After weeks of back and forth, on June 3 the San Francisco Pride Parade and the San Francisco Police Officers Pride Alliance agreed that LGBTQ+ officers and deputies could march as a contingent in the parade on June 26. SF Pride initially banned the uniformed San Francisco police officers from marching in the parade, requesting that they wear casual dress instead. The request was in an effort to respect the safety and peace of mind of LGBTQ+ people of color whom the criminal justice system frequently harms and criminalizes. LGBTQ+ BIPOC also face disproportionate police violence, surveillance, and harassment and have long established Pride as being in resistance to state-sanctioned violence. But when San Francisco Mayor London Breed and other uniformed officials like the SF Fire Department, announced she would boycott the parade in solidarity with police officers, SF Pride and the SF Police Pride Alliance reached an agreement that includes SF Pride’s initial demands: police can march in casual dress (a police polo shirt with a rainbow police patch) and engage in community town halls to bridge the gap between different generations’ perspectives on policing. A small contingent of officers, however, will still be in uniform. While SF Pride Board President Carolyn Wysinger sees this as the police finally coming around and meeting their initial demands, LGBTQ+ people of color say it continues a trend of bringing violence, fear, and harm into their communities and a space that should be focused on care and liberation for LGBTQ+ people.
“I feel disappointed, angry, and unsurprised,” said Yuan Wang, the director of Lavender Phoenix, an organization that aims to build power for the queer, nonbinary, and transgender Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Real safety doesn’t come from strangers coming into our communities, wielding guns and weapons and looking at us as targets. It comes from relationships. It comes from trust.”
Lavender Phoenix will not attend the SF Pride Parade this year because of the police presence, but in 2019, the last year there was a parade due to two years of COVID-19-related cancellations, the organization was selected as the community grand marshals for the parade. According to Wang, they saw it as an opportunity to be true to the spirit of Pride as a celebration of liberation and attended in protest. They wore all black and carried a banner that said “police out of pride” while marching silently down the street.
“People threw rocks at us as we marched, people booed and yelled and screamed at us, it was an extremely unpopular decision,” Wang said. “But we knew that it was the right one because for the primary celebration of trans and queer liberation to be surrounded by and full of police officers is fundamentally unsafe and unjust.”
That same year, tensions between police presence in the parade and activists came to a head. Protesters blocked an intersection for an hour in protest of police presence and police brutality across America. In response, police officers were captured on video holding a person to the ground and carrying another person away. Police arrested two protesters and charged one person with battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, and interfering with a parade route, and another with resisting arrest and interfering with a parade route.
“That was kind of the breaking point for us,” Wysinger said. “For years, almost a decade, we’ve had people come and say, hey, police shouldn’t be in Pride … As the organization, we said, we were always trying to maintain radical inclusion by continuing to include our police officers.”
While Wysinger was not on the board at the time of the events in 2019, she said that SF Pride requested the police drop the charges against the demonstrators and filed an investigation into what happened that day. The district attorney did eventually drop the misdemeanor charges, but the investigation did not return any resolution that was satisfactory for SF Pride organizers. Two years later, tensions have carried over.
“We felt like we’ve done everything that we should do, and we still didn’t really get a good resolution for our community,” Wysinger said. “How do we go out into the community and say, ‘Hey, we didn’t get a good resolution, we know that this thing happened, but we’re still going to continue on the path that we’ve already continued on.’”
SF Pride originated to commemorate the anniversary of the historic 1969 Stonewall Riots—a tipping point for queer liberation when spontaneous protests broke out against police raids in the LGBTQ+ community after police became violent. Other cities have also banned uniformed police from their marching in their pride parades. Last year, New York City Pride and Denver Pride announced they would no longer allow police officers to participate in the parades while in uniform.
According to Wysinger, command staff, including the chief and some of the commanders, will still wear class AA uniforms that officials wear for formal functions. And there will also be uniformed officers as a form of security detail.
“We have a lot of queer and trans people of color on our board, and we wanted to make sure that the compromise that we had was something that we felt comfortable with understanding that, we had to come to a resolution that would make our queer trans folks feel safe, but understanding that we had to meet that middle,” Wysinger said. “We hope that this will be at least a start. This is not the end of this journey.”
Wysinger said she hopes to become more involved with the SF Police Chief’s LGBTQ+ Roundtable and that hosting town hall conversations for community members to express their feelings will help people feel heard. But she said she does not yet know when these meetings will happen or what they will look like.
“We at the San Francisco Police Officers Pride Alliance believe that representation matters, and that by being visible as out LGBTQ members of law enforcement, we show our communities that there are officers who understand the unique struggles and challenges faced by members of our community. After all, many of our members are queer people of color,” said Kathryn Winters, the treasurer for the San Francisco Police Officers Pride Alliance, in a statement.
According to a Lavender Phoenix report on transgender and gender non-conforming Asians and Pacific Islanders in the San Francisco Bay Area, 79% of participants felt uncomfortable asking the police for help. More than half of respondents reported at times or never being treated with respect by police. According to the report, “police do not address [their] fundamental needs for safety.”
“The reasons that the Stonewall Rebellion was necessary in the ’60s still persist in our communities today,” Wang said. “When folks show up to Pride, and they see the police, the presence of the police inspires fear, and it inspires trauma. We can only see it as the mayor looking to bolster her own position in the city and with police unions and supporters of police as she looks toward a new election cycle in the coming years.”
Though Lavender Phoenix won’t attend SF Pride this year, they will set up a table at Trans March on June 24, providing water and COVID-19 tests for participants to feel safe at the march. The next day, they will host a brunch for trans and queer community members to help foster relationships.
“We’re just trying to practice the reality that we are the ones responsible for investing and keeping each other safe, not the police,” Wang said. “That’s what we’re gonna be working on that weekend.”