People tend to forget this now that it’s become a global celebration with sponsorship from multinational corporations, but Pride began as a police riot. After cops raided the Stonewall Inn, a New York City gay bar, in 1969, there were multiple days of protests. Those protests were led by activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major, Black trans women who are often whitewashed out of history.
“They’ve been beating us the f*** up, and continue to do so,” Miss Major wrote in a book about her experiences. “And showing everybody else how to beat us up and kill us. That’s where their loyalty lies.”
For many of us who are Black or brown, this statement reads as true now as it did then.
In light of that growing concern, some Pride organizers, like NYC Pride and The Center on Colfax, which organizes Denver Pride, announced they would no longer allow police officers to host exhibitions or participate in the parades while in uniform.
In a statement released last month, NYC Pride said: “NYC Pride seeks to create safer spaces for the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities at a time when violence against marginalized groups, specifically BIPOC and trans communities, has continued to escalate. The sense of safety that law enforcement is meant to provide can instead be threatening, and at times dangerous, to those in our community who are most often targeted with excessive force and/or without reason. NYC Pride is unwilling to contribute in any way to creating an atmosphere of fear or harm for members of the community.”
I applaud Heritage of Pride, which organizes the NYC Pride March, for recognizing that many of us within the LGBTQ+ community are not white, and thus feel differently to our white counterparts about being surrounded by uninformed NYPD officials. Do people not recall watching footage of NYPD officers seemingly trying to run over peaceful protesters last summer?
In recent years, both Pride Toronto and Vancouver Pride Society banned uniformed officers from participation. Moreover, non-Pride related marches such as the Queer Liberation March in New York and the Dyke March in Washington, DC, have historically forbidden law enforcement officers to participate. That said, not every American city has followed suit or kept it up: Sacramento, Minneapolis, and St. Louis, for instance, briefly banned police participation beforereversing their decisions..
Meanwhile, gay law enforcement officials have publicly complained in ways that only make me hope they never get to stand on a Pride parade float ever again.
In a statement released to CNN, Chief Vanessa Wilson of the Aurora Police Department in Colorado wrote: “I understand people’s anger, I understand some people just don’t like the police. We are more than the uniform we wear; we are a part of this community. I look back at the Stonewall riots where the LGBTQ community stood up to the police for the treatment they were receiving at the time. How powerful it is now to see an officer march in a Pride parade holding the hand of their partner, spouse, and significant other saying ‘That was then, this is now’. We are here to protect you.”
Respectfully, this response is mighty white. Not to mention perhaps a little dismissive of people Wilson purportedly wants to help uplift. If you understand the anger Black people — no matter their gender identify or where they land on the Kinsey scale — have towards the police, you don’t follow that with “I understand some people don’t like the police.”
Chief Wilson isn’t solely her uniform, but her statement lacks real empathy. If you’re not concerned about Black women, men, and children being targeted, then surely you need to think a little deeper?
And again, these Pride marches were built on the backs of the bravery of Black trans women at Stonewall. How many law enforcement departments have come out recently to discuss the high murder rates of Black trans women? Instead, we hear stories of police officers shooting Black trans women like 29-year-old Roxanne Moore. Moore was shot 16 times in Reading, Pennsylvania last fall. The DA said the shooting was “justifiable” and the officers involved are back on duty.
This is one of so many reasons why we are angry, why we don’t all feel safe, and why we don’t want cops around for our celebration. From the very beginning, the Black Lives Matter movement was concerned about the lives of queer and trans people because two of the three founders identified as queer (in addition to other figures who have some gained national prominence for their involvement.) Queer and trans people deserve to celebrate in a space in which they feel completely safe and free: a scenario law enforcement can’t provide in this climate. Now more than ever do Black trans and queer folk deserve safe spaces for celebration.
If you don’t understand that, you are part of the problem, regardless if you identify with the greater rainbow community.