To Celebrate Pride, We Must Honor Its Roots as an Anti-Police Protest

The presence of police officers at Pride is completely antithetical to its origins as an anti-police protest. Police officers should have absolutely no role in the modern-day queer and trans liberation movement and any parades, marches or events celebrating the lives of LGBTQ people. In fact, many of the first events resembling current-day Pride parades were born out of community responses to police violence in New York City, San Francisco and other cities across the country. At best, including police officers in Pride events is disrespectful toward LGBTQ people, living and passed, who have experienced police brutality. And at worst, police presence at Pride actively endangers the lives of LGBTQ people, especially Black and Indigenous LGBTQ people, who are here today.

The Violent History of Police Attacks on Pride

Police officers across the country have historically perpetrated horrible acts of physical, sexual and verbal violence against LGBTQ people. Community resistance to this police brutality, particularly by Black trans women and other LGBTQ people of color, birthed the modern-day queer and trans liberation movement. The June 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City and the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in August 1966 in San Francisco are two prominent examples of LGBTQ people, particularly Black trans women and other trans women of color, fighting back against homophobic, transphobic and racist attacks by police. While there had been many other public actions, demonstrations and protests by LGBTQ people throughout the 1960s, the events at Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria more directly served as the launching points for Pride marches and the queer and trans liberation movement in New York City, San Francisco and other U.S. cities.

Unfortunately, police brutality against the LGBTQ community has not stopped, and police officers continue to harass and endanger LGBTQ people, even at Pride and other community events. In 2017, more than a dozen police officers attacked LGBTQ activists of color who were peacefully protesting at a Pride event in Columbus, Ohio. Members of Black Queer Intersectionality Columbus (BQIC), a group of Black LGBTQ community organizers, planned to silently block the parade for seven minutes to “protest the recent acquittal of the police officer who killed Philando Castile” and to “raise awareness about the violence against and erasure of Black and brown queer and trans people.” Less than 45 seconds into their silent protest, police officers brutally attacked the protestors.

A similar incident occurred at San Francisco Pride in 2019, when a small group of protesters planned to delay Pride for 50 minutes to “commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall” and “to honor and continue the legacy of our militant trans and queer ancestors, who fought, loved, and rioted to make room for our existence today.” The protesters handed out flyers with their demands, one of which called for no police participation in Pride. The police officers present responded violently, using excessive force against several protesters. They also broke the cane of a disabled trans protester and intentionally misgendered them multiple times.

Police officers’ attacks on LGBTQ people are rarely grounded in legitimate concerns of “public safety.” Instead, they are deeply rooted in homophobia, transphobia, racism, ableism and other systems of oppression. As demonstrated by the incidents above, it’s clear that the police targeted the protesters for multiple reasons: their gender and sexuality, their race and their anti-police politics. LGBTQ people of color with anti-police and abolitionist politics, particularly Black LGBTQ people, are seen as “dangerous” to the state. Police officers treat them as such, and respond with physical violence, as well as homophobic, transphobic and racist verbal harassment. For LGBTQ people of color who survive these attacks, they are often left with trauma from both the individual police officers who harmed them and the ramifications of the prison-industrial complex more broadly.

Banning Police and Reclaiming Pride

Several cities across the country have banned police officers from participating in some capacity in Pride parades, marches, festivals and other events. The specific actions vary from city to city, but there is a clear nationwide movement to limit and eliminate police presence at Pride. While these decisions might be recent, the call to action to remove police officers from community spaces has been led by LGBTQ people of color for decades. And considering the origins of Pride, keeping police out of community spaces has been central to the queer and trans liberation movement from the start.

In 2018, police were banned in some capacity from several Pride parades around the country. In Minneapolis, Minnesota; Madison, Wisconsin; and Durham, North Carolina, police officers were banned from marching in Pride parades while in uniform. The organizers of Capital Pride in Washington, D.C. also banned uniformed police officers from marching in Pride in 2018, and reiterated the ban in 2021. As required by the D.C. city government, the police department will have “jurisdiction to close and clear the streets,” but any needed security will be hired through a private company.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, San Diego, California; Charlotte, North Carolina; Portland, Oregon; and Indianapolis, Indiana, all took actions in 2020 to reduce police presence at their future Pride events. The organizers of San Diego Pride released a four-part plan to limit police presence, which included removing parade contingents and festival booths for law enforcement agencies. Similar to San Diego, the organizers of Charlotte Pride in North Carolina also released a four-part plan to limit police presence and power in order to support Black LGBTQ people and other LGBTQ people of color. The plan demands that the city “make less visible the number of uniformed and armed law enforcement officers” they are required to have for security, and encourages the city “to redirect police funding into investments in community-based … initiatives that will uplift Black and Brown people, low-income people, and other marginalized communities.”

In Portland, Pride organizers had asked police officers to not march in uniform in 2017, but after witnessing “the ever-increasing use of violence against our citizens,” organizers have now banned uniformed and armed police officers from marching in the parade and participating in the festival beginning in 2021. And in Indianapolis, Indy Pride “will no longer contract with or utilize police departments for security … unless necessary for road closures.” Pride organizers in each of these cities demonstrate how a variety of tactics can be used to limit or eliminate police presence at Pride events. Beyond this, they also emphasize the need to invest resources to better the livelihoods of the most marginalized people in the LGBTQ community, and show that this liberatory work is indeed possible.

Unfortunately, some of the decisions to ban police officers from Pride were made as direct responses to incidents of police violence. In 2020, the organizers of San Francisco Pride banned uniformed police officers from marching in the parade after the above-mentioned police attacks on protesters at Pride in 2019. The board of San Francisco Pride also worked to have the charges dropped against the protesters. In New York City, the organizers of Pride decided to ban uniformed police officers from marching in the parade from 2021 until at least 2025. Community members in New York City had been demanding that police be removed from Pride for years, but the call to action wasn’t taken seriously by the organizers of Pride until an incident of police violence at the 2020 Queer Liberation March. As the nationwide movement to limit police presence at Pride continues, cities should choose to be more proactive in their approach to avoid further harm to LGBTQ people and communities, and commit to fully removing police officers in all capacities from these spaces.

Honoring the Origins of Pride

As cities continue to debate whether or how to limit or eliminate police presence at their Pride events later this month and in the years to come, we must continue to advocate for community-based solutions that center the most marginalized LGBTQ people. Continuing to organize for the removal of police officers from all LGBTQ spaces, as well as the ultimate abolition of the police and the prison-industrial complex, is one of the most important actions we can take to honor the history of the queer and trans liberation movement. Anti-police and abolitionist politics must be centered in all efforts to achieve queer and trans liberation, because the liberation of LGBTQ people is inherently intertwined with the destruction of all systems of oppression.

Resisting police presence at Pride brings us one step closer to achieving that liberation.