home Commentary, Culture, GLBTQI Should the police be allowed at Pride events? I’m starting to think not

Should the police be allowed at Pride events? I’m starting to think not

 

At Sheffield Pride in July, a small group of evangelical Christian protesters set about disrupting the event. Reading obnoxiously from the Bible, the Potter’s House Church cherry-picked quotes for the passing public, making many of the LGBTQ attendees uncomfortable by telling them they were sinners.

Action for Trans Health reported that a man, speaking through an amplifier, “went on to say that LGBTQ people were ‘the way you are’ because of abusive upbringings and that LGBTQ ways of life were abusive themselves. More LGBTQ people joined the crowd, cheering as a lesbian couple kissed next to the homophobe. The cult member outstretched his hand towards the couple, praying for them to convert to a heterosexual Christian lifestyle, at which point one of the dykes turned around and unplugged his microphone”.

Next, according to ATH’s account, the police intervened, aggressively. But only towards the queer people, not the Christian protesters.

“Several of them repeated that “he has the right to express his views” but LGBTQ people protesting would be arrested for breach of the peace if they did not move on.”

Then, last weekend was Glasgow Pride. A group of local LGBTQ+ activists, objecting to the Pride march being led by a police marching band, decided to reclaim the more radical roots of Pride by claiming the front of the parade. The police wrestled them to the ground.

At the same time, another group of queer activists also joined the march without having agreed this with the event organisers. One sported a banner reading ‘Faggots fight fascism’ and they were promptly arrested by police for a homophobic hate crime because of the language on their sign.

A total of five people were arrested at Glasgow’s event, two following the ‘Faggots fight fascism’ debacle, and three for protesting the inclusion of the police.

A spokesperson for Clydeside Industrial Workers of the World told the Scottish Socialist Party: “We utterly condemn the arrests of three trans activists and two others, one a minor, on trumped up charges.

“Politics is integral to Pride, and it cannot be separated from all struggles against oppression, including anti-fascist struggle.

“We find it completely bizarre that Glasgow Pride later refused entry to anti-fascist and Black Lives Matter activists. This amounts to an erasure of queer struggle.”

Should the police have a place?

Minority groups have an unparalleled struggle with the police, and we are more aware of this than ever. Black Lives Matter has made it abundantly clear that, whether in the US or the UK, Black people are far less safe in contact with the police than white people are, and the way Adapt campaigners were treated by the police when they were fighting for the Affordable Care Act should shame any police force.

In the same way, LGBT+ people can no longer pretend that we can believe that the police have “come a long way” or “made progress” compared to the “old days”. Sure, they may have attended some diversity training and refrain from calling people slurs or abusive nicknames in public, but they protected anti-gay Christians who attended an LGBTQ event specifically to protest Sheffield Pride, and they arrested queer activists at Glasgow Pride who were trying to exist in an LGBTQ space, with their righteous anger and fury. And yet that is how Pride is supposed to be.

Cops can put rainbow flags on their cars and hand out leaflets about how well they handle hate crime these days, but until their behaviour matches their words, it is difficult to imagine how their presence at Pride events is of benefit to the community. In Columbia, No Justice No Pride called “to end the LGBT movement’s collusion with systems of oppression that further marginalize queer and trans individuals”. This includes both capitalist sponsorship and police involvement in Pride parades.

Encouragingly, Pride with fewer bobbies can be successful. In Minneapolis, due to rage following the Philando Castile killing, the police and organisers agreed a subdued presence: “This year, organizers said, there will be only one unmarked police car — mandated for safety reasons — at the front of the parade. There will be “limited police participation in the parade itself”, according to Twin Cities Pride.

Moving forward

This weekend, Manchester’s LGBT+ community is celebrating Pride. It was the first Pride event I ever attended, and it is a fantastic celebration of all things gay and rainbow. But it is also a symbol of the historic – and not-so historic – fight that LGBTQ people face in this world.

The murder and stigmatisation of trans women in particular is something that can’t be partied away to S Club 7 and the Pet Shop Boys, and having the police in attendance at Pride events, especially when they are formally part of a parade, limits our ability to demonstrate as well as dance.

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/Creative Commons

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Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who specialises in writing about disability, women’s issues, social media and tech. She also enjoys covering politics and LGBT-related topics. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, Access Magazine, xoJane and many more publications. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.