“We say to our enemies tonight,” N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared, “You haven’t caused us fear. You have caused us to be more unified than ever before. And let’s pledge tonight to have the largest Pride parade in history and with the largest turnout. And I will be with you, shoulder to shoulder, marching… We invite every New Yorker to the largest, and safest, Pride parade in history.”
Cuomo spoke outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City Monday night at a vigil for the 49 victims of last weekend’s mass shooting at Orlando LGBTQ nightclub Pulse. While his rallying call for unity in the face of violence rang loud and clear, much of what he meant remained unspoken. Along with calling for the “largest” Pride parade in history, the governor, now in his second term, also called for the “safest” Pride parade in history. He did not specify what the “safest” Pride parade in history would look like, but that did not seem to matter to most of the thousands of people gathered in mourning throughout Sheridan Square. The crowd erupted in deafening cheers and thunderous applause all along Christopher Street, as an armed counterterrorism unit kept a watchful eye from the rooftops above.
Legislators and advocates have echoed Cuomo’s call for safety in cities nationwide, and Pride organizers have responded to those rallying cries in much the same way: more police, more security, and more rigorous screening for entry into events.
Increased police presences and other security measures at Pride celebrations nationwide suggest that safety will be of the utmost priority at these events. But safety for whom? Many advocates for the rights of the most vulnerable people under the LGBTQ umbrella—Latinxs, people of color, Muslims, transgender people, gender-nonconforming people, undocumented people—say that this response to the Orlando shooting does not make Pride events safer for everyone in the queer and trans community. In fact, they say, these measures could discourage LGBTQ people who are not documented, white, and cis from attending such self-affirming celebrations in the first place.
“There have been calls for more safety, more police—even at clubs and in our communities,” Jorge Gutierrez, Executive Director of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, told me. “And for me, and for LGBTQ Latinx communities and people of color, that’s not the answer. That’s not what we need. We’ve been experiencing police brutality on the streets, on our way to church, and on our way to work. So for us, we know that increasing police in our communities is not the answer.”
Many white LGBTQ people are spared from the policing that people of color, including queer and trans people of color, experience on a daily basis. According to The Guardian’s “The Counted,” 1,146 people were killed by police in the United States in 2015. A disproportionate number of those people were black. Even something like a pat-down at a security check-in point can carry different connotations for white people and people of color. In 2015, 54% of New Yorkers stopped and frisked by police were black, 29% were Latino, and only 11% were white, according to data collected by the American Civil Liberties Union. And 80% of those people stopped by police, it should be noted, were totally innocent. Additionally, officers are not always responsive to reports made by LGBTQ people. Over 40% of LGBTQ and HIV-affected people say that police were indifferent to their reports of hate violence, according to the Anti-Violence Project’s 2015 report, and 39% said that law enforcement officials were hostile.
“As people of color,” Gutierrez said, “[an increased police presence at Pride is] going to equate to more people being criminalized, being arrested. For undocumented people, that could mean being sent to detention centers.”
The organizers of Los Angeles’ annual Pride celebration—which was controversially rebranded as a vaguely de-queered music festival this year—increased the number of security personnel from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for the final day of events on June 12, mere hours after the shooting at Pulse. The Santa Monica Police Department did apprehend a man from Indiana with weapons and explosive-making material in his car Sunday morning. The 20-year-old, who The Los Angeles Times reports has been charged with child molestation in his home state, told authorities that he was on his way to West Hollywood’s Pride parade, but, despite earlier reports that he intended to use those weapons at the festivities, police now say they don’t know conclusively what his intentions were that day.
The 47th Annual Chicago Pride Parade on June 26 promises to have an “extensive and increased police presence” along the parade route, Parade Coordinator Richard Pfeiffer told me. And according to The Chicago Tribune, hundreds of Chicago police officers will be added to both this weekend and next weekend’s lineup of Pride-related events.
NYC Pride has partnered with the New York City Police Department and a private security company to stand guard over their week of events from June 19 to June 26, as the organization does every year. Media Director James Fallarino told me that NYC Pride will be implementing “some light changes” to check-in procedures at events hosted at Pier 26 and other locations. These changes may involve an increase in pat-downs and the use of handheld metal-detector wands.
Fallarino said that NYC Pride’s security protocol won’t be “dramatically different” than in years past. That is because New York’s Pride events have always had a heavy police and private security presence. Still, there will be a definite increase in the number of uniformed and plainclothes officers the weekend of the June 26 parade, NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill said at a recent event honoring the Gay Officers Action League, CBS New York reports.
“I think [increasing the number of police] is a really simplistic response to a really complicated moment, and that’s often what we see in the U.S.,” Heather Cronk, Co-Director of GetEQUAL, said. “A complicated moment arises—a really, really painful moment arises—and the response is to hunker down into a very conservative position. What does that mean [as far as] who’s welcome at those events? Adding more police to Pride, when Pride is already heavily policed, will only harm the people most directly impacted by the Orlando shooting [which took the lives of 49 people, mostly LGBTQ Latinx and people of color].”
How can local queer and trans organizations work to make their Pride events—and community life, beyond that—safer for everyone, and not just the LGBTQ people that police are historically most likely to protect? Jorge Gutierrez of Familia offered a simple suggestion: Just ask.
“When we’re talking about gun violence and gun safety, bring in the groups most impacted by it,” Gutierrez said. “Investing in more community centers, more schools, more jobs, more healthcare—those are the things we know are going to make our communities safe, not an increased police presence at our Pride or in our lives.”
GetEQUAL’s Heather Cronk agreed that context is crucial, especially when it comes to helping survivors of the Orlando shooting and the victims’ loved ones.
“There is no Latinx-specific LGBTQ group in Orlando, so [groups like Familia and others are] going down there to make up that gap,” Cronk told me. “Folks are trying to [provide] grief counseling, trauma support, translating, making sure that folks are getting U visas if they don’t have documentation, trying to make sure that [victims’] families who live in other countries can actually come to the U.S. The government won’t let a mother from Mexico into the country to collect her son’s body. We should be providing support for this mother, not providing more police and more guns in places that are already heavily policed.”
Pride celebrations, as we know them today, can all trace their roots back to the Stonewall riots of 1969. On June 28, nearly 47 years ago, the LGBTQ patrons of New York’s Stonewall Inn, led by trans women of color like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, fought back against police officers during a raid on the Greenwich Village bar—an all-too-routine occurrence at the time, coordinated by law enforcement and the establishment’s mafia bosses to project NYPD competence and keep Stonewall in business.
The Stonewall riots were not the first acts of queer and trans political resistance—see Los Angeles’ Cooper’s Donuts riots of 1959 and San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria Riots of 1966—but Stonewall was pivotal. A year later, the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations coordinated the Christopher Street Liberation Day march in New York. LGBTQ people also organized commemorative Stonewall marches in Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A., which, as the years went on, transformed into the Pride parades and festivals that we see today.
Pride is rooted in the unapologetic affirmation of identity—of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender-nonconforming, asexual, pansexual, intersex, and a number of other sexual and gender identities that deserve celebration and, perhaps more urgently, protection. Pride is also rooted in resistance: a resistance to a culture that would rather see us accept the ways in which we are marginalized than thrive on equal footing and a resistance to the enforcers of that culture’s status quo.
With the legalization of same-sex marriage, the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” and other similarly assimilative legislative action, some individuals under the LGBTQ umbrella have been granted access to a world in which they enjoy certain rights and privileges associated with society’s dominant groups. But as access is granted to some, access is also denied to others. Be wary as you enter the safest Pride parade in history, and take note of who is not standing there with you, shoulder to shoulder, marching.