LGBTQ first responders won't march in SF Pride parade

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Monday May 23, 2022
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San Francisco Police Officer Kathryn Winters speaks in opposition to San Francisco Pride's prohibition of uniformed officers marching in the parade during a May 20 news conference. Lieutenant Jonathan Baxter of the San Francisco Fire Department, back, left, also spoke. Photo: Rick Gerharter<br><br>
San Francisco Police Officer Kathryn Winters speaks in opposition to San Francisco Pride's prohibition of uniformed officers marching in the parade during a May 20 news conference. Lieutenant Jonathan Baxter of the San Francisco Fire Department, back, left, also spoke. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Calling it a step "back in the closet," San Francisco's LGBTQ first responders condemned the decision by San Francisco Pride to maintain its ban on uniformed police officers in the upcoming Pride parade. In response to SF Pride's decision, LGBTQ San Francisco police officers, firefighters, and sheriff's deputies will not participate.

The news of the San Francisco Fire Department's decision was announced by public information officer Lieutenant Jonathan Baxter May 20.

A May 23 release by the San Francisco Police Officer's Pride Alliance stated that the San Francisco Sheriff's Department personnel would also join in solidarity in skipping participation in the parade.

The board of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee announced in September 2020 that uniformed San Francisco police officers would be banned from the parade beginning in 2021. However, the COVID pandemic prevented a Pride parade last year so the 2022 in-person parade on June 26 is the first time since the ban was announced that it would take effect.

The San Francisco Police Department's Pride Alliance's announcement came a year and a half after it began discussions with SF Pride officials about how to involve uniformed officers as participants in the parade. (SFPD will be providing security coverage of the event, as it has done in the past.)

"Over the past 18 months, the San Francisco Police Officers Pride Alliance members engaged in conversations with the board of SF Pride in response to the ban on uniformed police officers that was announced in 2020," the Pride Alliance stated. "We shared stories of the courage it took to serve as both a peace officer and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The board of SF Pride offered only one option: that LGBTQ+ peace officers hang up their uniforms, put them back in the closet, and march in civilian attire.

"Let us be clear: this [Pride] committee would not order the leather community to wear polyester at the parade. This committee would not order the drag community to wear flannel," the release stated. "But they have told us, peace officers, that if we wear our uniforms, we may not attend."

The ban arose after a 2019 incident when police used force against anti-police and anti-corporate protesters who blocked the parade route for almost an hour. One of the protesters, Taryn Saldivar, alleging violations of their constitutional rights, battery, and false arrest and imprisonment, later sued the City of San Francisco and the police department, receiving a settlement of $190,000 in September 2021.

Following the murder by police of Black Minnesotan George Floyd in May 2020, many Pride organizations around the United States, including Portland, Oregon, San Diego, and New York City, moved to institute their own bans.

A weary sounding Suzanne Ford, interim executive director of SF Pride, told the Bay Area Reporter in a phone interview that "This is not a ban; this is merely an invitation to participate with a condition attached."

Police are welcome to participate in the parade, said Ford, a transgender woman. They are welcome to participate wearing shirts that state they are police officers but the presence of uniforms leaves many in the community feeling unsafe, she said.

"Radical inclusivity and harm reduction," she stated. "This is the best solution we can find."

Work to diversify law enforcement

Members of the SFPO Pride Alliance don't believe that SF Pride's stance takes into account all the work they and their predecessors have done to open up the police department to members of the LGBTQ community, however.

"There was a time in the San Francisco Police Department when you could not serve as open police officers," said Pride Alliance treasurer and SFPD Officer Kathryn Winters, a transgender lesbian. "And certainly a time when you couldn't even dream of marching in Pride."

The predecessors of today�s LGBTQ police officers "put their lives on the line," she said, in order to break into the ranks of police departments.

At a news conference in the Castro May 20, LGBTQ representatives from the city's police, sheriff's, and fire departments were on hand to express their frustration with the ban, stating it would ultimately do more harm than good.

The officers lamented the ban's potential impact on helping the various departments recruit more LGBTQ members, stating that the increased presence of members from the queer community would do more to make police reform possible.

"It's been the LGBTQ officers who have really driven reform," said Winters. "I would really like San Francisco Pride to embrace the values of San Francisco, the value of radical inclusion so that the values San Francisco stands for, which is including all members of our community and allowing us to show up as our full, authentic selves which is not just who we are and who we love, but the job we do.

"We've all sworn an oath to protect the city as police officers and sheriff's deputies and firefighters," Winters continued. "And we want to be able to be proud of that and show the members of our community there are people like you who put on these uniforms every day and are out there to help support and protect you."

Participating in the parade in uniform serves to show the public the diversity that exists within the ranks of the city's first responders, some of them said. They took issue with Ford�s statement that the ban on uniforms was a matter of harm reduction.

"So if we're truly talking of harm reduction through trauma informed care, trauma informed acts, we need to set an example in San Francisco," said the SFFD's Baxter. "We need to allow the public to see that our uniformed law enforcement officers are good. They do reflect our community and they are here for you."

In their release, the SFPO Pride Alliance acknowledged the issues of police brutality, calling them "complex."

"The modern LGBTQ+ movement was born out of response to police brutality in places like the Compton's Cafeteria and the Stonewall Inn," the release stated, referring to the 1966 riot at a San Francisco diner and the more famous 1969 uprising at a gay bar in New York City.

"But that is the reason many of us took this job," the release continued. "We recognized the need for change within these organizations ... We changed these organizations from within by providing a wider cultural competency that has made San Francisco home to the country's most diverse peace officer organizations."

Baxter further stated that his department�s chief, Jeanine Nicholson, who is a lesbian, immediately stated her support for the fire department's decision not to participate in the parade upon hearing that the ban would remain in effect.

"She was in solidarity immediately with everything," said Baxter. "When you're dealing with city politics, it is always the ramification of your boss. And in this case, the mayor of San Francisco. And, as we said, we're eager to see what decision the mayor takes on the stance that our public safety partners are taking."

Calls to the mayor�s office by the B.A.R. for comments, as well as to newly appointed gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, were not returned. Prior to being named to the Board of Supervisors May 9 to replace now-Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), Dorsey was a high-ranking SFPD civilian, working on strategic communications with Chief William Scott and part of his command staff.

After publication of this article, both Breed and Dorsey said that they would not march in the parade if the ban on uniformed police remains in effect. (See related story.)

During a February interview with the B.A.R. Scott said that uniformed officers should be part of the Pride parade.

"I would like to be a part of it," Scott, an ally, said. "Those conversations are ongoing. I've reached out and the Pride Alliance has asked to be the lead."

"We've got to be there to police the event but we want to be part of it," said Scott, who added that members of the Pride Alliance have expressed "some heartburn" over participating in the parade out of uniform.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman was out of the country at the time this story broke. On Monday he told the B.A.R. that he would march in the Pride parade.

His legislative aide Jacob Bintliff, a gay man, stated the office has been working with SF Pride and the first responders.

"I can say that our office has been involved in discussions with SF Pride and first responder and community stakeholders around the concerns with uniformed officers' involvement in the parade and other issues," Bintliff wrote in an email, "and that we will continue working to ensure a successful, safe, and inclusive return to in-person Pride celebrations next month."

Updated, 5/24/22: This article has been updated with comments from Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and an updated on the mayor and Supervisor Matt Dorsey's participation..

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