This article was published on May 29th, 2022
In the wake of recent controversies surrounding the presence of police at LGBTQ+ events, San Francisco police have been barred from wearing their uniforms at this year’s Pride parade. Instead, they will march in t-shirts that represent their local law enforcement agency.
The move comes amid a national reckoning over whether law enforcement should be welcome at pride parades. But it also reflects a debate playing out within the LGBTQ+ community itself. The decision has caused a heated debate in the city. However, the discourse stretches across the country, as cities reconsider the presence of police at LGBTQ-led events.
Pride organizers have a history of banning uniformed police officers from participating in their parades. In 2017, Pride Toronto announced it would no longer allow police officers to host exhibitions or participate in the parade while in uniform.
At the same time, Pride organizers in New York City and Denver followed suit, announcing that they would no longer allow police officers to participate either. And in 2020, Vancouver Pride Society announced that it would not permit uniformed police officers to participate either.
LGBTQ+ people have a fraught history with law enforcement. The relationship between the two communities has been fraught since Stonewall and the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement began in 1969, when police raided a gay bar in New York City.
Since then, violence against LGBTQ individuals has continued: from the murder of Matthew Shepard to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL. That’s why many Pride organizations across the United States are opting to remove police in uniforms from their parades and events.
Pride organizers have claimed that barring police from marching in uniform is a safety measure designed to protect participants from people who might be hostile toward them for a variety of reasons including racial profiling and police brutality. However, not everyone sees it this way.
While some people believe that the anti-law enforcement sentiment stems from a logical concern about how police interact with LGBTQ+ people of color and trans people, others are calling it political grandstanding that prioritizes one cause over another.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been one of the most vocal groups expressing opposition to allowing law enforcement officers to march in uniform at pride parades.
One argument against allowing police officers to march in uniform is that it could create a space where tensions between law enforcement and members of marginalized communities could escalate into violence or even death.
For example, many advocates point to the 2016 Orlando shooting as an example of how anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments can lead to violence against members of the community by law enforcement officers who may harbor prejudice against queer people.
However, on their part, police unions have argued that officers should not be excluded from participating in Pride events because they protect gay rights and often have LGBTQ+ members on their own forces. They say they are concerned about safety if they can’t wear uniforms or openly identify themselves as police officers while attending events like Pride parades and festivals.
San Francisco Mayor opts out
In protest of this ban, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, on Monday, said she would not participate in the city’s Pride parade unless organizers changed their policy.
“I’ve made this very hard decision in order to support those members of the LGBTQ community who serve in uniform, in our Police Department and Sheriff’s Department, who have been told they cannot march in uniform, and in support of the members of the Fire Department who are refusing to march out of solidarity with their public safety partners,” Breed said.
The San Francisco Police Officer’s Pride Alliance has also denounced the decision, calling it a “punishment” for officers who have no involvement in the recent scandals that have rocked the department.
“The board decided to punish LGBTQ+ peace officers for the failings of others,” the group noted a statement adding: “This is its own form of prejudice and further erodes the tenuous relationship between peace officers and the communities we keep safe.”
San Francisco Pride said that it had been working towards coming up with an agreement with law enforcement agencies for several months now. They said that “we have not come to a solution that is mutually beneficial for all parties involved.”
The group also acknowledged the strides being made towards improving members’ feelings about law enforcement agencies and said it would continue working on addressing those concerns.
The 52nd annual San Francisco Pride weekend is set for June 25 and 26.