Opinion | A Misstep by the Organizers of Pride

Ana Arboleda always makes sure her police uniform is crisp and clean when she leaves home — but never more so than on New York’s annual Pride celebration, when two parts of her identity converge.

Ms. Arboleda is a sergeant in the New York Police Department; she is also a lesbian and feels most connected to the L.G.B.T.Q. community when she marches down Fifth Avenue with the Gay Officers Action League during New York’s annual Pride celebration, taking in the crowd’s thunderous applause.

This year Ms. Arboleda is not certain whether she will participate. The city’s Pride organizers are taking steps to reduce the presence of law enforcement at the celebration, including a ban on uniformed police and corrections officers marching as groups until at least 2025 — a decision that she called “devastating.”

“Being banished for celebrating a part of my identity is not easy for me,” Ms. Arboleda said. “Instead of being embraced, they’re throwing me back in the closet.”

If parades are celebrations of community and history, the Pride parade is also about the joy of belonging — of being part of a people knitted together by shared identity and survival. It wasn’t so long ago that L.G.B.T.Q. people were thrilled to cheer for every out person and ally who would march in the parade, including L.G.B.T.Q. police officers, who often received some of the biggest cheers from onlookers. These police officers were vital in helping make the L.G.B.T.Q. community more visible and varied in a nation slow to overcome old stereotypes and fears. Today, at a time when Republican legislatures are attacking transgender rights across the country, it’s a strange moment for the L.G.B.T.Q. community to be closing the door on some of its own and missing an opportunity to broaden its coalition.

The New York City Pride organizers’ decision is part of a worrisome trend in recent years of Pride organizers who have barred uniformed officers from marching in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, or have tried to do so, in places like Sacramento and St. Louis. Officers like Ms. Arboleda should be able to march in the parade and express their solidarity with the L.G.B.T.Q. community, preserving the inclusive spirit of Pride celebrations. Taking a pledge to protect and serve your city should not mean sacrificing the chance to be included in a community celebration of your identity.

Surveys of the L.G.B.T.Q. community demonstrate support for a more inclusive approach to Pride: A 2019 poll by Whitman Insight Strategies and BuzzFeed News found that 79 percent of L.G.B.T.Q. Americans welcomed police participation in Pride.

The ability of reform-minded officers like Ms. Arboleda to participate in Pride was hard won, as part of a 1996 lawsuit that granted the Gay Officers Action League the right to participate fully in New York’s parade.

New York City’s first Pride celebration 51 years ago was a commemoration of the uprising sparked by a police raid on Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn one year earlier. Tensions between Pride participants and police officers have remained ever since, sometimes fanned by police misconduct. Last year a confrontation erupted between demonstrators from the Queer Liberation March and the police near Washington Square Park, and protesters said officers used pepper spray.

Leaders of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, an L.G.B.T.Q. rights group, which has been a proponent of limiting the police’s role in Pride, said the organization’s hotline consistently receives calls during Pride reporting police harassment. In 2020 the organization supported 1,453 victims of violence, and 4 percent reported experiencing police violence in New York City.

The Anti-Violence Project said the number of reports of police violence received tends to rise during Pride Month: In June 2019, 8.2 percent of its clients reported police violence, and in June 2020, 8.4 percent did.

Beverly Tillery, the executive director of the organization, said the N.Y.P.D.’s perceived misconduct during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests served as another signal to Pride organizers and participants that a police presence at Pride detracts from, rather than contributes to, the safety of vulnerable individuals.

But barring L.G.B.T.Q. officers from marching is a politicized response and is hardly worthy of the important pursuit of justice for those persecuted by the police. The organizers are certainly within their rights to reduce the number of armed police officers providing security, but let’s be honest: It’s a poke in the eye at law enforcement more than a meaningful action to address police violence or foster a dialogue about law enforcement reform. These moves do nothing to celebrate and demonstrate solidarity within the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

The decision also disproportionately affects L.G.B.T.Q. police officers, many of whom have been fighting for reforms; they shouldn’t be judged, and even set back, by the worst behavior of their colleagues.

André Thomas, a co-chair of New York City Pride, said Pride didn’t previously outright ban groups from participating, though it has had discussions with groups that aren’t aligned with the movement’s values. Such groups, he said, tend not to follow through on registration.

The N.Y.P.D. will inevitably continue to play a role in this year’s Pride celebrations. Heritage of Pride, which organizes the events, said it has asked officers to stay at least a block away from all in-person events, but the department will likely have to help enforce street closures and control crowds throughout the city. Heritage of Pride said it would instead turn to private companies for security. These private groups, it should be noted, are often staffed by former and off-duty police officers.

Two years ago, the department took a landmark step in apologizing for what it did during the Stonewall uprising. “The actions taken by the N.Y.P.D. were wrong — plain and simple,” said the commissioner at the time, James P. O’Neill.

The N.Y.P.D.’s relationship with the L.G.B.T.Q. community in New York has been marked by missteps and abuse at times, which have bred distrust. But the long road to repairing that relationship, and ensuring the safety of the city’s gay community, isn’t made easier by deepening the divide.

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