It can’t be easy to be an openly gay cop. As much as it has become so ordinary otherwise that being gay is only slightly more unusual than having red hair, and usually far less noticeable, cop culture tends to run a decade or five behind the rest of society, even if they’re otherwise entirely tolerant when the uniform comes off. Cops will no doubt tell me this is totally false and they’re just like anyone else.
New York has had a spectacular Gay Pride parade for decades now. It’s a lot like the St. Patrick’s Day parade, except without bagpipes, fewer empty Guinness cans in the gutter and better looking marchers. It started after the Stonewall Riots of 1969, when being gay wasn’t merely considered sick and disgusting, but criminal.
Back then, the center of the New York gay universe was Christopher Street in the Village. That’s where you went if you were gay. That’s where you avoided if you weren’t. That’s where the cops raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn and broke some gay heads. While this wasn’t a new thing, it was the catalyst for a movement to end the discrimination, the violence, the hatred and disgust. It was time for gay people to come out, no longer hide in shame. In 1970, gay pride parades first appeared. And they were glorious.
We’ve come a long way since then, or not according to one’s perspective. Either way, there is a Gay Pride parade coming up in New York City, and this year the parade’s organizer, Heritage in Pride, has informed the New York City Police Department’s Gay Officers Action League that they are not welcome.
“NYC Pride seeks to create safer spaces for the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities at a time when violence against marginalized groups, specifically BIPOC and trans communities, has continued to escalate,” event organizers said in a statement Saturday. “NYC Pride is unwilling to contribute in any way to creating an atmosphere of fear or harm for members of the community. The steps being taken by the organization challenge law enforcement to acknowledge their harm and to correct course moving forward, in hopes of making an impactful change.”
As for the rest of the NYPD, they can keep their distance, as they’ve been requested to stay at least a block away.
Heritage of Pride, which organizes NYC Pride events, also said that it would review the presence of the NYPD as first responders and security for the event, and that it had an increased budget for security that would allow it to transition those roles to private security, community responders, and safety volunteers.
IN 2019, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill admitted that police were wrong and apologized for its conduct at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, which “gay rights leaders said was momentous and unexpected, if overdue.” But grievances remain.
If parades are celebrations of community and history, the Pride parade is also about the joy of belonging — of being part of a people knitted together by shared identity and survival. It wasn’t so long ago that L.G.B.T.Q. people were thrilled to cheer for every out person and ally who would march in the parade, including L.G.B.T.Q. police officers, who often received some of the biggest cheers from onlookers. These police officers were vital in helping make the L.G.B.T.Q. community more visible and varied in a nation slow to overcome old stereotypes and fears. Today, at a time when Republican legislatures are attacking transgender rights across the country, it’s a strange moment for the L.G.B.T.Q. community to be closing the door on some of its own and missing an opportunity to broaden its coalition.
Even the New York Times recognizes that this is counterproductive if the goal is to end discrimination against the gay community.
But barring L.G.B.T.Q. officers from marching is a politicized response and is hardly worthy of the important pursuit of justice for those persecuted by the police. The organizers are certainly within their rights to reduce the number of armed police officers providing security, but let’s be honest: It’s a poke in the eye at law enforcement more than a meaningful action to address police violence or foster a dialogue about law enforcement reform. These moves do nothing to celebrate and demonstrate solidarity within the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
Are the organizers “within their rights” to take to a public avenue of a city, close it to the public for whom it exists, prevent other citizens from crossing streets as the parade passes by, and hire their own private staff to use force to shut out those who would otherwise be entitled to move freely through a city like anyone else? They seek and are given a permit by the city to hold a parade, but does that give them control over the city otherwise?
In many ways, gay pride has lost its edge by becoming too accepted, too mainstream, too uncontroversial. When the Supreme Court upheld gay marriage in Obergefell, it was largely fine with most people. You want to marry? Okay then. People had come to the realization that sexual orientation (which polite people called “sexual preference” until they were informed that was no longer polite) had nothing to do with them. Be gay all you want, and have a nice day.
Why, then, in a country where gay rights have been so well embraced by so many, where even cops can be openly gay and want to march in a parade to celebrate their sexual orientation, where achieving acceptance by broadening their coalition to include those who were once their sworn enemy so that they would work toward an end to their remaining grievances, would Heritage in Pride want to stir up new controversy and pull a stunt like this, a “poke in the eye,” that can only inflame feelings of alienation?
The N.Y.P.D.’s relationship with the L.G.B.T.Q. community in New York has been marked by missteps and abuse at times, which have bred distrust. But the long road to repairing that relationship, and ensuring the safety of the city’s gay community, isn’t made easier by deepening the divide.
Has gay pride lost its edge? Without that deep divide, are gay people relegated to just being, you know, people who will end up without a reason to demand the streets of New York City be open to them and closed to others?