I’m going to be honest up front. This is one of those topics where you’re not going to find me coming down on one specific side by the end. Some dilemmas just don’t have a definitive right answer. We’re still in June and there have been a ton of pride events happening all over the country. Just a day or two ago was the big parade in New York City, which was publicly televised for the first time ever. That’s a big deal. Of course, pride events are becoming common enough now to where disagreements are breaking out as to how they should be handled. One of the big controversies I keep seeing is the presence of police officers in the parades themselves. I’m not talking about just monitoring the event, but actually riding on floats and marching with rainbow flags. A lot of people have cried foul over this while others tout it as a sign of progression for the cause of LGBT rights. I’ve always been a hater of the saying “the truth is somewhere in the middle” and this situation is no different. The truth here isn’t so much in the middle as it is formlessly drifting between both factions like a wandering spirit that no one can quite catch.
Rather than pick a side (which I promise I’m not going to do), I think it’s more important to highlight the reasons both sides are technically right and then maybe work out an ideal outcome that I sadly know isn’t going to happen but should happen because it would be to the betterment of all involved. First off, let’s look at the pro-police side of this. There are some people against the presence of police at pride events due to the history these two groups share. After all, the first pride was a riot started by transgender women of color (never forget that!) after cops raided the Stonewall Inn and started arresting people for the apparently heinous crime of wearing clothing society deemed unsuitable for them. It was the first public act of defiance where the LGBT community dared to challenge the notion of their supposed immorality. Never forget, pride was a march before it was a parade and that march was against authority figures, including police.
Fast forward to today. Saying police shouldn’t be in pride parades based solely on the history of violence since before Stonewall seems contrary to the point of the movement in the first place. Is the whole point of all this not to bring society to the understanding that we’re nothing to fear? I don’t understand what progression even looks like if those who once stood against us don’t now stand with us. I had the same criticism of the “Bernie-bros” during the last election who criticized Hillary Clinton for…somehow having the audacity to stand up for LGBT rights. Yes, Bernie Sanders was always pro LGBT while Clinton was against gay marriage for the earlier parts of her political career. But Clinton clearly came around. She received the message, understood it, and changed her stance to fight for equality. What’s more, she’s a person with enough power and clout to effect broad change in our favor. And we’re going to throw all this away because we, for some reason, have to hold onto old grudges in spite of our goals? Um…okay?
It’s the same thing with the police. Seeing police marching in the parade is a clear sign of support where before it didn’t exist. It sends a message to some of the LGBT community (more on that in a minute) that they don’t need to fear law enforcement. A cop dancing on a rainbow float is not a cop that’s going to harass you for being queer, or disrespect your gender identity. These are all positive aspects of having police participate in pride parades.
There’s an uncomfortable truth underlying this whole situation that not enough people are talking about. I want you to imagine something. Close your eyes and picture a pride parade. It doesn’t have to be any specific one you’ve been to, just a parade in general. Picture all of the people in the parade. What are they wearing? What are they doing? You have the image yet? Okay…how many people in your vision are white? I’m willing to wager quite a bit. I’m also willing to go double or nothing that the majority of the people you envisioned were cisgender men. This happens because gay, white, cisgender men have become the poster-children of the whole LGBT movement. There’s is the face of pride no matter where you go. Think about all those cops marching and dancing in the parade. Now, make it a black LGBT parade where the vast majority of those in attendance are African American. Do you still think the police are going to be there? When Black Lives Matter peacefully protests racial discrimination, they’re met with cops in riot gear. There the cops are firing rubber bullets and tear gas, not waving flags and dancing.
See, the LGBT community has become so visible and so vocal that, to its detriment, it’s become a microcosm of society as a whole. Even in a group of people brought together by their shared experience of cultural ostracising, a hierarchy of privilege has managed to establish itself that places white, cis men at the top. As far as our overall culture is concerned, this is nothing new. We have a dark history of celebrating cultural achievements for certain groups without recognizing that not all of its members gained the same victory. Case in point, we’re coming up soon on the supposed 100th anniversary of women earning the right to vote, but it would be many decades after the 19th amendment’s ratification that African American women would gain the same rights. The LGBT movement is seeing a very similar pattern emerge in its fight for equality. It’s hard to argue that it’s easier to be LGBT in modern society when transgender women of color are the most at-risk demographic of people in the nation when it comes to likelihood of being murdered. Being a gay white person and a gay black person are still grossly unequal experiences, and that’s horrifyingly apparent in the way police treat each.
This is where my favorite generation ever, the Millennials, are making a difference. It hasn’t been until this latest group of young adults entered the fray that we’ve seen the trend of ‘first white then everyone else’ get some real push back. Even though we’re seeing the progress represented by cops joining in pride events, Millennials aren’t letting that hide the fact that they’re really only there because the event is predominately white. For the first time…probably ever, there’s a generation that truly stands for the notion of ‘no one is free until we’re all free. That’s awesome, and long overdue if you ask me.
I mentioned at the beginning that I don’t have a definitive side of this to fall on, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an ideal solution. See, I want to keep seeing cops at pride events because I recognize the progress that represents. However, if the cops want to keep waving rainbows and dancing to Gaga, they need to earn it by showing up to the next BLM protest with something other than riot shields and clubs. They need to actually decry the obscene rate of police brutality against the African American population. There are a lot of us fighting for equality. If the cops want to join our party, they need to prove that they’re there for all of us.