Pride: From Anti-Police Riot to Police Recruitment Booths
On June 28, 1969, police performed a routine raid of a gay bar in New York City called the Stonewall Inn. However, not so routine was the response of the patrons, who were tired of being discriminated against for their sexuality and gender identity by the police. They stood up against the police , who responded with violence, starting a three-day rebellion.
At the center of this riot were transgender women of color like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera . Though the neighborhood, the Village, was heavily white, LGBT people from across the city, including many Black and Latino people, came to bars such as Stonewall, and the police violence against them was certainly racialized. A witness recalled a policeman yelling, "You n****r f*gs get away!" as he beat a black transgender woman with a nightstick.
On June 28, 2015, I attended San Francisco’s Pride for the first time. This event ostensibly celebrates the anniversary of Stonewall, but the feeling could not be more different. I observed hundreds of police. Most were simply watching the crowd, but some were in booths, recruiting, joining in the celebration, and trying to spread the message that the police are allies of the LGBT community. However, the reality is, they aren’t, at least not to the majority.
Black and brown LGBT people are no exception to the violence police commit against their communities, as the murder of Jessie Hernandez by police and subsequent lack of prosecution reminds us. Queer people of color may even be targeted in particular. For example, nearly half of black transgender people have spent time in jail. One of these women, Patti Shaw, called the police after being sexually harassed and assaulted by a man, including getting a tooth knocked out, but was arrested herself because he said she had started the fight. She was placed in the men’s section of the jail, and was sexually violated by guards during a strip search.
Amnesty International extensively documented the harassment, sexual assault and violence that LGBT people experience at the hands of police in their 2007 report Brutality in Blue. Incidents included police officers calling a transgender woman a f****t and kicking her in front of her son, forcing a Native American transgender woman to choose between being raped and arrested, and targeting known gay areas for arrests in “bag-a-f*g” operations.
The SFPD in particular has a known history of racism and homophobia, exposed after texts between officers were released, detailing how they frequently used slurs like n****r and f*g, as well as documented racial profiling. The homophobia, transphobia, and racism experienced by the LGBT community at Stonewall in 1969 still remains a problem today. Police are still not here to make LGBT people safer, especially not black and brown LGBT people.
With the recent Supreme Court decision making marriage equality the law of the land, it’s critical that we turn our attention to other, equally important issues facing the LGBT community including police brutality, but also poverty, homelessness, lack of adequate healthcare, and job discrimination. 40% of homeless youth are LGBT, and homeless LGBT people have very high rates of sexual victimization. This population is disproportionately Black and Latino. It is legal in 29 states to refuse to hire, harass, or fire someone because they are LGBT. Let the LGBT struggle not be one to assimilate into the dominant culture, but rather to bring justice and liberation to the community, including from state violence.