Demonstrators at the Pride for Black Lives event march in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. June is LGBTQ Pride month, and this year it was also a time of reckoning over racial injustice and police misconduct as nationwide protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

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A drag performer flaunted a picture of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick across a makeshift stage as a cheering crowd sat in the middle of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Madison, Wisconsin.

A DJ spun house music from a booth adorned with signs proclaiming: “Black artists invented techno.” Familiar calls of “Black lives matter” gave way to more specific declarations that “Black trans lives matter.” 

June is LGBTQ Pride month, and this year it was also a time of reckoning over racial injustice and police misconduct as nationwide protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

As a tumultuous month ends, here is a look back at a June 12  Madison event that focused on the past and present ties between the struggle for — and the celebration of — Black lives and LGBTQ Pride.

Mahnker Dahnweih speaks to demonstrators at the Pride for Black Lives event in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. Dahnweih, 28, works as the Community power building coordinator for the Madison-based community activism group Freedom, Inc., which organized the event. Dawnweih led the crowd in calls to defund the police and give power and resources directly to the communities that need them most. “We came together to demand to defund the police. There’s no reason why we don’t have housing, food, transportation,” she said, calling specifically on Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, and Madison School Board President Gloria Reyes to use their positions of power to support the movement and the community. “I have faith in our people. I have faith in our outrage and our resilience. We’ve been resisting for 400 years. I have faith in our people that we will hold them accountable.” Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch
Ira Hafer, left, and Christiana Fowlkes pose for a photo at the Pride for Black Lives event in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. Hafer, 23, said that the event felt more diverse and active than other Pride celebrations that they’ve been to. “For a Madison event this looks a lot different, a lot more black people than would normally be here.” Fowlkes, 21, is a Washington D.C. native and a student at UW-Madison. As someone who is queer, Black, and indigenous, Fowlkes said she often doesn’t feel welcome in Madison. “I’m indifferent to Madison. It doesn’t ever feel like home. There aren’t many people who look like me or spaces that feel fully funded or prioritized. I much prefer my city back home.” Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch
Demonstrators at the Pride for Black Lives event begin their march around the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020.
Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch
Demonstrators at the Pride for Black Lives event paused in front of the City County Building, home of the local government, in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020, to call for Madison Police Department funding to be reallocated into community resources. Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch
A. Alexander speaks through a megaphone to marchers at the Pride for Black Lives event in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. Alexander, 15, is a student at La Follette High School in Madison and a member of community activist group Freedom, Inc., one of the event’s organizing groups. “I’m out here to support my LGBTQ peoples and my black peoples too,” Alexander said. “This is my first Pride parade and I like it a lot — the spirit, all the colors. People are able to dress how they want to dress without being judged, and I love that.” “Black queers don’t get a lot of justice. They need a chance to be heard just as well as George Floyd.” Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch
Keith Williams-Lawrence poses for a picture on the outskirts of the Pride for Black Lives event in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. Williams-Lawrence, 22, was born and raised in Madison and said they were glad to see a diverse crowd and intersectional messaging at the event. “It’s been lacking in the past. We’ve been unable to get past single social oppression issues, so we haven’t gotten any of the work done for intersectionality,” Williams-Lawrence said. “What really struck a chord in me is the necessity of having people who aren’t marginalized to be there to support. There are more white people than brown people here, more straight than gay. We wouldn’t be a group without people who are willing to go to bat for us.” Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Organizers and attendees said intersectionality is a fundamental but often understated part of the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ Pride movements.

Intersectionality refers to the overlapping of different identities, such as race, sexual orientation and gender. Considering all aspects of a person’s identity, activists say, illuminates the unique experiences and challenges of those who may share membership in some groups but not others.

“I think intersectionality is important. Being gay is hard enough, and add that onto being Black,” said Alex Aikens, 23, who is Black and straight. “We’re just trying to exist. We’re all discriminated against.”

