Three organizations, including the Bay Area chapter of Black Lives Matter, have withdrawn from San Francisco's annual LGBTQ pride parade this weekend in protest of an increased police presence at the event. It was a decision no group took lightly. But while their participation will be missed, their move to opt out of one of the country's largest celebrations of LGBTQ pride is sending an important message about how we seek to fight homophobia.
City officials announced they would be bolstering security around San Francisco's annual gay pride parade earlier in the week in an effort to quell growing fears following a mass shooting in Orlando in which 49 people were shot and killed in a popular LGBTQ nightclub earlier in the month. But some San Francisco Pride participants don't think more cops necessarily means more safe.
"In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting that took the lives of dozens of queer people of color, many people in our community are afraid," Black Lives Matter Bay Area said in an official statement released Friday. "For us, celebrating Pride this year meant choosing between the threat of homophobic and transphobic vigilante violence and the threat of police violence." Joining Black Lives Matter in their "respectful withdrawal" from the parade are St. James Infirmary, a clinic offering medical services to current and former sex workers, which was slated to be honored with the Heritage of Pride Award on Sunday and the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project.
Janetta Johnson, the executive director of the TGI Justice Project, echoed the sentiments of Black Lives Matter when she announced her own withdrawal from the parade. "While I am thankful for this honor, and grateful to Pride for bringing our work to the front this year, the decision to add more police to Pride does not make me, or my community, more safe," she said in a press release. Johnson was also reportedly slated to serve as a grand marshal.
Black Lives Matter's absence is unlikely to go unnoticed. The group had been selected to serve as grand marshal for this year's LGBTQ parade in honor of its theme "For Racial and Economic Justice." However, they hope to highlight how queer people of color often become targets of police violence with their withdrawal from the event and emphasized that heightened police presence made them feel less — not more — safe.
"The Black Lives Matter network is grateful to the people of San Francisco for choosing us, we choose you too," Black Lives Matter member Malkia Cyril said in a press release put out by the group. "As queer people of color, we are disproportionately targeted by both vigilante and police violence. We know firsthand that increasing the police presence at Pride does not increase safety for all people. Militarizing these events increases the potential for harm to our communities and we hope in the future SF Pride will consider community-centered approaches to security at pride events."
Indeed it's easy to see how an increased police presence would be offputting for a segment of society that has historically been a target of police harassment and violence. In 2015, the San Francisco LGBT Center found only 50 percent of LGBTQ people of color living in the city thought the police would help them if they needed it. That number dropped to 40 percent among transgender people of color.
Adding more cops to the equation acts more as a band-aid resolution than an adequate response to the driving issue behind many of the crimes that target members of the LGBTQ community: homophobia. Moreover, it has the potential to create a sense of exclusion around an event aiming to celebrate inclusion.
"Whether at SF Pride or any other moment, to protect queer lives, cities should be doing everything they can to attack homophobia, not to turn their policing resources against the queer community," Cyril told the Guardian.