Police and Pride: Trying to Improve from a Tense History

50 years ago, the police were a clear enemy of the LGBT community, and for good reason. Police enforced sodomy laws that outlawed homosexual acts, cops raided gay bars, and the wider community would rather let crimes go unreported than inform the authorities. These were days when a police officer could follow you home, break-in, arrest you for consensual sex, then publish your face in a local newspaper. Abuses were widespread and commonplace, and this left the queer community scared and untrusting of police. 

Today things aren’t as clear cut. The last sodomy laws were struck down in a 2003 supreme court case, and many states have enacted hate crime legislation, effectively reversing the role of police from oppressing to protecting. This might seem like discrimination is over, but the epidemic of “walking while trans” stories beg to differ. In May 2013, Monica Jones took a ride from undercover officers to a bar in her Phoenix neighborhood. No sexual acts were offered yet her limited interaction with the officers was enough to arrest her for “manifesting prostitution” — charges that would be later dropped after lengthy court battles. Jones’ case isn’t unique, A 2014 report from Columbia University found LGBTQ youth and trans women of color in particular “are endemically profiled as being engaged in sex work, public lewdness, or other sexual offenses.” 

It’s for this reason that some groups have demanded bans on uniformed police in pride parades. I feel there is some sense of irony in police attending a celebration of a violent riot that was led against the police. In 2015, ‘‘#BlackoutPride’’ protesters temporarily halted the Chicago Pride parade citing police’s historic and current abuses against LGBTQ. Still, there is a lack of consensus on the issue as many large cities still insist on including police in the celebrations. There is an argument to be made that police involvement in pride can be beneficial, if controversial. Excluding police from queer spaces makes building trust vastly more difficult, and that trust is important. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, as many as 300,000 crimes were not reported between 2012 and 2016. These large quantities of unreported crimes are symptomatic of a dangerous lack of trust. Police departments know there’s a problem, that’s why they participate in pride. Most major police departments have already created specific LBGTQ+ resources like community liaisons to build a better relationship. Pride is just one of many ways police departments are trying to reach out to the queer community.

Ultimately excluding police won’t help the situation. It’s only by working with police to help them improve rather than against will we see more meaningful improvements. If you want to participate in these kinds of community outreach events, you can attend a forum being held by the Bellevue City Police Department on January 28th at Sammamish High School from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. The event to provide an opportunity for transparency where a panel of Officers will discuss community outreach projects as well as take questions from the audience.