Cops at Pride Draw Fresh Criticism

A ‘No Cops at Pride’ movement has taken hold in several North American cities, but the SF Pride parade is still keeping blue in the rainbow.

A cop marches in the annual S.F. Pride parade. Photo by Jessica Christian

The feel-good nature of this weekend’s Pride festivities doesn’t extend to everyone; some segments of the LGBTQ community have decided not to attend in protest of the heavy police presence that accompanies the parade. It’s a call to action that’s gotten attention in other cities, which have chosen not to have officers present at Pride, and many activists ask organizers in S.F. to make the same move.

“There’s no reason why cops should be at Pride, because Pride was started as a defiance against the cops that were harassing the gay community,” Black Arts Matter founder and activist Mone’t Ha-Sidi tells SF Weekly. “A Black trans woman [Marsha P. Johnson] started this movement. There’s no reason why the same oppressors with boots on our neck should be there at our celebrations of marginalized groups.”

Police are on hand at any permitted march through the streets, for obvious public safety reasons. But Pride is a commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall riots, which were a direct response to police brutality, and some Pride parades are acknowledging that police violence still marches on. 

The protests against police at Pride first gained prominence in Toronto, when Black Lives Matter activists disrupted that city’s parade in both 2016 and 2017. Those activists demanded more Black visibility and less police presence, and organizers listened. This year, Toronto Pride has asked the police department to withdraw from that city’s parade.

Vancouver Pride followed suit, and has banned uniformed officers from marching. Halifax police have been told not to march in uniform.

Here in the U.S., the Minneapolis police chief instructed officers to refrain from marching in uniform in that city’s Pride parade as emotions are still raw over the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile. For now, the sentiment has not spread to SF Pride.   

SF Pride did not return comment, but an SFPD contingent is registered to march in Sunday’s S.F. Pride parade, as is an FBI contingent. Not everyone will be rooting them on.

“Knowing the history of why we have Pride, it makes no sense to me and other queer people why police, uniformed especially, would be welcomed with open arms at Pride,” says Bay Area activist Rizzo Xochipilli.

The issue has come up in previous S.F. Pride weekend proceedings. Black Lives Matter pulled out of the 2016 SF Pride celebration over policing concerns in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting — even though the organization had been named a grand marshal. Last year’s Trans March posted guidelines on its website asking participants to not interact with police.

Those words were eventually scrubbed from the Trans March site, but still ring true to many activists.

“Black Lives Matter Toronto set the standard by stopping the Pride parade until organizers committed to making real reforms in this area,” says criminal defense attorney Christina Ann Marie DiEdoardo, who identifies as both trans and a lesbian. “It’s to San Francisco’s shame that we haven’t followed their example to a greater degree.”

Of course, San Francisco does have LGBTQ officers on the police force. We even had an openly trans woman serving as president of the police commission when Theresa Sparks was elected to that position in 2007.

That’s little comfort to activists who feel law enforcement officers create an air of intimidation at Pride events. “The presence of queer and/or trans officers does not detoxify a force whose entire purpose is to uphold a racist and classist system,” DiEdoardo tells SF Weekly.

As of press time, SFPD and the FBI are still slated to march in Sunday’s SF Pride parade. Just like with Pride’s ubiquitous corporate sponsorship, the event still has a complicated relationship between its anti-establishment origins and its focus on building bridges.

But S.F. Pride does not speak for the entire San Francisco LGBTQ community. When the police and FBI march down Market Street Sunday for Pride, some activists might exercise their right to not remain silent.

Joe Kukura is an SF Weekly contributor.
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