The theme of this year’s Columbus Community Pride – “Here to Stay” – expresses necessary defiance amid the growing nationwide push to criminalize, minimize and erase trans and queer identity.
“There’s a whole lot of evilness coming out of the [Ohio] Statehouse, and just coming from across that country as a whole,” said organizer Dion Mensah, referencing pushed by the state’s Republican-led legislature in the last 18 months – part of a growing national trend. “And as a group that’s largely led by Black, trans people, our goal, at its core, is really achieving Black, trans liberation. … I think Community Pride will always at its core be political resistance.”
This stems in large part from the event having its roots in the Black Pride 4 actions of 2017, during which a group of protestors temporarily blocked the Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade as a means “to raise awareness about the violence against and erasure of Black and Brown queer and trans people” within Pride festivals, as well as to honor the 14 trans women of color who had been murdered in the United States in the first half of that year, .
While Community Pride, which takes place this year , has continued to expand on its programming and mission with each iteration, this radical core remains wholly intact, its organizers' dedication to resistance undimmed.
“Every year we have an altar space at the festival where we honor Black, queer and trans people we’ve lost in the last year. And that’s always a powerful space, because it’s heartbreaking, and it’s part of why we have Community Pride,” Mensah said. “We deserve to have spaces where we can be celebrated, where we get to honor one another, where we get to pay respects to the historical roots of Pride.”
Growing up in the northern suburbs of Columbus, Mensah said their schools never taught them this queer history. As a result, the true nature of the Stonewall riots – which were sparked and led by the actions of Black, trans women such as Marsha P. Johnson – remained hidden from Mensah until they were given an opportunity to choose a subject for a research paper in an AP history class during their junior year of high school.
“And I was like, ‘If I literally get to pick what I want to research, I want to learn more about the LGBTQ community,’” they said. “I first came out when I was 15 or so, and it was something then that wasn’t really talked about as a movement in the same way that some very specific aspects of the Civil Rights movement are talked about. So, it was very self-initiated, and even then there’s still been so much connecting of the dots to do. … Shout-out to BQIC () for the political education the work has continued to offer alongside direct actions over the last six years. … It definitely isn’t an overnight thing, but that’s what is so important about learning in community. It’s being able to ask those questions and grow so that we can get on the same page to work toward a true liberation.”
Part of Community Pride’s function is to help members of these communities access the resources needed to do social justice work. But Mensah said it also serves as a needed celebration – this year’s roster of performers includes , who last year released the career-best Days Pass Strange – describing the collective spirit of communal joy present as another form of resistance.
“I do think Community Pride is a significant source of light and joy, and also of resistance,” they said. “It’s also a place where queer, trans, intersex people of color get to have our needs prioritized when it comes to organizing. … We don’t have a lot of places where we get to show up authentically in that way and be honest about the weight we carry each day, because so many of us are navigating survival, first and foremost. The constant attacks from the state, in addition to things going on in our own lives, can be a lot for any one person to hold. And Community Pride provides a place where you don’t have to put any of that aside, where you can show up as your true self.”
Mensah said they first visited Community Pride as an attendee in 2019 and were struck by the realization that there was a larger community here in Columbus with which they could connect. “It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. What is this space? Who are these people?’” said Mensah, who has seen this same reaction mirrored each year with new generations of first-timers, many of whom are struggling with similar realities. “We know Columbus has a real problem with police violence. … As Black, trans people doing abolitionist work, we are resisting anti-Blackness, transphobia, attacks from the state, attacks from CPD.”
And yet, work continues, with Mensah describing dedication to the movement as difficult but essential – refusing to sugarcoat reality while speaking to the deep-seated hopes that continue to drive the community forward.
“I think it’s important to say it’s not easy,” said Mensah, who has embraced the words of activist Mariame Kaba as a mantra ("Hope is a discipline"). “For me, it’s like I don’t really have a choice. I might not see liberation in my timeline – though I would love that and continue to work as if I will – but I think it’s important to do what you can to support the future that you want.”