Sitting at a crowded dining room table inside a South Side duplex, Ariana Steele sounds focused but tired.
With just a few days to go until the first Columbus Community Pride Festival, it’s understandable why.
Steele is the co-founder of Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus, or BQIC, which is hosting the festival on Saturday, after a year-long squabble with Stonewall Columbus.
The fight began after the arrest of four protesters at Stonewall’s Pride Parade last year, who came be known as the #BlackPride4. That protest was the public’s first sight of what Steele says has been a long push to get Stonewall to be more sympathetic to their issues.
“At every point, Stonewall has taken the chance to really show that they’re not listening to what the #BlackPride4 were saying originally,” Steele says.
Chief among their complaints, Steele says, is Stonewall’s failure to address complaints about what BQIC calls police brutality against LGBTQ people of color.
“The #BlackPride4 and other people who stepped out with them stepped out to draw attention to the fact that people of color in the LGBTQ+ community are often overlooked,” Steele says. “And we’ve seen that continually over the last year since they’ve been arrested.”
Executives with Stonewall disagree, and say they’ve gone out of their way to bring BQIC into the fold. Stonewall’s interim executive director Deb Steele – no relation to Ariana – says she personally attended a BQIC meeting in April, and offered them a spot in Stonewall’s parade to increase visibility for their cause.
Deb Steele replaced former Stonewall executive director Karla Rothan, who announced her retirement in March. Rothan’s retirement followed some other members of the Stonewall board of trustees resigning in the wake of last summer’s protest. Those board members were replaced with people of color.
“My understanding is BQIC feels only Queer people of color should be on our Board,” Deb Steele said in an email. “SWC is really glad there are more Pride events happening throughout central Ohio and wish BQIC all the best for themselves and attendees at Community Pride. I'm aware of business and individuals who are supporting and attending both Pride events on June 16th in our city."
Deb Steele has previously said it’s BQIC’s goal to have zero police at Pride, which she says is impossible for an event that size.
Indeed, BQIC’s goal is to have no law enforcement presence at their much-smaller festival on Saturday.
“Community Pride takes no corporate sponsorship and will not invite the police to any of our events,” reads a Facebook event page.
Ariana Steele says the festival, planned for Mayme Moore Park on Mt. Vernon Avenue, will use guards from a black trans-owned security firm, and their permit does not require any police to be present. Steele says there may be police patrolling the area, but does not expect any confrontations with officers.
Steele says they declined Stonewall’s offer of a spot in their parade because marching behind a police motorcade would make BQIC members uncomfortable. Steele also said participating in Stonewall’s parade would be an endorsement of the status quo.
Ariana also says Deb Steele’s comment about BQIC wanting only queer people of color on the Stonewall board is not true. She says they want people that aren’t just “token” people of color to satisfy a quota. Ariana Steele says BQIC wants board members who will work to address BQIC’s concerns about police violence.
The Columbus Division of Police did not respond to a request for comment about this story. Chief Kim Jacobs, the first openly-gay chief in the division’s history, has consistently defended police and their response to last June’s protest.
“We have diversity training that begins with our recruits in the academy,” Jacobs told WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher last July. “We require people to follow our core values, which are professionalism, respect, integrity, discipline, and enthusiasm, so everyone gets treated with respect."