The Black Lives Matter movement has reignited the demand for an end to Police racism and racism across society, and given many a necessary reminder of the need to listen and learn from BAME people and to offer our solidarity.
LGBT +people are now also asking once again: should uniformed police officers be invited to Pride marches?
Pride began as a protest to remember the Stonewall Riots which took place in the US in 1969 when LGBT+ people at a bar called the Stonewall Inn had had enough of being bullied and harassed by homophobic police. Activists in the United Kingdom set up their own Pride protest in solidarity and to fight for equality in the UK. They were hounded and attacked for doing so from the police and from many others.
Fast forward sixty years, and Pride is a very different thing; a brand-sponsored fiesta, with a high cost for attendees and organisers, joined by police in uniform desperate to improve their image.
But what does it matter? Is it not a good thing that uniformed police are on Pride demonstrating their support?
The police force is a necessary arm of a capitalist state. The establishment that controls capitalist society, made up mostly of rich, straight, white, cis men, needs the police to protect its wealth and operations, enforce its laws and defend its positions. Without police officers willing and ready to uphold this inequality, we would likely be in a very different place.
When it was illegal to be gay, the police would happily arrest people. When indecency laws unfairly targeted gay men, the cops would at a click of a finger patrol remote toilets in parks or scour gay bookstores to remove literature the state felt to be too queer.
When people protested the homophobic Section 28 laws that likely led to the bullying and suicide of untold LGBT young people, the police would be there on the streets suppressing protest.
More recently, the police arrested LGBT people trying to join Glasgow Pride and charged an LGBT person for holding up a sign with the word “faggot” written on it Nearby Christian groups attacking marchers as sinners went untouched. And in London, a serial killer was able to kill four gay men with numerous clues apparently missed. The investigation into that case is ongoing, so it is too early to say whether homophobia meant police missed what some are calling obvious clues.
As well as the historical and ongoing police oppression of LGBT people, there is also the oppression of BAME people, and their voice must be heard when it comes to this debate.
This isn’t a demand that police officers be banned, but that police not be invited to march in uniform at Pride. A police officer in uniform is a representative of the police force, and the police force with their history of oppression and ongoing concerns should not be welcome at a protest.
It is also something others marching with their bosses may want to consider. When you march in your workplace uniform or otherwise emblazoned with a company’s branding, first and foremost you are promoting your employer, not celebrating your sexuality or protesting for equality.
If companies want to make a difference, they need to pay their tax, take serious action to improve diversity on the boardroom and management, and work with unions to ensure they pay and treat employees properly. Sponsoring a float for Pride is a cheap alternative.