US: Prides ban LGBT+ police in uniform

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NYPD officers at the 2019 World Pride NYC and Stonewall 50th LGBTQ Pride parade in New York, June 30, 2019 – Image: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Pride organisers in several US and Canadian cities will ban LGBT+ police officers from wearing their uniforms during events this Summer, as anger about police brutality against minorities simmers a year after the murder of George Floyd.

Marching in uniformed groups waving rainbow flags, LGBT+ policemen and women have been a familiar sight at Pride events around the world for decades, and some have responded with dismay at the moves to stop them taking part.

But as many LGBT+ people call for Prides to return to their roots, as protest marches against police harassment, organisers said they felt impelled to recognise the anti-racism movement triggered by Floyd’s murder by a white police officer.

“It was in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests of last Summer that we felt we really needed to make this decision,” said Rex Fuller, chief executive of The Center on Colfax, the LGBT+ group that runs Denver PrideFest.

Fuller said the ban was decided following protests by staff, including the resignation of one Black employee, and after considering Pride’s history as a protest movement against police harassment of LGBT+ people.

“That’s what tipped the scales for me and (I) felt that it wasn’t appropriate at this time to include law enforcement,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As pandemic restrictions are slowly eased, dozens of Pride events are being planned in the United States and Canada this year, albeit with ‘virtual’ marches, or small gatherings, rather than mass rallies watched by hundreds of thousands of people.

Along with Denver’s parade, NYC Pride said this month [that] uniformed officers would not be allowed to attend its events until 2025. San Francisco and San Diego, as well as Toronto in Canada, have also announced bans.

It was not immediately clear whether any others would ban uniformed police from upcoming events.

LGBT+ police officers have condemned the bans as unfair, and an affront to the inclusive ethos on which Pride was founded.

“Rather than fighting for inclusivity, you are excluding a group of gay, lesbian and transgendered people from participating,” said Bill Hummel, a gay police officer, who investigates crimes against children in Aurora, Colorado.

“How are we to be a part of the change if you won’t have us at all? Your decision… represents an unfair condemnation of our entire profession,” he said in an email to The Center that he shared with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

WORLDWIDE RECKONING

Even before Floyd’s murder, Prides were facing calls from many LGBT+ people to ban uniformed officers from marching, with their origins in protests against police harassment at The Stonewall Inn in New York City often cited.

Toronto Pride was one of a number of Canadian Prides that imposed a ban in 2017, in response to demands by Black Lives Matter Toronto. It voted to keep the ban in 2019.

San Francisco Pride followed suit, in September 2020, citing an incident at its 2019 parade, when protesters disrupted the event and police officers intervened, an event for which the city’s chief of police apologised.

“Black folks still don’t feel comfortable in LGBT neighbourhoods because they’re still profiled by police,” said Carolyn Wysinger, president of San Francisco Pride, which will hold film nights instead of a march this year, due to COVID-19.

Wysinger, who said she had received hate mail after the decision, stressed that the ban was not directed at LGBT+ officers personally.

“This is about a reckoning we’re having worldwide about the community’s feeling about the institution of policing,” she said.

Joanna Styrczula, a co-chair of Serving With Pride, an LGBT+ police association in Ontario, Canada, acknowledged change was needed, but said that gay and trans officers were working hard to do so from the inside.

“My first Pride I was uniformed but I wasn’t out,” she said.

“It was great to be a part of that and it kind of gave me the courage to be able to feel safe enough to come out in the police.”

Reporting by Rachel Savage in London @rachelmsavage – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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