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PRIDE Northshore rolls in Mandeville for first time

By Lucas Harrell

Mandeville residents carry a giant Pride flag across the street.  | Fight Back! News/Naomi Retherford

Mandeville, LA – In a groundbreaking advance for the Louisiana LGBTQ rights movement, a Pride parade has premiered in Mandeville for the first time on June 1. Organized by Queer Northshore, over 500 people signed up to participate in the historic march called “PRIDE Northshore 2024.” The parade’s slogan was, “Y’all Means All.”

Mandeville is a strongly Republican-governed city on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans. With a population of roughly 14,000, it is located in Saint Tammany Parish, with Tangipahoa Parish and Washington Parish collectively known as the Northshore.

In the state of Louisiana, three anti-LGBTQ bills were proposed this year, and the nationwide book-banning movement all originated borders of Saint Tammany. In a 2023 incident a billboard that said, “Ban hate, not books” and illustrated by a transgender teenager was burned down in Abita Springs.

“It’s visibility. When people see trans people and queer people in our communities and begin to become familiar with them, the kind of boogeyman bullshit from the far right starts to dissipate,” states co-founder of Queer Northshore, Jeremy Thompson. “That was the point of [our PRIDE Northshore] billboard too, to be an invitation, and also as a reminder that we’re your neighbors – that we do live there, and you probably know us and don’t even realize it.”

The parade began at 5 p.m. on Lakeshore Drive, with participants and krewes marching down the scenic Lakefront behind a specially-created art piece of the “PRIDE Pelican,” which was designed and illustrated by Ashley Franklin and then sculpted by Ruby Porter. Immediately following the sculpture were large, colorful letters that spelled out “PRIDE.” held by volunteers who marched along the route. Over 25 walking krewes participated in the event, including several groups that varied from local library anti-censorship movements to LGBTQ-inclusive churches, as well as healthcare that support women’s rights and gender-affirming care.

One of the contingents appearing in the parade consisted of Louisiana Allies for Palestine and Northshore Community for Collective Liberation, which also included members of the Queer and Trans Community Action Project (QTCAP) and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO). This contingent was cut from all media attention on local news stations but was included within Queer Northshore’s online archive of photos taken at the event.

“Look at the struggle that queer people have faced here and still do. People have died for being who they are right here,” says Jasmine Joumah, an Arab-Mexican member of Louisiana Allies for Palestine. “Love is always the root for every revolution. Whether people accept it or not, there are queer Palestinians and every LGBTQ person deserves to be seen and fought for. Struggles recognize other struggles. We can’t have full liberation if everyone isn’t liberated.”

Days before PRIDE Northshore debuted, a rainbow flag that flew in front of a Queer Northshore member’s house was ripped and burned in the street. In response to this event, the individual received Pride memorabilia and flags from supportive neighbors across the parish. Homophobic hate groups posted to their social media accounts, planning to disrupt the action. PRIDE Northshore participants stayed steadfast and disciplined in their mission to display their Pride for the first time.

This mobilization of the masses draws similarities to the first Pride parade that took place almost 54 years ago, in commemoration of the Stonewall riots. The initial revolutionary character of Pride continues even in the suburbs, where no corporation has sanitized a natural escalation of the social and political oppression felt by queer and queer-allied Northshore individuals.

Until now, many have lived in silence due to fear of hate and violence. PRIDE Northshore defies the previously established status quo and sets a new precedent for the area, setting the stage for more mobilization and organizing for liberation of not just queer individuals, but all of those affected by capitalist exploitation and oppression.

“Corporations don’t care about queer identity or culture, instead they use us, and pride parades, as a means for profit,” says Blu DiMarco, a member of QTCAP. “Queer liberation will never come from those in positions of power that [are] capitalist tools of oppression, but instead will and should come from the actual queer community. We hear and see each other as people, not a means of profit, and queer resistance has and will always be about community and collective liberation.”

Mel Manuel and Jeremy JF Thompson, the co-founders and co-directors of Queer Northshore, initially founded the group in 2022 in hopes of building a community of LGBTQ people in a place that lacked LGBTQ visibility. Since then, they have held over 100 events for the queer community in their area. Manuel is also the Director of Operations for the Louisiana Abortion Fund, and both have experience representing the working class. Notably, Thompson is also Manuel’s campaign manager as a congressional candidate, where they are hoping to establish a universal basic income, uplift voices of LGBTQ individuals and people of color, and support reproductive rights.

Manuel, raised in Covington, recalls that growing up queer on the Northshore felt isolating and unwelcoming. “I knew lots of queer people, but I didn’t know I knew lots of queer people, because nobody was out. I felt like there was something wrong with me, that I was weird, and I wasn’t like other people. In reality, there was just no visibility in the queer community, so I felt like it was only me. As an adult, you know there are a lot of queer people. But when you’re eight, that may not be so apparent.”

While separate grassroots movements based upon different issues in the area exist outside of Queer Northshore, PRIDE Northshore successfully united many of these groups in a single march with demands of visibility, equality and community.

With 30 events coming in the next month from Queer Northshore, parade-goers and those unable to attend are encouraged to attend future events in the area, which includes support groups, parties, book club meetings, and more.

Despite the challenging political climate throughout the state, the first PRIDE Northshore proved to be a historic and monumental moment in the fight for queer liberation in Louisiana. Thompson states that “queer joy is an act of resistance” in the context of the social oppression of queer individuals in the area.

Thompson also discussed the willingness of the community to show up and be visible together, with 60 volunteers coming together among the hundreds of participants to help with the more organizational aspects of the parade. When asked what the organizers wished for guests to leave with, they wanted guests to leave with hope for the future, and new connections with the community around them. In a context where the queer community was not incredibly visible, yet had such a strong turnout, it was an astounding success and opened a new chapter for many queer individuals.

Thompson said that PRIDE “was a demand the people clearly wanted. It’s not like we had to beg them to come out.” On account of how successful the event was, they likened it to Saint Tammany’s Coming Out Party. “You know, now that we’ve come out, we can’t go back in.”

The results of the event far exceeded any expectations Thompson or Manuel had, further proving that this was something the LGBTQ community wanted, and simply needed strong enough organization to make such a large event happen.

“I think we can leave now, knowing we can see each other,” Manuel says.

After the parade, an afterparty was hosted at Pat’s Rest-a-While. On June 28, at 6 p.m., Thompson and Manuel will host a Pride Talk on Queer Joy to close out Pride Month at the Hammond Library.

On June 8, at 5:30 p.m. at Jackson Square, QTCAP and other organizations are calling a rally against New Orleans’ corporate and pro-Zionist Pride.

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