Pride St. Louis has told city and county police they aren’t welcome to march in the June 30 Pride parade, citing sensitivities surrounding the police raid on the Stonewall Inn gay bar in New York City 50 years ago that helped create the modern gay-rights movement.
Those sensitivities are real. But in a movement that has always been about inclusion, this goes in exactly the wrong direction. Organizers should reverse their decision.
Half a century ago, gay Americans routinely were arrested not for anything they did but for who they were. Communities criminalized almost any expression that strayed from standard heterosexuality, right down to such harmless acts as same-sex dancing and clothing choices.
Amid this atmosphere, a violent police raid on the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, sparked days of rioting. It inspired a national gay-rights movement that yielded profound societal changes, including legalization of same-sex marriage.
With this year’s Pride parade coinciding with Stonewall’s 50th anniversary, Pride St Louis, Inc. has asked St. Louis city and county police departments not to participate “out of respect.”
The decision imposes a blanket label on today’s police as enforcers of society’s homophobia, ignoring the enormous — though incomplete — progress achieved.
Sayer Johnson, executive director of the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, told the Riverfront Times that the decision reflects the “complicated if not fragmented relationship” the LGBT community still has with law enforcement today.
The announcement includes an ironic caveat: Individual officers are welcome to march as long as they aren’t in uniform. You’d think gay-rights advocates, of all people, would see the inherent problem with mandating clothing choices of parade participants as a way of forcing them to conceal a part of their identities.
One message that has emerged throughout civil rights efforts over the past 50 years, whether it involves gays, minorities or any other historically marginalized group, is inclusion. This exclusionary message to police paints them all with the same brush. And it denies that any progress has occurred since Stonewall — a logical absurdity given that, back then, virtually no cop would have considered participating in such a parade, and certainly not in uniform.
LGBT citizens say they’re still abused or underserved by police; certainly, there are individual officers who aren’t any more enlightened than their predecessors of half a century ago. But civil rights movements advance by winning over their persecutors and building their ranks of supporters, not by treating even the persuadable ones as pariahs.
The fact that parade organizers believe police need to be told not to join in — despite having done so before — speaks volumes about still-entrenched attitudes. Nothing would honor that change more appropriately than the sight of uniformed law enforcement officers marching alongside those whose very lifestyles would once have prompted their arrests. The movement that fostered this astounding progress should embrace it — proudly.