Mashable is celebrating Pride Month by exploring the modern LGBTQ world, from the people who make up the community to the spaces where they congregate, both online and off.
LGBTQ communities across the country are grappling with a burning question: Do police belong at Pride? More organizers are banning police at Pride events than ever before, but it’s been a contentious move.
The greater LGBTQ community is split on what role law enforcement should play at Pride events — if any — as the country at large continues to examine the state of policing.
Last month, one of the biggest Pride events in the world — — announced a police ban at their events until 2025. The announcement was met with backlash from the police and others who argued excluding officers was discriminatory. Other activists said it’s about time Pride held law enforcement accountable to the history of police violence against LGBTQ people, and people of color. Last year’s widespread Black Lives Matter protests took the police to task, challenging the most entrenched attitudes about the institution. Activists hope that Pride police bans are leveraged for greater transformative justice and police reform.
Some LGBTQ advocates that have organized for decades see police bans as a welcome return to the spirit of the Stonewall Inn riots in 1969, where primarily Black transgender sex workers led the fight against a police raid at the Greenwich Village gay bar. Police have a long history of criminalizing and assaulting gay, lesbian, and transgender poeple, and activists say they have never fully apologized for the harm they caused.
For police reform to be real and lasting, it just might take a renewed solidarity between LGBTQ communities, Black Lives Matter, and other movements for social justice.
Activist and co-founder of New York’s Jay W. Walker said the LGBTQ activism of the 1980s and 1990s saw a “splintering and a siloing” of movements, but the resistance gathering before, during, and after Donald Trump’s presidency has helped unite activists.
“You can’t just isolate yourself and advocate for queer rights without advocating for trans rights, without advocating for Black Lives Matter, and brown lives matter, and disability justice, and the environment — we are all one movement again, which is kind of how things were,” Walker said. “The last four years brought everybody back together and we’re staying together.”
Here’s a closer look at the increase in police bans at Pride, and why activists are saying it’s an overdue step in the right direction.
Banning police at Pride
NYC Pride’s May to ban police acknowledged the harm they have caused, and said the decision was made “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.”
It’s worth noting that a “police ban” is a little misleading. When groups apply for special event permits within their cities, police are required to block off traffic and may also provide security or safety measures. Pride organizers that “ban police” invest in private and volunteer safety teams and request that law enforcement stay on the perimeters. There’s also no restrictions on police attending Pride events out of uniform.
But NYC Pride’s statement immediately drew backlash from, not surprisingly, the police. Gay and lesbian law enforcement decried the move, saying they were being excluded and pushed back into the because of their occupation. Others, including people from LGBTQ communities, criticized NYC Pride’s decision, saying it missed opportunities to build bridges between police and marginalized groups and that it officers. And still others NYC Pride’s stance to hold the police accountable and stand in solidarity with people of color and other activist groups.
After the NYC Pride announcement, other organizations in the U.S. made similar decisions to reduce uniformed police presence at this year’s Pride events — which are mostly a hybrid of in-person and virtual programming — including and Seattle’s .
NYC Pride’s decision might seem sensational, but in recent years the number of Pride organizers making similar decisions has only increased. Organizers in Toronto, Vancouver, Sacramento, San Francisco, and D.C. have all reduced police presence at Pride before this year. Melbourne followed suit in May with its own ban on uniformed police.
These decisions were results of conversations between LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, and other activist communities, conversations that in some cases have been happening for years. Two of the three founders of the BLM movement , and their message has been rooted in . After years of asking Pride organizers to divest from police in solidarity with BLM and affiliated causes, some are finally acting. Last year, Vancouver B.C. Pride banned police from their events, and recently to BLM activists who had been urging them to make the change since 2016.
A return to the spirit of Stonewall
Activist, journalist, and member of Reclaim Pride Coalition Ann Northrop said she and others have been trying to get NYC Pride organizers to ban police and corporate interests (aka corps) for years. Not seeing the changes they wanted, a contingent of LGBTQ activists formed their own Queer Liberation March in 2019. Their slogan is: “No Corps. No Cops. No BS.”
This year marks the third annual Queer Liberation March, an event that rejects corporate floats, corporate sponsorship, and police participation. It’s a return to the political roots of the people’s march that took place a year after the Stonewall riots, with an emphasis on activism and protest. “It’s a march, not a parade,” Northrup emphasized. “To some extent it’s gratifying to see [NYC Pride] now deciding to ban police in uniforms from their parade, for a few years at least.”
Five days after the police ban announcement, NYC Pride membership held their own vote. Of the roughly 150 members, 55 percent of letting the (G.O.A.L.) march in the Pride parade, armed and in uniform. G.O.A.L. is a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for the rights of LGBTQ police and provides sensitivity training to other law enforcement. The 12 members of the NYC Pride executive board vetoed the membership vote, but said they would be open to letting G.O.A.L. march at Pride, albeit unarmed and out of uniform.
