Cutting blue out of the rainbow

The decision by Heritage of Pride in New York City to bar uniformed police from marching in their parade reminds us that some activists do not want to end authoritarianism so much as take it over.

The HOP executive board overrode its membership in banning the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) from marching. In doing so, the board copied the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which years ago banned the same group from marching in its St. Patrick’s Day parade. What sense does it make to adopt the methods of those who have excluded us? Of course they have the same right as the Hibernians to enforce their expressive purpose by deciding who can march with them. I just think HOP’s decision is wrong.

If you have seen crowd reactions to LGBTQ cops marching in past Pride parades, you know how popular they are. Pride committees who ban groups like GOAL, or “politely decline their application,” as someone on Facebook put it, appear not to care that in doing so they ignore the views of the majority. Are they a board or a politburo?

This “People’s Democracy” paternalism dishonors generations of LGBTQ activists who fought for police accountability and improved relations. It goes against the very spirit of Stonewall, in which our people rejected victimhood rather than embracing it. We should be building better bridges, not burning them.

To repair something we must first understand it, which we can hardly do by treating it as monolithic and unchangeable. In my hometown of Washington, DC, I have worked in coalitions to win a number of policing reforms over the years. No, we did not create instant perfection, but we moved things forward. Last summer I helped recruit members for the new DC Police Reform Commission. Its report, issued in April, dramatically re-envisions public safety. Shouldn’t we examine such work before dismissing it?

Reform efforts are not helped by barring queer cops from Pride. They are our friends and are widely popular. Queer DC residents have been happy when officers from the Metropolitan Police Department’s LGBT Liaison Unit responded to an incident. No, of course it’s not enough. The struggle continues. I took part in a video conference recently about removing armed police from public schools. A lot of thoughtful, dedicated people are doing good work.

We are part of a multi-generational struggle. If the efforts of those who preceded you do not deserve respect, why should yours? To respect only those who agree with you is no respect at all.

Assertions of triggering can themselves be a form of aggression. If an officer you’ve excluded claims that your doing so has triggered him, is there an ombudsman to whom the case can be referred? Is there a Hierarchy of Triggers? There is an ancient proverb: “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

Police brutality is real; but that does not justify barring entire parts of our community, any more than a survivor of sexual assault should be able to bar everyone of the same sex as their assailant. Our diversity brings challenges. We must meet them, not flee from them.

Some among us are more at risk, more targeted for abuse and arrest. They are more traumatized and need greater help. But we should help them heal, not build an altar to their brokenness. We do not help by exploiting their pain or misdirecting our anger.

We do not help by stigmatizing and excluding LGBTQ officers. Inflicting more wounds is not the path to healing.

Polls show that most black people don’t want to abolish the police, they simply want more responsive and respectful police. The same is true for queer folk. There is still violent crime, and there are violent criminals. Simply calling for abolishing police is too facile. There is a growing recognition that every problem does not require an armed officer. Crafting appropriate reforms takes faithful collaboration. We cannot wave a magic wand.

Having survived COVID-19 with innovations like telecommuting, virtual cocktails, and dining in the parking lane, why not devise new ways to exercise our own freedom of association in a creative response to those who would circumscribe our diversity to impose their preference?

The social distancing required by the pandemic exacerbated an existing problem fueled by technology. The more we retreat into separate virtual spaces, the more our shared reality slips and we become vulnerable to predation by sociopaths and demagogues. We need to get out more. Just as friendships do not live by Zoom alone, social problems cannot be resolved solely via send key. Risky as it is, we must breathe the same air. Let’s get fully vaccinated and reconnect.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at rrosendall@me.com.

Copyright © 2021 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.

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Richard J. Rosendall

Richard J. Rosendall

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Former president, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington. Charter member, NAACP-DC Police Task Force. Co-founder, Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.