New York City’s annual pride celebration, which began 51 years ago as a provocative commemoration of an anti-police uprising and has grown into a city-sanctioned equality jamboree, will take measures to reduce the presence of the police during its events.
From this year, police and prison officers will also not be allowed to participate as a group in the annual pride march until at least 2025. The ban includes the Gay Officers Action League, a police organization LGBTQ, who broke the news in a statement. Friday night.
The New York Police Department will also be asked to stay one block from the edge of all in-person events, including the march. Heritage of Pride, which organizes events, will instead turn to private companies for safety and security, only calling police in emergencies when necessary, they said.
The move, which organizers planned to announce on Monday, follows years of pressure from some LGBTQ activists, who argued law enforcement was out of place on a march rooted in the 1969 anti-police riot outside the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan. It also follows similar decisions in other cities across the country.
The police department did not respond to requests for comment. Gay Officers Action League chairman Brian Downey called the move “shameful” and a “brutal about-face” in a statement.
“Their response to pressure from activists is to go down the drain by preventing other members of the community from celebrating their identities and honoring the common legacy of the Stonewall riots,” said Mr. Downey.
The decision by Pride organizers reflects the change in attitude towards policing in the city and the increasing pressure on city institutions to deal with long-standing complaints about diversity and inclusion.
Mainstream LGBTQ organizations have been criticized for decades for prioritizing the concerns of some groups over others, with transgender people and people of color saying the push for progress has often left them behind.
“The problem is, how do you make Pride safe for the people who feel most marginalized and who have often been left out of discussions about how Pride is run?” said Beverly Tillery, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, an LGBTQ rights group.
In the case of NYC Pride, the changes are intended to address concerns expressed by some transgender, black and Latin people who say they feel unsafe walking in front of a police force that regularly targeted and victimized them.
NYC Pride had previously resisted requests to sever ties with the police. Calls for change intensified last summer, after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop and the nationwide protests against police brutality that followed.
“The community really called us as an organization,” said André Thomas, one of the co-chairs of NYC Pride. “Because they felt that we were not necessarily living up to our mission, our higher ideals and standards.”
The changes will not be felt immediately. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers have moved most of their programs online. While this year’s march has a face-to-face component, it will be much smaller, away from the ornate floats and hordes of onlookers of the past.
Law enforcement will also not entirely disappear from future events of the pride and its fringes. Officers are required to provide some security for public events, and since the police department issues certain event permits, organizers will maintain a relationship with the police.
But the decision to reduce the role of policing still marks a shift in the debate over the spirit of pride events and who they serve. As the celebrations have grown in major cities, some fear they have left behind their protest origins.
“As an organization, we started out as a response to police brutality,” Thomas said. “So we absolutely have to be aware and aware of it.”
Since the inception of the modern LGBTQ movement, its relationship with the police has been strained. The rebellion at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, one of the main catalysts of the movement, was sparked by a police raid.
When thousands of people gathered in New York City in 1970 a year later, at a rally to commemorate that day, they feared officers would attack them along the road. Their fears that day were in vain, but anti-LGBTQ attitudes persisted in the police department for decades.
As the event grew – acquiring colorful corporate displays, huge crowds, and support from city leaders – the number of police officers stationed along the route increased. Gradually, they went from the status of alleged antagonists to that of security partners.
They also began to participate more actively in events. When gay police officers first marched in uniform in the parade in 1996 – they took legal action for the right to do so – it was seen by many as a victory.
“GOAL and our members have been involved in every police reform and policy review regarding the LGBTQIA + community in New York City,” Downey said in the statement.
But even though views have changed, concern over the presence of law enforcement at Pride has remained, particularly among blacks and transgender and gender non-conforming people.
“While the police presence at Pride has grown over the years, those members of our community who are the most marginalized, who are most affected by the police, feel that Pride is not a safe place for them.” said Ms. Tillery of the Anti-Stated Violence Project.
The Anti-Violence Project operates a 24-hour hotline for LGBTQ people to report incidents of violence. In recent years, workers have regularly received calls during pride celebrations from people reporting harassment or altercations involving “the very police who are supposed to be protecting them,” Tillery said.
Activists, including members of the Anti-Violence Project, reported these incidents and concerns to the pride organizers. They named other cities that prohibited uniformed police from participating in their parades and called on New York to do the same.
As recently as 2019, the organizers resisted. The tension in part led to the creation of the Queer Liberation March, which does not allow officers in uniform. During last year’s event, police clashed with protesters, who said officers used pepper spray on them.
Mr Thomas, the co-chair of Pride, said the organizers see themselves primarily as producers of events. As such, they viewed the police service as “more of a security measure.”
But the national race and police judgment that began after Mr Floyd’s murder has sparked internal discussions about Pride’s long-standing relationship with the police.
At the same time, community groups like The Anti-Violence Project were making another concerted effort to reduce the police department’s presence at Pride.
“A large part of the community has just made it clear that we need to take a different stance on these issues,” Thomas said.
After town halls with community members and discussions with activists, Heritage of Pride has chosen to take an approach in which they use the police as a last resort.
Pride organizers have pledged to seek out private security companies committed to inclusion. They will also work to train businesses on best practices for interacting with LGBTQ and minority communities, Thomas said.
As part of their efforts, Heritage of Pride also said it will provide its volunteers with de-escalation training, which aims to defuse potentially confrontational encounters.
David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said organizers have opened the door to change, but need to be held accountable.
“These types of changes are necessary and difficult,” said Mr. Johns, who advised Heritage of Pride. “And when they’re done, they often don’t have the kind of support that gets people through the process over time.”