Dan Dimant, NYC Pride’s media director, said the executive board maintained their decision because many queer and trans people of color feel unsafe around armed, uniformed police. The ban on police hopes to prompt NYPD to “acknowledge their harm and correct course.”
In 2025, NYC Pride will review the possibility of their inclusion. “We don’t see those outspoken statements of condemnation when colleagues of G.O.A.L. or NYPD are acting against our community,” Dimant said. “That’s really a starting point that we know we need to see more of.”
Northrup said the NYC Pride’s membership vote against the ban was disappointing. Taking a stand and demanding accountability is exactly how change happens. “There’s got to be follow-through when we criticise the police,” Northrup said. “It’s all very well for politicians or people to say ‘Defund the Police’ or ‘Reform the Police,’ but you have to then stand up for that and hold people to account, and the people who want the cops back in the parade are not holding anybody to account.”
The only formal apology from the New York police department for its against LGBTQ communities came the year that New York hosted World Pride in 2019. At that time the police commissioner, James O’Neill, publicly apologized for the Stonewall police raid. “Well, what about everything else they’ve done for the last 50 years?” Northrup asked.
During her work with radical LGBTQ activist groups , , and the , Northrup estimates she’s been arrested about 20 times, and witnessed countless instances of police brutalizing LGBTQ communities. The police get away with it, and rarely face repercussions. “They have done some terrible things and they have never, ever apologized for any of it,” she said.
Those who argue that police provide safety for LGBTQ communities are most often people who feel safe turning to police in times of crisis, primarily white or cisgendered people. Dimant noted, “A lot of people when they’re in trouble, the last person they’re calling is a uniformed police officer.”
What about inclusivity?
In a statement on NYC Pride’s decision, G.O.A.L. President Brian Downey said the ban prevents LGBTQ polce from “celebrating their identities and honoring the shared legacy of the Stonewall Riots.”
President of the Seattle Police Officers Guild Mike Solan echoed this claim of exclusion when Seattle’s Capitol Hill Pride Fest made their decision to ban police. “Our LGBTQ members serve our community with distinction and pride… Anyone that believes in their banishment has no place in Seattle and does not believe in the inclusive LGBTQ message,” Solan stated in a blog .
Capitol Hill Pride Fest organizers say there can be no inclusion when police brutalize peaceful protesters. Last September, 50 protesters filed a against Seattle police for wrongful death, civil rights violations, and personal injuries. At that time, Dan Nolte, communications director for the city attorney’s office, wrote in an email, “We intend to investigate these alleged claims and will defend the city in this matter.”
Witnessing police violence last summer was one reason that led Capitol Hill Pride Fest to ban Seattle Police from its events. The announcement also called on Seattle Police to terminate who traveled to the Capitol during the .
“How can we schedule any safe event when any police officer — we don’t know if he attended [the insurrection in] Washington D.C.?” asked the festival co-director Charlette LeFevre. “I hate to say this — we can’t trust any officer,” she said. “Regarding the police, we’re done.”
In New York, at the end of last year’s Queer Liberation March, police did show up, but only to attack marchers with batons and pepper spray and make a . Then there’s the weekly against anti-trans violence, led by Black activists, that typically draws around 200 to 300 people. In April, six protesters were arrested for alleged graffiti and disorderly conduct. “[The march] has been attacked more times than I can count by police,” Walker, of Reclaim Pride, said. “Through all of this persecution of our communities, our leadership, our activists, G.O.A.L. has remained silent. G.O.A.L. doesn’t get to say, ‘We’re a part of this community too. You’re treating us poorly.’”
What does reconciliation look like?
Police acknowledging and apologizing for their treatment of LGBTQ and people of color would be a start in the process of mending fences, but activists aren’t holding their collective breath. Reflecting on how last year’s protests against police violence was often met with , even acknowledging harm seems unlikely within the current police institution.
Walker believes there would have to be a complete overhaul of community safety and justice if police, the LGBTQ community, and people of color could ever reconcile. “Until there is some kind of true restorative justice reimagining, reenvisioning of what public safety is, broadly, and instituted at federal, state, and local levels all across the country, that kind of reconciliation is going to be impossible,” he said.
What will help is the increase in Pride organizers aligning with people of color in demanding police accountability, adding more momentum to the greater reckoning for racial and social justice. It’s a renewed sense of solidarity that activists are hoping will last.
Mark Van Streefkerk is a Seattle-based freelance journalist who frequently writes about LGBTQ+ topics. His work has appeared in BuzzFeed, The Baffler, and The Stranger Slog. You can reach him at markvanstreefkerk.com and on Twitter at @VanStreefkerk.