As LGBT event hikes security after Orlando, participation meant choosing between the threat of homophobic violence and police violence, group says
Several of the honorees of San Francisco Pride, the nation’s largest LGBT pride event, withdrew on Friday from the “racial and economic justice” themed parade and festival this weekend in response to the increased policing measures put in place after the Orlando attack.
“For us, celebrating Pride this year meant choosing between the threat of homophobic vigilante violence and the threat of police violence,” said a statement from Black Lives Matter, an organizational grand marshal; Janetta Johnson, a community grand marshal; and sex worker advocacy group St James Infirmary, a “Heritage of Pride” award recipient.
“We had a tough decision to make, and ultimately we chose to keep our people safe by not participating in any event that would leave our communities vulnerable to either.”
On Tuesday, SF Pride announced that this year’s events would have a “significant police presence” and that, for the first time in the celebration’s 46-year history, attendees at the festival would be required to pass through security screening. The decision was made in the wake of the mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, in which 49 people were killed.
Many LGBT people of color expressed concern with that news, citing the historic targeting and harassment of communities of color by police.
“I’m more afraid of police than terrorists,” Johnson, who is a black transgender woman, told the Guardian on Tuesday.
The ACLU of northern California also criticized the decision, writing in a blog post: “Cops in the clubs won’t make people feel safer. And SF Pride should not be an excuse to over-police the city’s most vulnerable communities.”
Johnson announced her decision to withdraw at an emotional SF Pride press conference held Friday morning, expressing concern about the impact an increased police presence would have on homeless residents of downtown San Francisco.
“The San Francisco police department has proven time and again – by racially profiling and murdering black people, black trans people – that they cannot keep us safe,” said Shanelle Matthews, a spokesperson for Black Lives Matter, at the event. “We know that some people will feel safe at Pride, but we will not.”
SF Pride board president Michelle Meow appeared to accept and even endorse the withdrawals.
“Increasing police presence in our community is not the solution,” she said. “I will be missing some of you, but I know this is the beginning of something that we’re going to do in San Francisco. We stand here today in support and solidarity of all of our honorees and grand marshals, including Black Lives Matter.”
Other grand marshals and honorees applauded Johnson, Black Lives Matter, and the St James Infirmary.
Meow expressed hope that SF Pride would be able to find a different solution for next year’s event.
“We didn’t have enough time to regroup and rethink our safety,” she said. “We have to get through this year so we can think about what safety means outside of police protection, because that is not the answer.”