Pride Month begins with calls for police reforms across US

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 3, 2020
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Participants at a kneel-in outside San Francisco City Hall Monday, June 1, heard from actor Jamie Foxx and Mayor London Breed as they demanded justice for the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Participants at a kneel-in outside San Francisco City Hall Monday, June 1, heard from actor Jamie Foxx and Mayor London Breed as they demanded justice for the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Photo: Rick Gerharter

A year ago Pride organizers around the country were wrestling with calls from some within the LGBT community that they order police officers not to march in uniform or ban them outright from the annual parades. Few did, and in San Francisco protesters blocked the city's event for nearly an hour largely due to the issue.

Some demonstrators held signs reading, "cops kill."

Twelve months later and Pride Month was ushered in Monday, June 1, by nationwide protests against police brutality, numerous LGBTQ organizations pronouncing solidarity with people of color, and rainbow flag ceremonies punctuated with the names of African Americans killed by police officers and transgender people murdered in recent months.

Gay Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside), the lone LGBT member of the House from California, specifically called out the killings of three black Americans — two straight, one a transgender man — in announcing his support Tuesday for a resolution co-authored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) that condemns police brutality, excessive use of force, and racial profiling.

"We must also acknowledge that racist police brutality has gone without impunity for far too long in America. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, are the most recent cases of black men and women who have died at the hands of police — that we know of," stated Takano. "Too often, the results of investigations into these instances of police misconduct amount to nothing and true justice is never served. This cannot, and must not, go on."

The list of LGBTQ organizations pledging solidarity with the African American community continued to grow this week. Their doing so followed the release last Friday, May 29, of a joint statement regarding the country's racist legacy and calling for the end of white supremacy signed by the leaders of 75 LGBTQ advocacy groups in the U.S. It was sparked by the first three days of protests demanding justice for Floyd, who was asphyxiated to death by Minneapolis police officers, one of whom had kneeled on his neck, and ignored his pleas of "I can't breathe."

"As a collective of LGBTQIA people from a range of backgrounds and life experiences, we have benefitted immeasurably from black leadership and actions that have brought greater civil liberties for all," wrote the staff and board of the Solano Pride Center in Fairfield, California in a letter released Monday. "As a center, we aspire to do more and do better at serving and focusing on African American lives, needs, voices, hopes, achievements and beyond."

The Reverend Jim Mitulski, left, took part in a peaceful protest outside the city of Alameda Police Department Monday, June 1. Photo: Elisabeth Middleberg  

Pride born of protest
Many in the LGBTQ community noted Monday that the annual Pride celebrations were born 50 years ago with marches in New York and San Francisco commemorating the first anniversary of the riots that occurred at New York City's Stonewall Inn the night of June 28, 1969 when queer and transgender patrons of the gay bar rose up against the police who had raided the establishment.

"Pride was born from a moment in which black and brown trans folks had had enough and pushed back against a system that oppressed them," noted San Francisco Pride Executive Director Fred Lopez in a June 1 statement. "Pride, as we are all reminded today, began as an expression of anger, of frustration, of rage. Half a century later, we are seeing outrage on the streets of our nation — and we feel it, too."

Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak resulting in the cancellation, postponement, or virtual revamping of Pride celebrations across the globe, Pride Month had already lost some of its celebratory feel with millions of Americans out of work, whole industries shuttered, and the number of those killed by the virus surpassing the grim milestone of 100,000 last week. Aiming to provide some relief and solidarity to people as they shelter in place and grapple with the fallout from the pandemic, Pride organizers had pivoted to hosting online events throughout the month of June, culminating with a globally livestreamed celebration the weekend of June 27-28.

"Pride started as a grassroots coming-together to liberate our people. It's remarkable that we're doing exactly that during this pandemic. Our entire production team are volunteers who are members of our community that have a passion to ensure our visibility during this challenging time," stated Michelle Meow, executive producer of the Global Pride event and a past president of the board that oversees San Francisco Pride. "This has never been done before and we're excited about the authentic materials we're collecting that represents our global community. While production will be a challenge, we're incredibly grateful to the support of everyone from the small Pride organization you've never heard of before to the big global tech companies providing their support."

The civil unrest raging on the streets of dozens of American cities is sure to be a focal point of this year's virtual Pride celebrations. At numerous rainbow flag raising ceremonies in cities around the Bay Area this week, speakers remarked upon the health crisis, the deaths of black and transgender people, and the calls for police reforms.

San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission member Dana Johnson, who co-chairs the county's Pride Initiative, called out the names of Floyd, Taylor, McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery during the city of Half Moon Bay's ceremony Monday afternoon.

"We are still not safe to express our gender identity," said Johnson, who is black and gender nonbinary. "Fifty years since the Stonewall riots and there is still a lot of work to be done. So let's get back to work and fight for justice for all."

During Richmond's livestreamed ceremony Monday when it again flew flags for Pride and Juneteenth and marked the start of Immigrant Heritage Month, gay leader Cesar Zepeda noted it was especially important for the city to "stand together as one community" this June.

"The LGBTQI community we stand in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters, especially during a difficult time for our city," said Zepeda, a co-founder of Richmond Rainbow Pride, which will host a virtual Pride event Sunday, June 14.

In asking his fellow council members at their meeting Monday to again support the issuance of a Pride Month proclamation and flying the Pride flag this month, gay Pleasant Hill City Councilman Ken Carlson reminded them that doing so sends the message that "we are here to stand together as a community."

The city's current mayor, Councilman Matthew Rinn, referred to the flying of the international symbol for the LGBT community as the "silver lining to a storm."