Pride is not a celebration of the police – and for good reason

Thousands gather for the Sac Pride parade and festival

Thousands gathered for the Sac Pride parade and festival in downtown Sacramento on Sunday, June 10, 2018.
Up Next
Thousands gathered for the Sac Pride parade and festival in downtown Sacramento on Sunday, June 10, 2018.

Last week, the organizers of Sacramento Pride made the decision to disallow off-duty police officers from participating in Sunday’s event in uniform. Some are celebrating this decision. Others are angry and disappointed, feeling like the rights of police officers, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ, are being denied. To them, this decision is a step backwards.

I think it’s a step forward – one that’s long overdue.

First, the Sacramento Pride organizers are not banning the police altogether. A police presence is required at any large event in Sacramento, and in addition to on-duty police officers, private security and community safety monitors will serve as first responders.

Second, there’s a larger historical backstory to this decision. In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, it was common for gay bars and clubs, most of which were seedy establishments owned by the mob, to be raided by the police. Usually, people responded to bar raids by slipping out the back door or submitting to the police, hoping they’d be spared from public shaming and arrest.

However, in some cases, people fought back. There was the 1959 raid at Cooper’s Donuts in Los Angeles, the 1966 raid at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco and, of course, the June 28, 1969, police raid and subsequent uprising at New York City’s Stonewall Inn – the event we memorialize at Pride each year.


We’ve come a long way in 50 years.

Pride celebrations are held throughout the U.S. and worldwide, and while the Trump administration has rolled back policies protecting transgender people, LGBTQ people generally have more rights and freedoms than we did half a century ago. But we haven’t yet arrived, particularly when it comes to how our communities are policed.

According to a 2017 survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, one in six LGBTQ respondents had personally experienced mistreatment by the police. And, compared to their white counterparts, LGBTQ people of color were six times as likely to have avoided the police, even when they needed help.

Melissa Brescia


2017 report

issued by the National Coalition of Antiviolence Programs clarifies why. After reporting instances of hate violence to law enforcement, 66 percent of LGBTQ survivors had been met with indifference or outright hostility from the police. Moreover, compared to non-black LGBTQ people, black LGBTQ respondents were nearly three times as likely to experience excessive force by law enforcement.

Police no longer engage in routine raids of gay bars, but they do continue to engage in inappropriate practices against our community.

The organizers of Sacramento Pride are being accused of “dividing” our community. I disagree. It’s seriously problematic to accuse LGBTQ people of being “divisive,” when all they’re doing is setting boundaries. They don’t want an institution that regularly abuses them to enter into their safe space – a space that was originally created in protest against abusive police practices.

If uniformed police want to participate in Pride, then they need to step up and begin healing the damage they continue to inflict on our communities. That’s not an unreasonable ask.

Pride is not a celebration of the police. It is a day of remembrance, and an honoring of the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ rights. Let’s not forget that.

Gayle Pitman is a professor of psychology and women/gender studies at Sacramento City College. She is the author of This Day in June, which won the 2015 American Library Association Stonewall Award, and, more recently, The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee