(NEW YORK) — Police will be banned from participating in NYC Pride events, including its signature LGBTQ march, until 2025, the organization announced Saturday.
NYC Pride is also working to reduce the New York Police Department’s security and first responder presence at its events, the organization said.
André Thomas, co-chair of Heritage of Pride, which produces NYC Pride, told ABC News it was a difficult decision that’s “not going to please everyone.”
“We know many LGBT cops,” Thomas said. “But what the institution represents sometimes to a person of color or trans person is violence, and that doesn’t make you feel safe. So that’s the perspective we’re coming from. And it’s a difficult place to be. But we know that’s what our community expects of us at this time.”
Typically, about 200 NYPD members would participate in NYC Pride’s march, held in the month of June, organizers said. That includes members of the Gay Officers Action League, or GOAL, a fraternal organization that was formed in 1982 to address the needs of LGBTQ officers.
GOAL called Heritage of Pride’s decision “shameful,” and found its statement, which did not mention GOAL by name, “demoralizing” and “dehumanizing.”
“Heritage of Pride is well aware that the city would not allow a large scale event to occur without police presence. So their response to activist pressure is to take the low road by preventing their fellow community members from celebrating their identities and honoring the shared legacy of the Stonewall Riots,” GOAL President Brian Downey said in a statement.
The NYPD also said it found the officers’ exclusion “disheartening.”
“Our annual work to ensure a safe, enjoyable Pride season has been increasingly embraced by its participants,” an NYPD spokesperson said in a statement to ABC News. “The idea of officers being excluded is disheartening and runs counter to our shared values of inclusion and tolerance. That said, we’ll still be there to ensure traffic safety and good order during this huge, complex event.”
The move comes as LGBTQ activists have debated the role uniformed police officers should have at Pride marches, which formed as a response to a violent police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, in 1969. The calls have been renewed in recent years amid Black Lives Matter protests against police misconduct.
In 2017, Pride Toronto started barring police from participating in its march, amid demands from the local Black Lives Matter chapter. In 2019, Sacramento and St. Louis announced similar policies, but reversed them following pushback.
The debate was renewed after the death of George Floyd last year while in police custody in Minneapolis, which sparked widespread protests against police brutality.
LGBTQ advocacy group, New York City Anti-Violence Project, wrote a letter to Heritage of Pride last June demanding the organization divest from the NYPD.
“Pride marches don’t want to celebrate and create a platform for the police as marchers,” Audacia Ray, director of community organizing and public advocacy for the group, told ABC News. “That’s a thing that I think we’ll start to see more of.”
She said she has heard mixed thoughts on keeping police out of the Pride march within the LGBTQ community.
“I talk to people who do not feel that police presence makes them feel safer, it makes them feel threatened. From what we’ve heard from older, white cisgender members of the community, they do feel a sense of reassurance and safety when police is there,” Ray said. “So there’s just a really intense rift there around gender and race and class. So that’s something within the community we need to continue to talk about, about how we keep the most vulnerable members of our community safe and what does that look like.”
NYC Pride did not hold its Pride march last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, though a pride rally was held by the activist group Reclaim Pride. LGBTQ advocates were critical of the NYPD response then, after officers were filmed assaulting a group of protesters and using pepper spray on them during an arrest.
Heritage of Pride said it plans to shift first response and security to trained private security and provide volunteers with de-escalation training. “NYPD will provide first response and security only when absolutely necessary as mandated by city officials,” the organization said. It also plans to keep police officers at least one city block from the event perimeter areas “where possible.”
Additionally, NYC Pride is not mentioning law enforcement in its social media.
In 2025, NYC Pride will review its policy on police participation, organizers said. “It is a matter of when the people in our community say hey, we feel safe,” Thomas said.
These steps don’t go far enough for some LGBTQ activists. Ray said the New York City Anti-Violence Project was pushing to have law enforcement completely removed from NYC Pride, and was concerned about the use of private security.
“Most private security companies hire off-duty officers or former police officers, so we think it’s the same mentality,” Ray said. “We’re pushing more for them to start to shift (traffic enforcement) to working with the Department of Transportation instead of the NYPD.”
Thomas said it will come down to training and setting clear standards with private security beforehand.
GOAL also provides training to new NYPD recruits to “(educate) future officers on the unique challenges facing our community,” the organization said, as it pushed back against the ban.
“There are many partners for change throughout law enforcement,” GOAL said in its statement. “For them to succeed, they need to be supported by leading LGBTQIA+ groups, not excommunicated by them.”
Much of this year’s NYC Pride festivities during Pride Month in June will once again be virtual due to the pandemic. The organization said it wanted to make the announcement now to start the process.
“A lot of this work we know has been geared towards a return to higher crowd sizes,” Thomas said. “That’s really what we can hopefully prepare for.”
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