Columbus Pride festival coordinator resigns after protest incident

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Just a week after the Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade was interrupted by protesters, the festival coordinator has stepped down.

Columbus Police officers used pepper spray and forced protesters to the ground after they blocked the street. Four people were arrested.

Former Pride festival coordinator and Stonewall Columbus program coordinator Lori Gum said the lack of an impactful statement on the incident, catapulted her decision to leave the organization. Gum officially started working for the Stonewall Columbus in March 2011.

She wasn’t the only one to resign, 25 Pride volunteers have refused to help put on the annual parade and festival without meaningful change.

“I think that trust has been damaged permanently with this community,” said Gum. “Pride started as a protest, so to say that somehow this protest does not belong in Pride is absurd. It is absolutely absurd.”

She resigned on Friday after four protesters were arrested during the Pride parade last week.

“It became very clear by that video though, I didn’t need to know anything else after I saw that video. I knew that the police had responded inappropriately. I saw black faces pushed in asphalt and police on top of them,” said Gum.

She said the statement Stonewall Columbus finally made addressing the situation was too little, too late.

“I saw nothing. I just had no choice, but to say I cannot be apart of this anymore of this just absolutely abdication of leadership at the highest level,” said Gum. “Stonewall started as a protest against police harassment and for us to not understand that is just really stunning to me at our executive and board level.”

However, she said Stonewall Columbus prepared for unexpected protests and asked police to de-escalate.

“As far as their actions, CPD is 150% accountable for what they did and we did what we could prior to,” said Gum.

But, she said Stonewall Columbus didn’t do enough after it happened and is calling for new leadership from the top down.

“I was just stunned that in six days nothing could manage to be crafted, not just a statement, but an actual plan to go forward with something real that we could start a conversation at least. Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing,” she said. “What I would’ve liked to see was an immediate condemnation of police violence, their response to that and offering immediately to pay for legal fees, to immediately meet with the highest level our board and executive director with the protesters, the organizers, right away just to listen first.”

Gum said space needs to be made for protest and voices of color from the LGBTQ community need to be heard.

“There’s always been the issue in this community of particularly queer people of color not having a voice in the LGBTQ organizations,” she said. “This conversation has to start with queer people of color, defining the agenda of the conversation.”

Gum said she doesn’t want this to be the end for Stonewall Columbus, but she said it can’t continue the way it is now.

“I’m trying to speak out honest to God to try to save it and to really find a real way forward for this community,” she said. “You need to do more than just get it right for you. You need to get it right for this community and that didn’t happen.”

NBC4 spoke with Stonewall Columbus over the phone today. The organization said it does not want to rush to judgment on the topic of police misconduct. It said they are starting to reach out to the community and other organizations to begin having conversations on how to move forward.

Here is the statement Stonewall Columbus released on Friday:

The following is a statement from Dr. Tom McCartney, Chair, Stonewall Columbus Board of Trustees:

Stonewall Columbus has stood for equality, acceptance and basic human rights for the LGBTQ community since 1981. We treasure our rich legacy, unwavering commitment to equality and the reality that today Columbus is recognized as one of the most LGBTQ friendly cities in the nation.

All members of our Board were and are deeply concerned by the arrests and charges filed against protestors at this year’s Pride parade. We take very seriously allegations that anyone has suffered an injustice because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or race. As an inclusive organization enriched by the diversity of those we represent, we know that all of us are diminished when one of us is excluded.

We have requested a formal review by the Columbus Police and the Franklin County Sheriff about what occurred during the protests, subsequent arrests and detention. We are and will simultaneously initiate conversations with community partners, Columbus Police Department and Franklin County Sheriff.

We also are aware that our LGBTQ community needs to recognize and address injustices, such as racism, transphobia and classism.  We heard this demand and Now is the time for constructive dialogue that results in real change. Last Saturday, those who marched in Pride were gay, straight, Trans, cisgender, people of color, refugees, immigrants, and people of all faiths, ages, professions, families and children.

Members of our Board are initiating honest, respectful conversations with people throughout the community. Expect to hear concrete ideas resulting from these conversations as we move forward.

Finally, we also want to honor and thank the entire staff of Stonewall Columbus for the great work they do everyday and most especially during Pride Weekend. They are truly devoted and selfless advocates for the people we serve.

Together, we will secure equality for everyone.

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