We live in an age where, thanks to camera phones and the internet, there is an increasing cultural consciousness surrounding police violence and brutality. This does not indicate an increase in police violence and other forms of misconduct, but merely an increase in access to documentation methods. Police have been harming marginalized and vulnerable people for decades, at first thanks to their initial intended purpose of safeguarding the property and wealth of the rich, and thanks today to poor training, one-sided accountability and transparency practices, and a lack of initiative geared towards improvement.
However, I’m not here simply to talk about police violence and misconduct in a general sense. Today I’m talking about the police at pride discussion, which has gained a lot of traction in the past few years. There are two sides to this argument: the pro-police side says that police have more than earned their right to represent themselves in pride, thanks to their service protecting the public. The anti-police side believes that police harm marginalized and vulnerable communities more than they help, and that police need to put a lot more work in before they can be trusted, let alone included in pride. You might be able to guess where I stand on this issue.
The purpose of this post is not to rehash the police-at-pride issue which has already been covered (as well as by me), but to dismantle arguments used to attempt to justify police being in pride. I assert that none of them stand up to critical analyses that center those being victimized by police, and since they are the ones continually experiencing violence and trauma, theirs are the needs that should be centered.
1. “You’re just stuck in the past. We need to move forward.”
Some people believe that the anti-police-in-pride side are merely hung up on past issues, and that we are actually the main barrier against moving forward - for being unable to “let go of the past". The people saying this argument are usually older LGBTQ+ people who lived through especially difficult times in past decades, some even being alive during the Stonewall riots, or the gay bathhouse raids in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. They think that the only thing holding us back from creating a space that includes police as well as vulnerable and marginalized LGBTQ+ folk is our focus on negatives. Here’s what’s wrong with that:
As has been pointed out in the resources linked above, police violence and mistreatment towards LGBTQ+ people is not merely historical - it is still happening, especially when an LGBTQ+ person’s identity becomes layered with other factors such as race, Indigeneity, ability, whether a person is a sex worker, user of substances, homeless, et cetera. (This is the meaning of “multiply marginalized”: occupying more than one vulnerable identity.) This argument suggests that if we learn to forgive police for their past atrocities move on, we won’t have to worry about police violence, because police are cool, actually. Unfortunately, this argument is betrayed by stories still seen on the news and shared between friends of continued discrimination, violence, and general mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people perpetuated by police. If there’s anyone who needs to move forward, it’s police - they need to see us demanding not to be harmed by them and change their practices to stop perpetuating said harm.
Conclusion: As much as we would love to move forward, we still aren’t safe in doing so until police radically change their practices to include us.
2. “I think only LGBTQ+ police should be included.”
Some people occupy a sort of middle ground in this argument, saying that while straight and cis police shouldn’t be represented in pride, those who occupy a place within the queer/trans community should be able to have a spot. Here’s what’s wrong with that:
Being LGBTQ+ does not guarantee someone isn’t racist, sexist, transphobic, et cetera. Queerness is not a pass that magically endows an individual with knowledge and cultural competency to safely interact with Black people, Indigenous people, people of colour, people with disabilities, substance users, sex workers, homeless people… the list goes on. Look at people like Caitlyn Jenner, a trans republican who voted for Trump, or Milo Yiannopoulos, well-known alt-right xenophobe and gay man. Racism is rampant within the gay community, as is transphobia. I myself can say I didn’t know anything about colonialism until a couple of years ago at age 22 - and I came out in grade eight. Being LGBTQ+ does not mean you are culturally competent, so LGBTQ+ police are not magically safe for all marginalized people - and because police violence escalates the more multiply marginalized you are (see the next point), police being queer fails to reassure us that they are safe people to be around.
People coming to pride are usually not “only” queer, meaning that queer/transness is not the only marginalization they experience. What about queer people of colour? Queer disabled people? Queer Indigenous people? Multiply marginalized people should feel safe at pride as well, and since a person’s LGBTQ+ status doesn’t guarantee that a person isn’t racist, transphobic, etc., an LGBTQ+ cop can still be a threat to marginalized people’s safety.
Conclusion: a police officer being LGBTQ+ should not justify giving them a place in a pride parade because queerness/transness is not a free pass for understanding issues of race, gender, class, ability, and other ways in which people are marginalized - and those marginalized people’s spots at pride should be prioritized over the places of problematic cops.
3. “Pride is about inclusion, why do you want to exclude police?”
Some people think that excluding cops from pride is inherently antithetical to the spirit of pride and queerness in general, which is accepting and including everyone for who they are. Here’s what’s wrong with that:
Pride is not about including everyone. Pride is not about including Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups. So why would we want to include a group of people who, again, historically and presently both fail to protect LGBTQ+ people and, in fact, contribute to their lack of safety?
The inclusion question is one which has already been said by Alex Verman and Vincent Mousseau in their CBC article on the same topic. As they put it, “those who have been reticent to come to Pride before are more likely to attend when they aren't being made to celebrate the police”. The point is that excluding police, a powerful institution that historically and presently mistreats LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups of people, from pride, makes pride more open to those very groups that are still mistreated by police. If our goal at pride is to prioritize the inclusion and safety of Black queer people, Indigenous queer people, disabled queer people, and other multiply marginalized LGBTQ+ folks, which I hope it should be, then that means excluding police - including queer police (see point #2).
Conclusion: “Inclusion” shouldn’t be a blanket statement - the people we want to include at pride are people who don’t feel safe in non-queer public spaces, not the people who help to perpetuate that lack of safety through their lack of training, accountability, and change.
4. “It would be divisive to our community to exclude police!”
This argument is an extension of argument number three, but I bring it up specifically because of the problematic framing embedded in the statement.
First of all, this “divisiveness” that they talk about is not being created by people asking for police to be excluded. It is caused by police mistreating vulnerable members of our community. The idea of this division within our community” being something new isn’t right, either - it’s been there since settler-colonialism criminalized queerness, and it continues to be perpetuated with every instance of police failing to take marginalized people’s concerns seriously.
Secondly, when the issue is framed this way, it scorns and shuns marginalized people who aren’t safe around police for asking that police not be included in a space where they should by all means be safe. It implies that marginalized queer people should give up their safety and wellbeing in order to manufacture cohesion for a community that they wouldn’t feel safe in. It places the demand for police-centered community stability on people whose safety is contingent on having as few police interactions as possible.
Conclusion: The divide is already here, and it’s been created and maintained by police. Don’t blame marginalized people for demanding better practices of police so that they can start to feel safe around them.
This post is part of a two-part series about police at pride. See Lin’s other post, “No Cops at Pride (And How They Can Earn Back Their Right to Be There)”, here.