Recently, the organisers of New York City Pride—one of the world’s largest—took significant steps to reduce the presence of police at Pride, banning all uniformed police from participating in the parade until at least 2025. It was a bold decision, but one that has been welcomed by many activists within the LGBTQ+ community.
The New York Times Editorial Board—“a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values”—described the decision as a “misstep.” They focussed on “a sergeant in the New York Police Department” who is “also a lesbian” and feels let down by the decision. The article was met with significant backlash on social media, with prominent New York drag queens and activists calling out the authors. The fact that the piece came from the editorial board, and therefore had no individual byline, received ridicule. Several years ago, Teen Vogue published a much more eloquent argument: “Why Police Aren’t Welcome at Pride.”
Pride—specifically New York Pride, the first in the world—marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a watershed moment in queer liberation, not just in America but globally. The riots were a reaction by queers (gay men and lesbians, trans and gender non-conforming people, drag kings and queens) against the police, who would harass, intimidate and humiliate the patrons of the bar, one of few venues in the city where same-sex dancing was actually permitted. Raids were common practice. But that one night, they had had enough.
When I was in New York a few years ago for Pride, which marked the 50th anniversary of these events, I walked past the Stonewall Inn. Christopher Park, in front of the pub, which houses a monument to gay liberation, was closed and guarded by NYPD officers with semiautomatic weapons. It felt wrong.
Those criticising this recent decision seem to think it’s as easy to stop being queer as it is to take off a police uniform. Only one of those things is a choice. Being “proud” to be a police officer, to take pride in one’s work, is not why we have Pride parades. It’s similar to the ridiculous argument that circulates from time to time, that coming out as conservative is harder than coming out as gay. Pride is a queer space and queerness is inherently both political and progressive. No one is stopping the individual participation of officers, as such exclusion would go against the principles of pride. But the NYPD are not welcome.
There is, inevitably, a certain unholy alliance formed between organisers and police in order to host an event like Pride: road closures and protection from homo- and transphobic threats tend to come under police jurisdiction. But this is separate from allowing cops to march in uniform as part of a Pride parade, alongside activist groups, grassroots organisations, and LGBTQ+ charities, to name a few. Never mind the increasing corporate presence at these events. Volunteers and community organisers are, more often than not, better suited to sensitively facilitating such LGBTQ+ events.
Halting institutional involvement is an important decision. Institutions—from corporations to state apparatus—will use their involvement in Pride events as a defence against accusations of internal failings with respect to their LGBTQ+ staff, in what is usually called pinkwashing, which is defined as “using gay-related issues in positive ways in order to distract attention from negative actions by an organisation, country or government.” The fact that this decision is set to last until 2025 is significant: it’s not quite an ultimatum, but they are calling for active reform among the NYPD, and giving a generous timeline for such reform to happen.
Toronto and Vancouver have already banned uniformed officers, and several American cities, like Sacramento and St. Louis, have tried to follow suit. It wasn’t until a 1996 lawsuit that the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) were allowed to fully participate in New York’s Pride parade. GOAL has done significant work to fight discrimination within the police force. But that doesn’t provide universal solutions. And many queer people fear police harassment. Last year, in Washington Square Park, just around the corner from the Stonewall Inn, officers wearing riot gear attacked peaceful protestors with pepper spray, presumably under the guise of enforcing social distancing.
And, as one Twitter user pointed out, it was only a few years ago that the police at London Pride not only allowed a group of “gender critical” lesbians to hijack the parade, but threatened trans people who reacted to their presence. Pride in London fractured earlier this year, in large part due to the decision to allow the continued involvement of the Metropolitan Police. Systemic issues have been closely looked at in the wake of the Sarah Everard vigil in Clapham. “Pride in London did not uphold its public commitment when it mattered most and failed to set even the most basic conditions on continued police involvement—like an acknowledgement of institutional racism,” wrote the Community Advisory Board, who all resigned in March.
There was no official Pride in London last year, due to the pandemic. Instead, on the same date, there was a grassroots march to raise awareness of and support for Black Trans Lives around the world, an intersectional extension of last summer’s BLM protests. When police arrived—lurking at the sidelines, significant numbers seemingly hidden on side streets—I felt less safe. The draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021, currently caught up in parliamentary procedure, threatens to make things worse. It’s the great irony of contemporary policing: those who need the most help and protection tend to receive the least. Until that’s solved on a fundamental, institutional level—no cops at Pride.
Last weekend, London held it’s first-ever Trans+ Pride, and it was both a protest against discrimination and the lack of basic human rights of trans folks, and a celebration of the community, its achievements, resilience, and hard work. The event was organised by trans activist and entrepreneur Lucia Blayke and turned out to be a great success.
“It’s a big job and to be honest, I have absolutely no experience or resources” joked Blayke while speaking to Screen Shot. Lucia was overwhelmed with the responses and said the best part for her was helping trans people “feel so much stronger and comfortable in themselves,” by bringing the community together. Screen Shot also spoke to London-based model, trans activist, and fashion queen Olivia Nutton, aka @glam_clam, who also attended Trans+ Pride, and said that the event helped her feel a “sense of community and how together everyone was.”
It is poignant that London, considered the 4th most LGBTQ+ friendly city in the world, only held its first trans pride in 2019. It certainly feels overdue, but this also serves as a strong reminder that there is still a long journey ahead of us before we reach full inclusivity. Sadly, all members of the trans community experience discrimination, prejudice, and harassment in one form or another, which is why Trans+ Pride is so monumentally important.
It is a march for healthcare, social housing, education, workplace employment laws, representation, trans refugees, and “it is a definite long list,” says Nutton. All of these are still lacking in the U.K., something that is evident in the scarcity of GPs trained in transgender health issues, the long waiting lists for appointments at gender identity clinics (there are only seven of those in the whole of England), as well as the fear of transgender refugees of being deported back to their countries of origin, where they risk their lives for being who they are.
The idea behind the Trans+ Pride was partly a response to the hijacking of Pride in London in 2018 by a group of anti-trans campaigners, when the organisers of Pride failed to remove protesters from Get The L Out, a TERF lesbian group advocating against transgenderism. Blayke says that “trans people are not being included as much and are being invalidated for the way they express their gender, even within the LGBT community.” Transgender people are actively excluded from what is supposed to be their own community, so it is only natural that they would have to go and form their own—which is what Blayke did when she created Trans+ Pride.
The thing is, Pride didn’t just become more exclusionary of members of the trans community, but has also been criticised for becoming commercial and corporate, and as Nutton says, “it just turned into a party where straight people get drunk and don’t really do anything else.” Yes, it is nice to see people want to come and show their support as allies; in some ways, it is also nice to see big corporations try and take a step into the right direction. But what do companies like Barclays or Deloitte really do for LGBTQ+ communities while marching in Pride, apart from taking space away from those who need visibility most? Where are the actual companies by LGBTQ+ members who are working towards improving the lives of marginalised communities?
Essentially, these spaces have been taken away from those who are less represented, which is why Blayke made it her duty to not only bring them back but create a Pride that is “A lot less pink-washed and a lot less corporate, letting trans people be in the spotlight.” Blayke has already started planning Trans+ Pride 2020, hoping it will only get bigger and better, but dodging big corporations and sponsors in order to avoid it turning commercial. “It is a community for people to fall back on and a support system for trans people to use,” and that is what she hopes to keep it as.
So, until 2020, remember to celebrate the community and advocate for inclusivity every day, “call out transphobia in your daily lives,” and be kind to one another.