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These LGBTQ Activists Want to Keep Cops Away from Pride

LGBTQ organizations are clashing with activists over a balance between safety and intersectionality.
Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Janetta Johnson was walking down a street in Florida when a policeman approached her and kindly told her it might not be the safest place to be.

Then a second officer came up to her, referring to her by her male name. That's when the first cop realized she was transgender. According to Johnson, an executive with the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project, this is when he hit her.


"He attacked me solely based on the fact that he treated me like a human when he thought I was female," she said.

Last year, Johnson was set to be a Grand Marshal in San Francisco's Pride parade, but after pride organizers moved to increase the parade's police presence following the Pulse nightclub shooting, she and other grand marshals and honorees withdrew from the celebration in protest.

"I gotta stay away from [police] because if I accidentally brush up against them, it could be an attack on my body, you know?" she said. "To me, cops represent violence against transgender people."

Johnson is far from alone—58 percent of respondents to the 2015 US Transgender Survey said they have experienced mistreatment at the hands of police, from deadnaming and misgendering to verbal and physical harassment and more. Other studies have shown that some LGBTQ people of color experience an outsized amount of police violence and injustice.

It's unclear whether San Francisco Pride will adjust this year's police presence in response to last year's boycott. But other Pride celebrations across America and Canada are moving to reduce or remove the presence of police.

At last June's Pride Toronto, Black Lives Matters activists organized a sit-in protest and presented eight demands to the organization that puts on the event; in response, police participating in this June's Pride Toronto will not march in uniform or have official floats in the parade. In March, Toronto city councilors threatened to not award a $260,000 (approximately $189,000 USD) grant to the parade until a uniformed police presence is restored, a move an LGBTQ group in the police union has supported.


In the wake of Toronto's decision, similar battles have followed pride organizers across Canada. Vancouver Pride has proposed that police march in plain clothes after Black Lives Matter Vancouver protesters asked that they withdraw from the celebration. Halifax police have said they won't participate in the city's parade due to the current national debate. Winnipeg Pride organizers are still unsure whether police will be allowed to march there. And after initially moving to block a police presence, pride organizers in St. John's, in Newfoundland, reversed their decision and will allow uniformed police.

In Phoenix, protesters shut down a Pride march this April, demanding measures meant to help undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and the removal of a police float. And a group called No Justice No Pride is currently arguing that Washington, DC's pride celebration should restrict or remove its police presence and refuse sponsorship from Wells Fargo.

Activists are broadly complaining that Pride organizers aren't considering the needs of underrepresented groups within the LGBTQ community.

"Traditionally, there's an assumption that if you're gay, that's your primary identifier and that's also your primary point of oppression, where that might not be the case. For others, it might be gender or race or class or immigration status," said Juan Battle, a sociology professor at the City University of New York, who is leading a project on the socioeconomic experiences of LGBTQ people of color.


Johnson, for her part, said that parades have become too commercial, focusing on the advertising of multi-billion-dollar corporations who sponsor the events. Battle agreed, saying organizations should focus more on issues like poverty within the LGBTQ community.

"At some point, the gay community moved from being a movement to a market," said Battle. "If the issue is empowerment, we should look at who's the least empowered."

In Los Angeles, Pride organizers have moved to replace this year's parade with a resistance march. (LA's parade and festival aren't expected to see a decreased police presence this year.) Brian Pendleton, the lead organizer of the march, said the protest will help bring Pride back to its political origins.

"I really felt like this was just getting back to our roots and giving voice to everybody and inviting people, instead of being bystanders and watching floats go by, to join us in the streets and let their voices be heard," he said.

Unlike prior years, when groups had to pay to participate in Pride, the march will be free to join. And the renewed politicization will come at a cost—some sponsors won't be returning this year because they don't want to support a political event.

In Toronto, the decision to reduce the police presence has proven more controversial; Toronto's city council is expected to announce whether they will rescind their Pride grant later this month.


"They talk about inclusivity, but by excluding [police]… they are now angering and disappointing many others from the village community who will decide not to participate in the parade," said Toronto City Councilor John Campbell, who is leading the effort to rescind the city's grant.

Olivia Nuamah, the executive director of Pride Toronto, said that protesters' concerns were legitimate.

"These organizations don't tend to reflect the complexity of the queer community in the way that any of us would like," she said, referring to Pride Toronto and other LGBTQ organizations.

She noted that should the city rescind their grant, the lack of funding would deeply harm the festival, but that it would continue either way. Some are protesting this year's Pride over the controversy.

While her protest prompted debate over the intersectionality (or lack thereof) of pride celebrations, Johnson, for her part, said that not enough has been done to convince her to return to San Francisco Pride this year.

"They haven't provided the cultural sensitivity," she said. "They haven't really understood that two groups"—LGBTQ people of color and non—"have different needs and access to safety."

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