Back to All Commentary

The NYPD can’t Pinkwash its History of LGBTQ+ Violence

Pride is a celebration of resistance and triumph over state violence and bigotry.

pride policing

Update: June 28, 2021: NYPD officers pepper-sprayed and arrested several pride marchers in Washington Square Park in Manhattan on Sunday, June 27. 

“Basically there was nothing going on,” Janus Rose, a technology journalist from Brooklyn who was at the park on Sunday, told Gothamist. “The park was packed and people were just hanging out and having a good time after the Queer Liberation March. Then all of a sudden we started seeing dozens of police vans circle around the park with their sirens and lights flashing, pedal to the metal.”

The original piece is below.

Last month, Heritage of Pride (HOP) announced that it will ban uniformed corrections and law enforcement officers from participating in its New York City-based pride events. Calls to keep police out of pride are not new, and a look at the history of pride and the legacy of police violence against the LGBTQ+ community give context for why some feel this decision is long overdue.

The pride celebrations we know today began to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969, when trans women of color, LGBTQ+ sex workers, and homeless youth led an uprising against one of the NYPD’s many violent raids of the Stonewall Inn. On June 28, 1969, after months of violent police raids, the crowd – led by trans women of color – fought back against the police, sparking six days of protest against the NYPD. Many patrons were brutalized and 13 people were arrested.

This history is a reminder that pride is a celebration of resistance and triumph over state violence and bigotry. LGBTQ+ people do not have the luxury of ignoring this legacy. But we don’t need to go back to the 60s to find examples of NYPD discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ+ community.

You can see it in the NYPD’s systematic targeting of Black and Brown trans women under the recently-repealed Walking While Trans law, which police have used to target and arrest trans people for simply existing in public spaces. And in the discriminatory targeting of gay men in Port Authority bathrooms for “lewdness.” And the rampant targeting of transgender and gender non-conforming people of color by the department’s Vice squad. And the NYPD’s disproportionate targeting of LGBTQ+ community members under stop-and-frisk.

The list goes on and on and yet the NYPD refuses to acknowledge – let alone address – the problem.

Through it all, the NYPD’s Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) has said nothing about this pattern of abuse. Nor has it made any effort to demand accountability from the department that they work for.

Despite GOAL’s silence, their members have been quick to condemn their exclusion from pride. One member went so far as to equate it with being “put back in” the closet. This description is an affront to a community that continues to face rampant violence and criminalization at the hands of the NYPD. It also fails to acknowledge the department’s pattern of brutalizing protesters –including members of the LGBTQ+ community – who protest discriminatory policing.

According to HOP’s statement, its decision to bar uniformed police was an attempt to acknowledge the history of pride, and also an effort to create a safe environment for its participants – some of whom were brutalized by the NYPD at last year’s Pride celebrations.

In June 2020, the police attacked demonstrators at the Queer Liberation March. Apparently without provocation, NYPD officers in riot gear charged the crowd, shoved people, swung their batons, and pepper-sprayed at least 10 demonstrators.

NYCLU protest monitors have witnessed several similar violent attacks against the participants in the weekly Stonewall March led by trans women of color.

Last November, hundreds of NYPD officers in riot gear arrested several marchers, including a Black trans organizer who was tackled to the ground and taken into custody. Then in April, the NYPD once again brutalized people at the Stonewall March, with officers shooting pepper spray at participants and dragging an organizer out of a vehicle after marchers had dispersed.

From police violence against LGBTQ+ protesters to decades of violent and discriminatory policing, the NYPD must come to terms with its legacy. That means acknowledging that for many, police presence is a source of trauma, not safety or pride.

If that ever changes, it will not be because of pink-washing via rainbow-painted squad cars or photos of officers holding pride flags. It will only happen if the NYPD reckons with its legacy of violence towards the LGBTQ+ community and takes steps to repair that history. To date, the NYPD has refused to do so.

The department’s pattern of abuse against the LGBTQ+ community is one more reason we must consider how much power, money, and influence we want to give to an institution that is incapable of holding itself accountable.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union