Pro-Palestinian protesters join Denver’s Pride Parade, take over PrideFest main stage

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Pro-Palestinian protesters march down Colfax Avenue as they disrupt the annual PrideFest parade. June 23, 2024.

Updated 2:03 p.m.

About 200 pro-Palestinian demonstrators protesting the War in Gaza gathered in the middle of Denver Sunday morning as the Denver PrideFest parade started its journey to Civic Center Park in Downtown Denver.

As the Denver Pride Parade got ready to begin, hundreds of activists protesting the ongoing war in Gaza set up at the beginning of the route, delaying the start of the parade. At about 9:30 a.m., over a dozen police sequestered the protesters to their side of the street, briefly holding up parade participants.

The parade resumed by 10 a.m., with police diverting traffic to eastbound Colfax to avoid the makeshift barricades police set up. Protesters remained in their area and continued to chant through the parade. Certain parade floats, like Starbucks, elicited strong boos from the crowd of protesters.

The group of protesters joined the parade around 10:30 a.m., with the front of the group holding a banner that said “The Palestinian Struggle Is Our Struggle. No Pride in Genocide.” While walking down Colfax, protesters chanted and urged attendants to join the parade with them.

Local trans activist and organizer Z Williams said their protest harkens back to the origins of the pride movement.

“We are here to honor the traditions of our ancestors in the queer and trans movement and also make sure that all of these corporations are held accountable for their role in murdering over 40,000 people in Gaza,” Williams said. 

Williams said several corporations with a presence in Israel, like Lockheed Martin and Chevron, plan to march in the parade.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Pro-Palestinian protesters march in Denver's annual PrideFest parade, though not as part of the official program. June 23, 2024.

During the march, protesters mostly encountered support from those in the crowd, however, some jeered them. Tensions appeared high, as CPR News reporters witnessed at least two scuffles and multiple verbal arguments between protesters and parade attendees. When protesters paused at the intersection of Colfax and Washington Street to give speeches, a small group of people confronted organizers, urging them to let the parade continue. 

“I'm not saying I agree or disagree either way, but don't stop a parade that we all fought hard to have as well,” Beth Cabozzi said, before being interrupted by a passerby. 

“I think we can have our parade and still support the cause, so let them talk,” said the passerby, who walked away before sharing their name.

Protesters marched all the way to the Denver PrideFest at Civic Center Park

Despite attempts from some volunteers to prevent protesters from entering the fenced-in PrideFest, the group, which had grown since it joined the parade, successfully marched through the park before interrupting a ska concert on the main stage. The festival’s longstanding emcee, DeMarcio Slaughter, welcomed the group on stage and asked the group to remain nonviolent and peaceful. 

“Many of us agree with you,” Slaughter told the crowd. “I would like to work together with individuals from this group and I want to hear the message. Let us work together.”

Onstage, queer protesters spoke about the history of protest in the Pride movement and why that’s influenced their beliefs on a free Palestinian state and the history of protest in the Pride movement.  

“Gay pride is founded upon gay power. And gay power is rooted in the struggle. Our respect, our dignity was not handed over voluntarily. We had to fight for it,” a protester who identified themself as Asa, told the crowd. “We had to fight for it against the forces of imperial power and hegemony against the forces of nationalism and Christian global domination. The same forces that hurt my people, that hurt gay people, hurt Palestinian people.”

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Claire S. speaks onstage at Civic Center Park's Greek Amphitheatre as pro-Palestinian protesters interrupt regular programming at Denver PrideFest. June 23, 2024.

Susan Alberts was watching the ska band and got caught between protesters and the stage. She told CPR News she was happy to hear their message. 

“This is an area where people get to express and be who they are, so I'm sort of like, we'll take a minute to let them say what they have to say,” Alberts said. 

After several speeches, protesters peacefully left the stage and appeared to exit the festival grounds.  

Politicians, organizers react

The Center on Colfax, an organizer of the parade, said in a statement that they support the rights of free speech and assembly.

“We ask that protestors remain non-violent in their right to protest. We support calls for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the region,” The Center said. “We are continuously collecting community input and evaluating our sponsorships and affiliations. We will take feedback into consideration as we plan future festivals.”

The Pride Parade and PrideFest was attended by multiple city and state officials, including Rep. Diana DeGette, Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Mike Johnston. Many have not commented on the disruption of the events.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Colorado Congresswoman Diana Degette rides in Denver's annual PrideFest parade as pro-Palestinian protesters heckle her from the sidewalk. June 23, 2024.

Representative Brianna Titone, the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker, was backstage while protesters occupied the main stage. She said she has “a lot of complex opinions about where they stand,” and that she believes their hearts are in the right place, but disagreed with protesters choosing PrideFest as a venue for their protesting. 

“I think that that cause should be done on another day, because this is the 50th anniversary of the Pride event in Denver. And it should be about pride specifically. We don't need more politicization of pride for other reasons, because it is already being politicized by a lot of people these days,” Titone told CPR News. 

Titone also added she worries that ongoing protests surrounding the War in Gaza are dividing Democrats during a contentious election year. 

The militant group Hamas with ties to Gaza launched an attack into Israel in early October last year, killing more than 1,000 Israelis and taking hundreds of hostages. Israel responded by invading Gaza and have killed tens of thousands of people there since.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Pro-Palestinian protest organizer Khalid Hamu leads chants as Denver PrideFest's annual parade begins on Colfax Avenue. June 23, 2024.