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Cops are welcome at Twin Cities Pride. Just not in uniform.

A Black Lives Matter protest delayed 2017 Twin Cities Pride Parade, held just days after an acquittal in the Philando Castile shooting.

A Black Lives Matter protest delayed 2017 Twin Cities Pride Parade, held just days after an acquittal in the Philando Castile shooting. Tony Nelson

Maybe your experience at Twin Cities Pride involves rainbows, some glitter, kids, dogs, meandering around collecting free stuff, juggling festival food, getting warm fuzzies about the companies and organizations who deign to be seen at Pride, self-congratulations for showing up and supporting “the community,” and a little griping about the crowds -- but even that’s great, because look how many people came out!

This is what I hear from my straight, cisgender white friends who go to Pride. We’re still, in 2018, having a conversation about who Pride is “for,” and how we should make space for them. In particular, in the Twin Cities, we’re still having a frustratingly ironic conversation about queer and trans people of color and the police.

Quick history lesson: Pride started as a riot. On June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Greenwich Village was home to many of New York’s queers, and the mafia-owned Stonewall Inn was one of the few places where New York’s most marginalized people could safely congregate. Police raids of such bars were common, but this time, Stonewall’s patrons fought back, spawning a series of demonstrations in the days that followed, and a whole new level of activism in response. This moment, of bravery in the face of police violence, is the birth of the Pride movement.

That’s why Pride festivals are typically held in late June, to commemorate that flashpoint moment at the Stonewall Inn. It’s also critical to remember that it was primarily trans women of color like now-icons Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson who were instrumental in that riot and the organizing that followed.

Let me repeat: The Stonewall Riots happened when trans women of color refused to capitulate to being targeted and brutalized by police. It wasn’t sanctioned by the authorities with all the proper permits in order. It wasn’t sponsored. It was radical.

Which brings us back to today.

Twin Cities Pride is the second-largest outdoor gathering in Minnesota after the State Fair, and public safety needs for a crowd that size are of great concern to organizers and attendees. Some combination of ordinance, “best practice,” police chief discretion, and requests from the Twin Cities Pride organization determine what the plan looks like. Given the longstanding history of police brutality and disproportionate targeting of black and brown folks, queer people of color have been advocating for years for reduced police presence at Twin Cities Pride.

On June 16, 2017, Officer Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who killed Philando Castile, was acquitted of the charges brought against him. It was another moment of suffering for people who believe that Black Lives Matter. In response, the Twin Cities Pride organization announced that out of respect for the community, it would disallow discretionary police presence in the Pride Parade. Two days later, Twin Cities Pride reversed its decision. So, led by the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar Clark, people demonstrated, ultimately delaying the Pride Parade by an hour and a half.

Now back to Stonewall. The LGBTQ+ caucus of the Minnesota DFL Party is called Stonewall DFL. This group’s job is to work with and represent LGBTQ+ and allied candidates and elected officials, organize within the DFL, and to do outreach, much of it accomplished by attending Pride events across Minnesota.

When Twin Cities Pride pulled its awful reversal just ahead of the 2017 festival, Stonewall DFL, whether by process or by principle, blew an opportunity to publicly and affirmatively state that Black Lives Matter, and that a police presence at Twin Cities Pride was, to queer people of color, not only unwelcome but threatening.

Several Stonewall DFL board members resigned. Many Stonewall DFL constituents either didn’t understand the concern about police presence or rejected it outright. The then-chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, Janee Harteau, is a lesbian, a police officer, and a woman of color! She wanted to participate in Pride, and wanted her officers to feel free to do the same, as their authentic selves. That, to them, meant they also be in uniform.

This is where we disagree.

The whole point of Pride is to create space for queer people to gather, to feel free and safe, to relax and have fun, and to celebrate their identities. However, we’re still hung up on what it takes to make people feel safe. Some of us are black or brown, trans or gender non-conforming, too. Our life experience tells us that police presence is actually more dangerous, to us, than its absence. Requests for reduction or elimination of police presence at Twin Cities Pride from queer and trans people of color are rooted in this lived experience.

Police officers are of course welcome at Pride, especially members of the LGBTQ+ community. As their authentic selves: in plain clothes. Just like everyone else. There is nothing about being a police officer that entitles one to wear the uniform -- bulletproof vest, gun, baton, taser, handcuffs -- to show “pride” or be themselves. This is a Gay Pride event, not a Police Pride event.

When you have a group of people with institutional power (like the police) whose wishes are at odds with a group of people who are systematically marginalized (like queer and trans people of color), who do you listen to? Who “wins”?

Twin Cities Pride held a “community conversation” in March in response to demand from the community. The Facebook event photo showed a police officer in uniform, was titled “Law Enforcement and the LGBTQ+ Community,” and three Minneapolis Police Department employees were listed as the speakers. This very plainly says the Twin Cities Pride organization was still oriented toward police, not toward the community’s concerns. Those MPD employees took the opportunity to assert that heavy police presence was for our own good.

Then last month, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo issued a statement requiring his sworn officers who wish to participate in the Pride Parade do so in civilian attire. MPD will provide rainbow T-shirts with a badge design for all department staff to wear in the parade. Minneapolis ordinance requires that parades be led by a single squad car; Chief Arradondo has agreed that the squad car will not use lights or sirens, and that MPD employees will not accompany that car at the front of the the parade.

Yet another police department – the Minneapolis Park Police – has jurisdiction over the festival, which is held in Loring Park. Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto has committed to having his officers wear bike uniforms, and to staying on the perimeter of the festival unless called.

Twin Cities Pride has adopted a new policy that requires police departments to purchase a contingent in the parade, just like everyone else does, including the fire department and EMS. That’s a small step in my book. Toronto Pride recently told the Toronto Police that they could not purchase a contingent in the Parade, and were not welcome to participate at all.

Chief Arradondo and Chief Ohotto have been listening to the community, which I appreciate. That could all vanish if either changes his mind, or if a new chief comes in. As chair of the Stonewall DFL, I’m finding urgency in the need to reckon with our own choices, to stand in solidarity and work in coalition with other marginalized community members, to advocate for policy change from Twin Cities Pride, and to engage our elected officials to codify a less threatening posture from police working with marginalized communities. 

We should expect our own Pride organization to understand and defend the needs and wishes of our LGBTQ+ community, even as it works to satisfy a diversity of opinion. I understand there’s disagreement, even within my own caucus. But we are complicit if we don’t continue to push, so that we can embrace the full diversity of the LGBTQ+ community, and we can all gather, feel safe, have fun, and celebrate.

Five decades ago, it was radical for queer people to ask for space and dignity. Today, it shouldn’t be.