One of the oldest celebrations of the LGBTQ community in the world has been New York City’s annual Pride celebration. The parade began 51 years ago and has long been a symbol of the strength, defiance, and pride of this community. The whole idea was to show the full spectrum of LGBTQ influence, participation, and expression in our society. This year, however, activists have decided to discriminate against one group: police officers. In a parade that was found to reject discrimination in every form, the organizers have told the Gay Officers Action League and other such groups that they will not be allowed to march. Their presence is viewed as a threat to others in the parade and a denial of a “safe space” for LGBTQ members. It is hard to imagine a more antithetical position for the parade in excluding officers who are part of the community and who want to publicly stand with other LGBTQ members.
The organizers have announced that police and corrections officers will be barred from participating in the parade until at least 2025. They declared “The sense of safety that law enforcement is meant to provide can instead be threatening, and at times dangerous, to those in our community who are most often targeted with excessive force and/or without reason.”
The Gay Officers Action League, an organization of L.G.B.T.Q. police, denounced the decision on Friday night. In addition, the NYPD is being asked to remain at least a block away from all events to ensure a safe environment for participants.
Activists have long opposed police participation and cite the anti-police riot outside the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan. However, the police participants have marched to show that the NYPD does not just support the LGBTQ community but includes officers from the community. It is the very rejection of the image of the Stonewall Inn riot and a testament to the progress made not just by the LGBTQ community but the NYPD.
Nevertheless, Beverly Tillery, the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project insists that “[t]he issue is, how do we make Pride safe for the people who feel the most marginalized and have often been left out of the conversations about how Pride is run?”
It is a terrible setback and insult for officers and their predecessors, who had to sue for the right to march in uniform and did so for the first time in 1996. They have fought to diversify the ranks of the NYPD and show that there are officers not just supportive but part of the LGBTQ community. That would seem an incredibly powerful and reassuring message to send to community members. The growing numbers each year showed the progress that has been achieved since 1978 when New York City mayor Ed Koch banned discrimination in police hiring on the basis of sexual orientation (over the objection of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association).
On November 2, 1969, Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy and Linda Rhodes called for an annual march for all “Homophile organizations.” The march was envisioned as a statement against exclusionary limits of every kind for members of the community:
We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called CHRISTOPHER STREET LIBERATION DAY. No dress or age regulations shall be made for this demonstration.
We also propose that we contact Homophile organizations throughout the country and suggest that they hold parallel demonstrations on that day. We propose a nationwide show of support.
GOAL is one such organization and shows how much has changed since this call for a unifying celebration of everyone within this community. It was created in 1982 and each year around 200 of its members and their families participated in the march. They have now been told that they are not welcomed as a perceived threat to their own community. I cannot think of a message more counter to traditions or values of the annual parade. A movement based on inclusion has now embraced exclusion as a defining value.