San Francisco is ramping up security at its annual Pride festivities this weekend in the wake of the deadly attack on queer people of color in Orlando – a move that is alienating some members of the community that this year’s “racial and economic justice”-themed event is meant to celebrate.
There will be a “significant police presence”, officials said, and, for the first time in San Francisco Pride’s 46-year history, attendees will be required to go through security screenings to enter the festival area at the Civic Center.
But for some members of the city’s LGBT community, who have historically faced harassment and disparate treatment from police, increased security does not translate into an increased sense of safety.
“You’re turning out an armed force that has a record of racist violence against people of color in a march themed Black Lives Matter. If folks can’t see the irony of that, I don’t know what to tell you,” said Malkia Cyril, a member of Black Lives Matter, the organizational grand marshal for this year’s parade.
A 2015 study of the LGBTQ residents of San Francisco found that just 50% of LGBTQ people of color and 40% of transgender people of color believe that police officers would help them if needed.
Sam Singer, spokesman for SF Pride, the not-for-profit organization that stages the annual event, said the organization had “lengthy discussions” with law enforcement “and mutually came to the recommendation that in light of the terrorist attack in Orlando, this level of security was necessary”.
Attendees at the Pride festival – a two-day event of music, dance, drag and Dykes on Bikes – will be screened with walk-through metal detectors or handheld wands and will be “subject to additional searches of their person or possessions”, according to a police statement. The department plans to increase staffing and says that there will be a “significant police presence”, both of uniformed and undercover officers.
Firearms, weapons, alcohol, drugs, portable speakers and other potentially hazardous items will be banned, but Singer says fetishes will still be welcome.
“I believe whips and chains will always be allowed at Pride,” he said. “Just not weapons that you can harm another person with.”
The theme for this year’s Pride celebration is For Racial and Economic Justice, and many of the weekend’s honorees represent historically marginalized parts of the LGBT community. In addition to Black Lives Matter, the event will honor Janetta Johnson, the executive director of Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), and the St James Infirmary, a sex worker advocacy organization.
Now those organizations are grappling with the news of the increased law enforcement presence.
“It doesn’t make me safe,” said Johnson, a formerly incarcerated black transgender woman. “I’m more afraid of police than terrorists.”
“Increased police presence at Pride means greater threat of violence, harassment and profiling for much our community,” said Stephany Ashley, executive director of St James Infirmary. “The new ‘security’ protocols at SF Pride will not create more safety for our community, they will create more exclusion.”
San Francisco’s LGBT community is not alone in navigating the contradictions of policing and safety in the wake of the Orlando attack.
In New York City, the heavy police presence at a vigil for the Orlando victims at the Stonewall Inn – where police abuse of LGBT patrons triggered the 1969 Stonewall riots – drew hostility from some mourners.
BreakOUT!, an LGBTQ youth group in New Orleans, withdrew from the New Orleans Pride parade on Sunday, despite having been selected as an organizational grand marshal.
In a statement, BreakOUT! said the increased law enforcement made its members feel unsafe and called for the LGBT community to “chart a course forward that doesn’t rely on state systems, but rather community, to keep us safe”, adding: “While we were honored to be named one of the grand marshals in pride, our priority is to our vision of liberation where we walk down the street without fear. #policeoutofpride.”
For the moment, Black Lives Matter Bay Area is still planning to participate in San Francisco Pride, but Cyril says the group “reserve[s] the right to pull out”.
“The 49 lives in Orlando were not lost because of a lack of police presence. They were lost because we live in a country and world that has perpetuated racist, homophobic hate as a matter of policy,” she said.
“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,” she added.
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