SF Pride will allow some police to wear uniforms, extending last year's policy

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday April 12, 2023
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San Francisco Police Department command staff were able to march in uniform during last year's Pride parade, while other officers wore casual wear. Photo: Rick Gerharter
San Francisco Police Department command staff were able to march in uniform during last year's Pride parade, while other officers wore casual wear. Photo: Rick Gerharter

The organization that puts on the San Francisco Pride parade and celebration will allow some uniformed police to march at the event this year, under the same conditions as last year, the Bay Area Reporter has learned.

"The SFPD contingent will be allowed to march in this year's parade as long as they meet the guidelines set forth by the agreement we made with them last year," said Suzanne Ford, a trans woman who is the executive director of the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Celebration Committee. "Our board has formed a committee that is meeting with SFPD Pride Alliance this month to continue discussing the relationship between SFPD and the local queer community."

A ban on uniformed officers from the San Francisco Police Department marching in the parade was enacted in 2020 after officers detained protesters who blocked the 2019 parade, leading to allegations of excessive force, as the B.A.R. reported. One of the protesters, Taryn Saldivar, alleging violations of their constitutional rights, battery, and false arrest and imprisonment, later sued the city and the police department, receiving a settlement of $190,000 in September 2021.

Due to COVID-19, the Pride parade did not take place for two years. As a result, the ban didn't become an issue until 2022, when it prompted outrage from many quarters including Mayor London Breed and gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who said they themselves wouldn't participate if the restriction on police uniforms was enforced.

Breed and Dorsey reversed course when a compromise was reached whereby the police chief and command staff were allowed to march in full uniform while others would be allowed to march out of uniform. (As it turned out, Breed had COVID in late June and was forced to miss the parade and related activities.)

The compromise terms — which SF Pride clarified to the B.A.R. on April 12 would be the same for the 2023 parade set to take place Sunday, June 25 — allowed the city's police, sheriff, and fire departments to march together, with command staff allowed in uniform but without visible weapons. Some adjacent officers were allowed weapons for security, but the largest group had to be out of uniform, in shirts with department logos.

Ford told the B.A.R. that the meeting regarding this year's event between the organization and the SFPO Pride Alliance would be "this week."

When asked what will be discussed and what she hopes will come out of the meeting, Ford said, "I don't really want to comment on that. Obviously we have the agreement from last year. We want to meet and start the work."

When asked when the decision was made by the board, Ford, who was SF Pride's interim executive director last year, said, "There was really no decision made, we just kept the agreement in place and started to work on it. We're just using the agreement from last year."

When asked if that'd be acceptable to the various stakeholders — considering how contentious the issue was last year — Ford simply responded "yes."

San Francisco Police Sergeant Kathryn Winters of the SFPO Pride Alliance stated to the B.A.R. after the initial online publication of this report that, "We have not yet met or spoken directly with San Francisco Pride on this matter, and, because we have not yet or spoken, I will not offer comment until after we have met and spoken."

Winters added, "We are meeting tomorrow evening, and Pride Alliance is committed to continuing the work of building trust with the community and ensuring that San Francisco Pride is a weekend where all members of our community can celebrate together."

Winters followed up with the B.A.R. after the April 13 meeting, saying that it was "very productive" and "we are working on a plan to hold town hall meetings in order to have open and honest conversations with members of the community on issues around policing and the queer community."

The dates and exact locations of these town halls have not been set.

Breed's office was pleased with the news.

"The mayor's office has been meeting with Suzanne and members of the Pride Alliance for months to prepare for this year's Pride parade, and to continue to foster a positive relationship between all parties," Breed spokesperson Jeff Cretan stated. "The mayor is happy that uniformed police officers will be allowed to march again like they did last year, and that both the Pride board and the Pride Alliance continue to work together to seek and find compromise."

Gay District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio, who was not on the board during last year's imbroglio, also expressed support.

"Today's SFPD is quite diverse and it is a leader in police reforms. Many residents want more police presence in their neighborhoods and business areas," Engardio stated. "Allowing out LGBTQ officers to participate in the Pride parade is a good thing. Hopefully, it will help recruit more people to want to be police officers in San Francisco given the extreme shortage we have for a city our size."

Indeed, Dorsey and straight ally District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani just introduced a charter amendment for the March 2024 primary ballot that would establish minimum police staffing levels. Dorsey, who served as communications director for San Francisco Police Chief William Scott before joining the Board of Supervisors, said that the city is short more than 500 officers and "hasn't had a fully staffed police department for decades."

After the initial online publication of this report, gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told the B.A.R., "I think this makes sense" and that he's "glad the Pride Alliance and SF Pride were able to get past this."

Dorsey told the B.A.R. April 13 that "I'm hoping they can be on the same page, no drama."

"I haven't had the chance to check in with Suzanne or the Pride Alliance but I want to be supportive and that we see an inclusive Pride," he added.

The Transgender District, which pulled out of city-sponsored Pride events last year and asked Breed to apologize for her reticence about participating in the 2022 parade if a police uniform ban was imposed, declined to comment for this story.

SFPD officials and the San Francisco Police Officers Association did not respond to requests for comment for this report as of press time.

Updated 4/12/23 with comment from SFPD's Pride Alliance.

Updated, 4/13/23: This article has been updated. Police Sergeant Winters' title has been corrected and a comment added from Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.

Updated, 4/14/23: This article has been updated with additional information from the SFPO Pride Alliance and Supervisor Matt Dorsey.

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