Do police belong at Pride? Does the man who mugged me belong at my birthday party? Does my shitty ex-boyfriend belong at my graduation? Is gas station sushi ever acceptable?
Oh, I thought we were just asking ridiculous questions.
For the uninitiated, June is now widely recognized as LGBTQ+ Pride Month, a monthlong celebration that honors the fight for queer rights. Though we now expect this month to be full of parades and rainbow flags, Pride was first created to commemorate the Stonewall riots of New York City, the 1969 uprising in response to transphobic and homophobic police raids on the mafia-run Greenwich Village gay bar, the Stonewall Inn.
Even though no one died at Stonewall, the wanton brutality by the police ignited a national, now-global fight for LGBTQ+ equality. Since then, queer people in the U.S. have won the right to marry, the freedom from workplace discrimination, and other hard-fought civil liberties that are already afforded to our straight counterparts.
It’s not a surprise to me that queer police officers want to be in the Pride parades. Pride is a fabulous time. To be honest, who wouldn’t want to be part of Pride? But there’s a particular privilege—and lack of self-awareness—that comes with believing police officers deserve to be in these celebrations, particularly when they, queer as they may be, stand on the backs of the people whose brutality birthed this global movement.
Critics are quick to point out that the Stonewall Riots happened more than 50 years ago, but there are plenty of contemporary examples to draw on as evidence for why police don’t belong in Pride celebrations. And it’s hard to feel comforted when it took the New York Police Department 50 years to officially apologize for its role in the riots.
Last month, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law released a report detailing that queer people were six times more likely to be stopped by the police, and that one in four queer people is unlikely to call the police. Studies from organizations like Lambda Legal and the National Center for Transgender Equality have shown in detail how the police mistreat and abuse queer people.
Last summer, Chicago police officer Matthew Drinnan called a protester a “fucking faggot” after a traffic cone and small baracade were thrown at him. In March 2019, an on-duty Chicago police sergeant allegedly raped a transgender woman in a marked police vehicle. In November 2013, off-duty officer Thomas Walsh assaulted a Black man and used racist slurs at the Lucky Horseshoe gay bar in Boystown.
People like to say that Pride is all about including everyone, that everyone is welcome. But in reality, that’s just not true. I can name a rather extensive list of people who don’t belong at Pride, like proponents of conversion therapy, or the Westboro Baptist Church, or legislators advancing transphobic legislation. And yes, that list includes the police.
And when we say no cops, it’s not as if a queer police officer couldn’t come as a civilian. What we mean is that the police cannot take up space at a protest that, frankly, they themselves are responsible for. That means no floats, no seemingly well-meaning videos of uniformed cops dancing with queers, and certainly no rainbow-clad police cars honking alongside parade floats.
Pride in reality celebrates the queer identity despite state-sanctioned efforts to diminish us. It’s an acknowledgement of the brutality and fear that our predecessors faced, and that we still face, even in these United States. When we allow the police to take up space at Pride, a celebration which commemorates the failure of the police to quash the queer identity in 1969, we are absolving their contemporaries who have continued that tradition.
I’m all for forgiveness but forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. And I’m not really in a forgiving mood, either. v