San Diego Pride to allow uniformed officers in parade

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Friday May 27, 2022
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Members of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department marched in the 2019 San Diego Pride parade. Photo: Courtesy San Diego Pride
Members of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department marched in the 2019 San Diego Pride parade. Photo: Courtesy San Diego Pride

Pride officials in San Diego have reached a compromise with law enforcement that will allow officers to march in uniform at its in-person parade in July. It remains unclear, however, if they will be able to do so in future years.

While the organizers of the Southern California city's LGBTQ celebration are still encouraging law enforcement officers not to march in their uniforms, they are not requiring them to wear their civilian clothes. In 2020, San Diego Pride had banned the presence of uniformed law enforcement in the parade.

What ensued was many months of negotiations. LGBTQ San Diego County News reported in May that gay San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria had said he would not march in the parade if the ban were put into effect. Other community leaders also said they would skip the parade, according to the news site.

Gloria spokesperson Rachel Laing, however, told the Bay Area Reporter May 27 that "there was never any threat" by the mayor not to participate.

After numerous, lengthy discussions, San Diego Pride's Healing & Safer Communities Committee in April made the recommendation that encouraged law enforcement personnel to wear some other type of "unique" uniform, such as T-shirts designed for the Pride event.

Fernando Lopez, executive director for San Diego Pride, wrote in an email to the B.A.R. that the initial 2020 decision to ban the presence of uniformed law enforcement was an important step. They did not specifically answer a question about whether the compromise policy would be reviewed annually.

The compromise states, "In an effort to present an appearance that joins in the celebration of the San Diego Pride event while also helping to break down fear/barriers stemming from a traditional uniformed appearance, explore and wear specialized or unique uniform designs for use during the Pride Parade or Festival Booth.

"Law enforcement agencies are encouraged to support unique and specialized attire that is emblematic of the San Diego Pride event and helps show respect and appreciation to the LGBTQ community, and respects the history and intended purpose of national pride celebrations while also balancing the law enforcement agency's need for a professional appearance of the law enforcement profession," the statement continued.

It does not ban the wearing of uniforms and, evidently, local law enforcement is interpreting it that way. Mike Gonzales, a sergeant in the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and an LGBTQ liaison, told the B.A.R., "I know how excited we are to be back in the parade in our uniforms."

Gonzales, who identified himself as a gay Hispanic man, said he is very aware of symbolism of the uniforms and recognizes that many people regard those uniforms with suspicion.

"I understand there has been hurt caused by law enforcement in the community, but there are people who are hurt by our not being allowed to march," Gonzales said.

He added that, "Stonewall was not that long ago," referring to the riots in New York City in June 1969 that launched the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement. The annual Pride events held around the country were originally held to mark the first anniversary of the uprising at the Manhattan gay bar the Stonewall Inn.

Prides across US move to ban uniformed police

The issue of police in Pride parades has been playing out in numerous other cities around the United States, as the B.A.R. has reported. In San Francisco, LGBTQ police officers, firefighters, and sheriff's deputies said May 23 that they would not participate in their city's Pride parade this June because of the San Francisco Pride board's 2020 ban on uniformed police marching in the parade. (It is being implemented for the first time this year because of the event being held virtually the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

That announcement was followed by one from Mayor London Breed and gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey that they would skip the parade too, unless the SF Pride board reverses its decision. (Prior to becoming a supervisor Dorsey served as a top civilian employee at SFPD, where he worked on strategic communications with police Chief William Scott.)

The mayor's stance is leading to a wider controversy within the city's LGBTQ community. Staff with the city's Transgender District plan to boycott Breed's June 2 Pride flag raising ceremony at City Hall and any other official city and county Pride events and celebrations unless the mayor changes course on skipping the parade and issues an apology for her decision to not march in solidarity with the police and other first responders.

The cultural district called on other transgender-serving and/or LGBTQ+ groups to do the same. The Castro LGBTQ Cultural District announced Friday that it would follow suit and and boycott any of the city's official Pride events in solidarity with the trans district.

As of May 27, the mayor is still planning on "joining the LGBTQ+ members of the police and sheriff's departments that are not being allowed to march in uniforms, and the LGBTQ+ members of the Fire Department who are not marching out of solidarity with their public safety partners," Jordan Wilson, Breed's communications aide, wrote in an email to the B.A.R.

The LGBTQ community has had its own reckoning with law enforcement over the years, as many law enforcement agencies now have LGBTQ personnel in their ranks despite past violent events such as the Castro Sweep in San Francisco in 1989 when police cleared the streets in the Castro, seemingly in retaliation for a protest against federal inaction on the AIDS epidemic that occurred earlier that day near City Hall.

Leadership at the San Diego LGBT Community Center adopted a similar police presence policy as that of the city's Pride committee by banning uniformed police from its building. According to Gus Hernandez, senior director of communications at the center, the policy is still in effect at the facility.

"This policy, established in the wake of the death of George Floyd, continues in place, and was informed by data that demonstrates anti-LGBTQ bias intersects with racial bias, resulting in the highest search rates for Black and Latinx community members who police perceive to be LGBTQ," Hernandez wrote in an email to the B.A.R., referring to the May 2020 murder of Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

Gonzales noted that his understanding of the San Diego Pride agreement regarding first responder uniforms was that it was part of an ongoing discussion.

"Essentially, the way I would say it, it would be considered every year," he said. "It wasn't set in stone, it was something that would be consistently reviewed."

Like his colleagues in San Francisco, Gonzales feels being able to march in uniform is a vital part of community outreach, not only to reassure the public, but to recruit more members of the LGBTQ community to law enforcement careers.

Gonzales, who, along with his husband is raising a 2-year-old son, said public service is a tradition in his family, from his grandfather serving in the military to his father, a retired chief of police. Seeing one's self reflected by LGBTQ officers in uniform is important, particularly for young people, he said.

"They need to see us out there so they know they can serve their community and contribute and be part of the solution," he said. "I can't stress that enough."

Lopez talked about Pride's beginnings as a way for the LGBTQ community to call out harassment toward it by police officers.

"The origin of the global Pride movement was a direct response to state-sanctioned police violence," they stated. "Two years ago, San Diego Pride made a decision that helped us highlight the ongoing racial and LGBTQ injustices our community faces to this day. We stand by that decision without regret, as we joined countless Americans calling for justice, engaged people in this meaning for work, and ensured these stories of systemic abuses were told.

"All of this was in the interest of ending LGBTQ and racist discrimination for the safety of our entire community, which includes law enforcement officers," Lopez's statement continued. "We can all agree on those values. I am grateful for the work we have accomplished together, and that we have all agreed to continue together. I assure you that San Diego Pride is fully committed to racial and LGBTQ justice. We ask you all to join us in that work 365 days a year, and at our annual Pride Celebrations. Together, we will pursue Justice with Joy."

San Diego Pride runs July 9-17 with over a week of events. The Pride festival is July 16-17 in Balboa Park, while the parade is July 16 and begins at 10 a.m. at the Hillcrest Pride Flag at University Avenue and Normal Street.

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