San Francisco’s Pride Parade will return in June after two years of pandemic cancellations, reviving a controversy dating back to the last time the event was held in person: the presence of uniformed police officers in the parade.
Mayor London Breed has said she will not attend the parade because event organizers banned San Francisco police officers from marching in uniform at the June 26 event.
“I’ve made this very hard decision in order,” the mayor said in a prepared statement, “to support those members of the LGBTQ community who serve in uniform, in our police department and sheriff’s department, who have been told they cannot march in uniform, and in support of the members of the fire department who are refusing to march out of solidarity with their public safety partners.”
She said she hopes SF Pride organizers will change their policy and that she still plans to participate in a number of LGBTQ+ pride events throughout June.
The San Francisco Police Department, along with LGBTQ+ members of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office and the San Francisco Fire Department have said they will not march in the celebration unless the policy is reversed.
“The San Francisco Pride Committee has asked the LGBTQ+ peace officers to go back in the closet,” the San Francisco Police Officers Pride alliance wrote in a joint statement with colleagues at the sheriff’s office and fire department.
During 2019’s parade, police violently removed demonstrators who blocked the procession. After an unnecessary-force probe was dismissed against the officers, organizers chose to ban uniformed police officers from participating in the eventually canceled 2021 Pride Parade—a decision that was upheld for this year’s event.
Suzanne Ford, who became SF Pride’s interim executive director in February, said event organizers were unaware of the decision by first-responders and law enforcement to pull out of the parade until the Pride Alliance put out its statement on Monday.
"We are disappointed in Mayor Breed's decision, but look forward to working with her and law enforcement agencies in finding a solution that is satisfactory to all,” Ford said.
While noting the fraught history between the LGBTQ+ community and law enforcement, the Pride Alliance called the parade organizer’s decision “its own form of prejudice.”
“Let us be clear: This committee would not order the leather community to wear polyester at the parade. This committee would not order the drag community to wear flannel. But they have told us, peace officers, that if we wear our uniforms, we may not attend,” the statement says.
Ford said that negotiations have been ongoing since last year. During a May meeting, the SF Pride board unanimously agreed on a compromise measure that would allow law enforcement to march in matching T-shirts or polo shirts that showed their affiliation. Ford noted that the fire department was not subject to the rule prohibiting marching in uniform.
“When we offer to someone the option to wear a matching T-shirt or polo that have the name of your organization on the front of them, that’s not asking you to go back in the closet,” Ford said. “We understand and appreciate that queer police officers are part of our community.”
Uniformed police officers have been banned from a number of pride events around the country including in New York City and San Diego, and Ford said SF Pride’s decision should be viewed in the context of a “national conversation” about the relationship between police and the LGBTQ+ community.
D8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, one of two gay members of the Board of Supervisors, said he will be participating in June’s pride parade. He lamented that debate over law enforcement’s presence will likely overshadow the return of a celebrated San Francisco tradition.
He said he personally would like for officers to be able to march in uniform at the parade but understands the complicated situation SF Pride organizers were faced with, particularly with the recent conversations around police reform and historical distrust of law enforcement by the LGBTQ+ community.
“SF Pride was under pressure to completely exclude police from the parade and they were trying to figure out some way to allow officers to participate, while still addressing some pretty loud voices in the community,” Mandelman said. “I hope we can get the pride alliance in the parade one of these years, but it doesn’t look like it’s this year.”
Uniformed police officers will continue to provide security for the event, as they have in years past.
Pride Alliance treasurer Kathryn Winters said she rejoined SFPD in 2018 in part to build stronger relationships with the LGBTQ community. While acknowledging “the very real concerns about the history of policing,” she said diversifying the police force has pushed departments like hers forward.
Her only time marching in the parade was in 2019 when she participated in uniform with her two teenage daughters. “Making the turn onto Market Street and hearing the cheers go up as we turned the corner as they saw our contingent was an experience that brought me to tears,” Winters said. “Not only am I being embraced as a queer trans woman, but also a police officer and as a mother."
Winters' issue with the compromise measure offered by parade organizers was it felt like a "backslide" to give up a hard-won right to march in uniform that was fought for by her predecessors on the police force.
Recently appointed District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, a gay man who previously worked on SFPD’s command staff, said he will also sit out this year’s parade in solidarity with law enforcement.
“A policy of exclusion, which prohibits LGBTQ+ first responders and allies from marching in uniform, sends exactly the wrong message at a time when we can ill afford to do so,” Dorsey said in a statement.
Ford said the connection made by police officers to the leather and drag communities was “not a fair comparison.”
“The police are charged with safeguarding our community and there’s been no history with these two other communities oppressing the LGBTQ community,” Ford said. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t find a way to say to the officers—as well to members that are concerned about their presence—that we see and recognize their issues. San Francisco should be the one place where we can do both things.”
Breed said one major priority to improve policing is having law enforcement better represent the people they serve, and she positioned the contingent of LGBTQ+ officers as a step in that direction.
“These members of our LGBTQ public safety community do all this work while also leading the
push for change in the law enforcement community at large, and in their own departments,” Breed said in a news release. “These are police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and firefighters who wear their uniforms truly with pride—in part because of the challenges they had to personally overcome, and in part because of the progress they’ve seen in their own departments.”
Kevin Truong can be reached at email@example.com