I’ve been thinking a lot lately about police presence at Pride celebrations – after the mass shooting in Orlando and a potential attack in LA stopped, many people are on edge about potentially being attacked or killed because of their sexual orientation and/or gender. And it’s hard not to be a little terrified after everything: in addition to the Pulse shooting, queer/LGBTQ people are generally most at risk for hate crime related violence and that trend is unfortunately going up.
In response to all of this, some lawmakers have been exploiting the public fear and the collective mourning to push for more police militarization and many Pride organizers have increased the police presence at several major cities. Plus, many police departments seem to be eager to appear inclusive – Seattle’s police department, for example, has revamped several patrol cars with rainbow logos.
But that doesn’t mean that everyone in the queer and LGBTQ community is welcoming the larger police presence at the celebrations – in fact, there are some who are critical of the decision. The biggest reason being that queer/LGBTQ people of color are the ones who are most alienated and impacted by the larger presence of police. Several organizations and community members are refusing to march in the Pride parades of several cities (like San Francisco and New Orleans) in direct response to the increased number of police.
Both the Transgender Law Center and the Audre Lorde Project came out with statements calling for community, not police and that the collective mourning over the shooting in Orlando not be used as an excuse for police militarization. The ACLU of Northern California also criticized the decision to add more police to San Francisco Pride, saying in a blog post that it is a contradictory move due to the history of the police department:
While the SFPD promotes the message that San Francisco is a welcoming city for the LGBT community, it fails to point out the history of racism and bigotry within its ranks. This is the same police force that was recently in the news again when officers were exposed for exchanging racist and homophobic texts. This is the same police force that treats people of color as enemies and arrests black people in dramatically higher numbers. This is the same department that had its police chief dismissed because his officers continue to murder people of color in the streets.
Racism and bigotry are alive within the SFPD. We can’t let this hate play out on our streets in an event themed “For Racial and Economic Justice.”
A larger police presence and the additional militarization of police departments is not always a good thing and rather ironic considering the fact that the beginning of Pride was literally a police riot. Trans women of color are frequently profiled by police or the target of violent police hostility – Nizah Morris, for example, was most likely killed by three police officers in 2002. People of color, whether they are a part of the queer/LGBTQ community or not, are frequently profiled by police – the Stop and Frisk program in New York City is a glaring example of that.
One report from the Center for American Progress found that queer and LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system, in part because of family rejection, homelessness, and failed safety nets. Kris Nelson wrote about why prison abolition is a queer rights issue about a year ago – highlighting not only the history of police and the queer/LGBTQ community but also that because the mainstream gay rights movement has distanced itself from the most marginalized (i.e. queer and trans people of color, etc), prison abolition has fallen off of its radar. Additionally, the Center for American Progress, Center for HIV Law and Policy, Streetwise and Safe, and the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at the Columbia Law School all worked together to create a report on the criminalization of LGBT people and people living with HIV.
Like I’ve said before: the larger police presence at Pride events around the US mostly impacts the more marginalized of our community – homeless queer youth, queer and trans people of color, undocumented queer people, etc all have a completely different relationship with the police than many of the LGBTQ white and upper middle class people. And white privilege really does play a big part in how we (meaning white, middle class LGBTQ people) interact with police. That doesn’t mean we should forget the long history of violence to the queer community from police.
About a year ago, I wrote about why Pride events should be proclaiming that black lives matter and I still think that it should happen. Being inclusive and also cognizant of the different ways people interact with the world is important – not just for the queer community but for society as a whole. Not everyone is going to feel the same way about the police, about all of these issues, and about so much more.
While writing this, I was also thinking about the different ways we could all feel safer at Pride, especially in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando. I know that there are many who do and will feel safer because of a larger police presence just as I know that there are many others who won’t feel safe because of that same thing. I don’t think I have any solutions or answers to any of this really but I do think that we as white people need to be more aware not only of our privilege but how life is different for people of color because of racism and white supremacy. I also know for sure that there are queer and LGBTQ people of color who are just as much a part of this community and I will defend their existence and right to be here to any white person to the end of the world and back.