Pride month takes inspiration from the Stonewall Riots, a series of violent demonstrations that began in the early morning of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn bar in New York. The demonstrations, also called the Stonewall uprising or Stonewall rebellion, were a response to a police raid and arrests made at the Inn, and were by many accounts led by a Black transgender woman named Marsha P. Johnson. The episode is widely viewed as the birth of the modern LGBTQ movement.

“We have Pride today because Black and other POC (people of color) trans women were fed up,” said Mahnker Dahnweih, 28, one of the event’s leading speakers and organizers. “Police murder and violence is also a queer issue.”

Dr. Sami Schalk, right, a Gender and Women’s Studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, welcomes Pride for Black Lives participants to a makeshift dance floor on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Drag artists performed for demonstrators at the Pride for Black Lives event in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Shyra Adams of Madison is seen at the Pride for Black Lives event in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. Adams, 20, from Madison, is an organizer with Freedom, Inc., one of the event’s organizing groups. She said that she grew up in abusive household and at 13 was taken in by new parents with close ties to Freedom, Inc.. Adams was optimistic about the diversity and enthusiasm of the group of demonstrators. “People are just coming out here and supporting us, donating, putting their bodies on the line. One of the protests we did we had white allies on the outside linking arms, putting up a protective barrier.” Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch
Maggie Cousin is seen at the Pride for Black Lives event in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. Cousin, 22, is a member of the organization Socialist Alternative and sees the current moment as an opportunity to connect and collaborate with other activists and passionate community members. “It feels like a turning point. People aren’t going to go back to the way things were. They’re demanding democracy and community power,” Cousin said. “I’m hoping to connect with more people and keep the momentum going. We want to build a sustaining movement.” Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

The festivities began on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol, where organizers from Madison-based activist group Freedom, Inc., which collaborated with other local groups in sponsoring the event, led participants in song and chant and offered a  moment of silence for Black LGBTQ people lost to racism, homophobia and police brutality.

Most attendees wore masks during an event that collided with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — a public health crisis that spurred cancellations of many other Pride celebrations across the country.

Marching a few blocks from the Capitol to the seat of Madison’s city government, demonstrators called for the defunding of police and for the removal of police from schools — while investing in other community programs. Through their megaphones, speakers demanded support from local officials such as Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Madison School Board President Gloria Reyes. (The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education on Monday voted to terminate its contract with the Madison Police Department, which provided resource officers at high schools.)

Demonstrators soon arrived at their final destination: a section of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just in front of the State Capitol building, where a makeshift stage was cleared for the event’s more celebratory phase. Drag performers in suits of bright pink, reptile print and purple velvet danced and lip-synced for the crowd. The show was followed by a ball — a friendly competition wherein audience members strutted for a panel of judges.

Alec Aikens Hill is seen at the Pride for Black Lives event in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. Aikens, 23, wanted to show up and support the community. “For me it’s a basic concept of existence. I know people don’t see eye to eye but they should be able to be free, be who you are, be free,” Aikens said. “We’re just trying to exist. The running theme is celebration. The whole movement is celebrating life. It’s not about the wrongdoing. It’s about this.” Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch
T Gentry, 22, attended the Pride for Black Lives event in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. Gentry, who has lived in Madison for two years and recently came out as trans, said they understand the struggle of looking and being “different.” “Everyone’s coming together. We’re all fighting for the same kind of things, we’re trying to make a difference for each other too.” Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch
Larry Leather, 63, poses for a photo at the Pride for Black Lives event in Madison, Wis., on June 12, 2020. Leather, a Milwaukee native who has lived in Madison for more than 30 years, said he was in the army from 1978 to 1984, during which time he fought alongside many Black soldiers. “They would have died for me and I would have died for them.” He says he comes to all kinds of Pride events in Madison. “I just love this. I’ve gone to rainbow gatherings my whole life.” Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Will Cioci

Will Cioci joined Wisconsin Watch in 2020 as a multimedia intern. He is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pursuing a degree in Journalism, Environmental Studies, and Political Science. He has interned for state and local government in the past and works as a photographer and occasional reporter for the Daily Cardinal student newspaper at UW-Madison.