Editors note: A previous version of this article incorrectly said that The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) was responsible for the disruption that occurred at the vigil. The article has also been modified to include context regarding the separate motivations of these thee groups. The Daily Lobo sincerely apologizes for this mistake.
Albuquerque PrideFest held a candlelight vigil for the LGBT community on Friday evening, June 6 at Morningside Park. The vigil was held in remembrance of the Stonewall riots in 1969 and ended up experiencing a protest of its own.
A group of protesters chanted over the national anthem and a few speakers at the event. It is unclear if they were affiliated with a local organization.
Otherwise the vigil went on as planned.
The program featured singing from New Mexico Gay Men’s Chorus, a speech from the mayor, talks from community groups and a prayer from a local pastor honoring the members of the LGBT community who’ve died. Protesters chanted, shouted and used a megaphone over the first opening speeches at the event.
“No pride in genocide, no pride in empire,” was repeatedly chanted over the National Anthem and the opening prayer.
Other signs in the crowd included, “No cops at Pride,” which was said to pertain to the issue of police violence in the LGBT community, according to protesters.
The protesters said they were there to bring attention to the death of Johana Medina Leon, 25, the transgender woman who died in El Paso, Texas, after being held in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody in New Mexico. Protesters chanted her name and held signs demanding transgender rights.
“Our purpose is to raise awareness of the very real violence that is continuing to happen to transgender people in our military, and in the general public. This is about the love, peace and acceptance that America needs now, not tomorrow, right now,” according to Shannon Garcia, one of the protesters.
Medina Leon is the most recent death of a transgender immigrant seeking asylum. In 2018, Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez died of dehydration in U.S. custody. A New Mexico medical investigation into her death disputes an independent autopsy’s findings that Rodriguez was beaten in custody — allegations ICE denies.
About 20 minutes after the event started, the protests quieted and the speeches became audible.
Mayor Tim Keller was introduced by Craig LaBerge-Esparza, the president of PrideFest, as a “friend of the LGBTQ community.” The mayor spoke for just over five minutes, thanking the crowd and calling for reflection on civil rights.
Keller said he was concerned about the death of Medina Leon and other transgender immigrants.
“It’s hard to understand how we are not talking more about how they’re targeted because of transgender status,” he said. “I believe that it is discrimination on top of discrimination and how we’ve gotta say something about it.”
Keller then spoke on marriage equality, bullying of LGBT youth and the vandalism of crosswalks in Albuquerque.
The city painted crosswalks rainbow colors at the intersection of Morningside Drive and Central Avenue to celebrate Pride week. A video uploaded to Facebook showed a group of motorcyclists taking turns skidding on the crosswalk.
Keller called the actions of the motorcyclists a “symbolic act of hate,” and said they “will not be accepted.”
The vigil also celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Morningside park Two Pillar monument which was installed to celebrate the Albuquerque LGBT community, and as a memorial for lives lost. June 28 marks the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall — a peaceful gathering of the LGBT community at a local inn turned into a brutal police riot in New York in 1969.
A member from Equality New Mexico, an organization that lobbies for LGBT civil rights, discussed legislative action including the 2017 passage a ban on conversion therapy performed on minors in the state.
Conversion therapy is a term that encompasses methods to change someone’s sexuality, gender identity or expression according to a study conducted by the Williams Institute at the University of California Law School. According to the study, the most common practice is talk therapy but also includes “aversion therapy,” inducing nausea, shocking or paralysis when a person is aroused by same-sex images. The ban only applies to therapists and licensed personnel such as doctors or nurses. The law does not apply to unlicensed individuals or ministers.
Reverend Judith Maynard of Metropolitan Community Church closed the vigil in prayer.
“Tonight, we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, many people who hid their lives in the shadows because they were afraid to come out,” Maynard said. “It was not safe back then. We lost a lot of people to HIV and AIDs back in the 80s and 90s, and we stand on their shoulders. And I believe that the land we stand on tonight is a truly holy land.”
Danielle Prokop contributed to this article.
Lauren McDonald is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo.