants of "Gay, straight, black, white, workers of the world unite" rang out from the crowd: several parents pushed strollers, couples held hands and stopped to kiss between blocks, and one young woman held a stick of burning sage in the air. When the group happened upon a clutch of high school graduates taking photos in long purple robes, the joy factor kicked up a notch. Cheers of "Congratulations!" reverberated along the normally quiet and commercialized streets of DUMBO.
While many of the younger attendees had been out in the streets protesting regularly, some attendees were deliberate in their support of Black queer liberation. "It's Juneteenth, and this is the only march I'm attending today," said Amanda, a former Lesbian Avengers member and friend of Walker's. "Because I'm a Black woman of a certain age, I'm really cautious about COVID-19, so I haven't been to any nighttime protests. I try to support local gatherings."
Mark, an Episcopal priest from Cobble Hill explained that he'd been to "about half a dozen" marches in recent weeks and that he and his husband had learned about the Break the Chains with Love march through the Justice for George NYC Instagram. "I think it's important to follow the lead of marginalized voices at these protests, and follow ... literally follow where they lead."
Given the LGBTQ+ community's long and fraught history with racism, it was heartening to see so many people—young and old, queer and ally-identified, some in wheelchairs provided by event organizers—show up to support a Juneteenth event centered around Black liberation and joy. As the march began to shift toward the Manhattan Bridge, Chala, one of the leaders of Leslie, a monthly event dedicated to "empowering the queer womxn, trans, gnc [gender non-conforming] & non-binary folx of NYC" said that support for this moment is at an all-time high. "People are a lot more aware of Juneteenth this year," they laughed. "I've been getting Cash Apps from my friends like it's my birthday. Every Black person should feel like it's their birthday on Juneteenth."