Op-Ed: NYC Pride Says No To Cops, And It's Long Overdue

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Scary Mommy and ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty

Recently, Heritage of Pride, the group who organizes New York City’s Pride parade and events announced their decision to ban police and corrections officers from participating in the city’s Pride events until 2025. Following the lead of places like Toronto and Minneapolis, the ban goes into effect this year and in 2025, they will reevaluate. While many members of the police department take issue with the ban, members of the LGBTQIA community support the organization’s decision. This police ban is long overdue, especially when you think about the origins of Pride.

“NYC Pride is unwilling to contribute in any way to creating an atmosphere of fear or harm for members of the community. The steps being taken by the organization challenge law enforcement to acknowledge their harm and to correct course moving forward, in hopes of making an impactful change,” Heritage of Pride said in a statement.

Pride, and the parades celebrating it, are a result of the Stonewall Riots in 1969. The Stonewall Riots themselves were a direct result of police brutality. On that June night, trans women and gay men came together to fight back against the police who were performing constant raids on spaces where gay and queer people gathered. At the Stonewall Inn that night, they had finally had enough and fought back against the police by throwing bricks and other things at the officers who beat them with batons and shoved them in paddy wagons, leaving them handcuffed for hours. How can you allow police to participate in a march that memorializes and celebrates the day people finally stood up to the police? It doesn’t make any sense.

“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 statement reads.

While we don’t know for sure who threw those first bricks at Stonewall, Black and brown trans women are credited with starting the fight that night. And in the 50 years since, they have largely been the ones to continue the fight for queer liberation. At the same time, they have the most to lose, with many unable to acquire employment and procure housing. Additionally, they’re killed at high rates every year, and are constantly the victims of violence, on the streets and in jails.

For some people, this decision may have come out of nowhere, but it hasn’t. Many activists have been calling to remove cops from Pride for years. And last year was a watershed moment when it comes to the conversation around racial equality and police brutality. When we’re living in a time where we’re having real conversations around the importance of lessening the police state in this country, how does it look to have an event that is crawling with cops? In this instance, it goes even beyond the overreach in terms of “security.” We know that the police don’t treat members of the LGBTQ+ community any better than they did back in 1969. It doesn’t matter if some of the officers are also members of the community — we know that all skin folk are not kinfolk.

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“There’s always been aggression by law enforcement and it’s been an issue in the community for years,” Heritage of Pride spokesperson Dan Dimant told CNN. “The events of last year, with protests over George Floyd, there have been a lot of run-ins with the NYPD, so we began to think long and hard about this decision.”

Heritage of Pride says that they will only use NYPD officers “as mandated by city officials,” and will use a mix of “trained private security, community leaders, and volunteers,” to replace the police. According to André Thomas, NYC Pride co-chair, the moves to remove police from Pride began “right after Pride, when the community held us to task for our response to aggressive actions by the NYPD toward peaceful protestors in front of Stonewall during Pride Sunday.”

Last year, Pride intersected with the protests against police brutality after the killing of George Floyd. Across the country, many of the usual Pride parades and events were cancelled due to COVID, so they used that time to stage Black Lives Matter protests. As we know, many of those protests were met with more police brutality, and it was no exception in New York City. The event Thomas refers to, the Queer Liberation March, was a peaceful event that was met with intense police interactions.

Even though activists have been advocating for NYC to reduce police presence at Pride for many years, it’s good to see that they’re finally listening. Of course it’s frustrating that it took the events of last summer, when things were incredibly heightened, to get them to really pay attention, but they’re finally listening. Thomas told the publication them that “social movements today demanded action.” And he’s absolutely right.

Spokespeople for the NYPD are calling the move “disheartening,” but Heritage of Pride’s decision is beyond overdue. We cannot continue to prioritize the feelings of the police over the larger part of the LGBTQ+ community.

People who are upset with Heritage of Pride’s decision are all like, “but what about the LGBTQ+ cops?” To that I say, “what about them?”

Of course there are members of the LGBTQ+ community who are also police and corrections officers. The community is everywhere. But here’s the thing, being a cop isn’t the same kind of identity as being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Being a cop is a job. I have never seen another profession where people conflate their jobs with who they are to this degree. At the end of the day, that’s one of the biggest parts of the problem. We don’t see any other profession marching at Pride in uniform. So why is it so hard for cops to separate their jobs from their identities as members of the LGBTQ+ community? Being queer or trans isn’t a choice — being a cop is.

“Heritage of Pride is well aware that the city would not allow a large-scale event to occur without police presence. So their response to activist pressure is to take the low road by preventing their fellow community members from celebrating their identities and honoring the shared legacy of the Stonewall Riots,” said the president of the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL), Brian Downey in a statement.

Oh boo fucking hoo. “Low road?” You have got to be fucking kidding me with this Trump-esque rhetoric. Heritage of Pride isn’t saying cops who are members of the LGBTQ+ community can’t come. They’re saying that they can’t come in uniform carrying firearms and march officially as the police. What in the world is the big deal? I can assure them that being a queer cop isn’t the flex they think it is. It doesn’t make you any cooler or more relatable to be like, “I’m a gay cop! I’m just like you!” They’re not. But if they really want to show their pride, they can just put on their rainbow short shorts and come. This isn’t that hard.

Police officers, whether they’re members of the LGBTQ+ community or not, shouldn’t be at Pride. They’re not doing anything to enhance the experience, and there are more risks than benefit to their presence. I hope that this ban finally shows how little we need them and that it’s made permanent. Defund the police, and ban ‘em from all Pride parades forever and ever. Good fucking riddance.