Amid conversations nationwide about the presence of police officers at pride events, organizers of Madison’s upcoming pride parade are not allowing law enforcement agencies to participate.
In a statement Friday, the OutReach LGBT Community Center’s board of directors said they are withdrawing applications from the Madison Police Department, UW-Madison Police Department and Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney to march in the parade.
“Our community is facing complex, unprecedented times, where power is a fleeting commodity for our most vulnerable members, especially queer and transgender persons of color,” OutReach Board President Michael Ruiz said. "In times like these it is crucial that we listen to those whose voices are not often heard in the mainstream."
“Those whose voices are silenced due to gender and sexual orientation, as well as the intersections of race, class, ethnicity, gender, ability, immigration status, age, and lack of institutional power, need us to amplify their voices,” Ruiz continued.
Because the parade requires a street use permit from the city, officers will be present for crowd management and security. OutReach invites those affiliated with law enforcement to still attend the parade in an off-duty capacity, in plainclothes and not armed.
“We recognize that not everyone will be happy with this decision,” Ruiz said. “It is our hope that those who are hurt by this decision use it for growth and to approach that hurt with humility, rather than retaliate or create further divisions between those with institutional power and those struggling to exist.”
The OutReach Pride Parade will take place from noon to 4 p.m. on Aug. 19, with the march taking place from the 500 and 600 blocks of State Street to the Capitol. The march starts at 1 p.m. and a rally is scheduled for 2 p.m at the top of State Street.
Tension between law enforcement and Madison’s pride parade is not new. This year, the Madison Degenderettes, a self-described coalition of trans- and queer-identified activists on the radical left, and the International Socialist Organization, created a separate event called Community Pride: No Cops at Pride!
Lt. Brian Chaney Austin, a member of MPD Pride, said the group has participated in the parade for the past three years. Throughout that time, the OutReach LGBT Community Center has made the police department aware of community concerns about having police actively participating in the event.
MPD Pride is a resource group of MPD officers and allies whose mission is to “serve as a resource to employees within MPD by providing information and support in light of the unique challenges with which LGBT individuals are often faced.”
Prior to OutReach's withdrawal of the group's application, Chaney Austin said MPD Pride wanted to be a part of the event that celebrates inclusivity, though he recognized the fraught history between police and marginalized communities.
“By participating we’re saying, ‘Hey, we are openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer officers. Look at the progress we’ve made,” he said. “There’s a lot more work to be done, but we’re here with you.”
A previously scheduled listening session organized by the MPD Pride group is still planned for Aug. 13 at 6 p.m. in Room 301 of the Madison Central Library, 201 W. Mifflin St.
“This isn’t something the MPD is defending itself on,” Chaney Austin said. “It’s a matter of making sure that we create a space where people can express themselves to us comfortably.”
The Dane County Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Those in the community who are not comfortable having police officers present at the parade point to the origins of pride events, the first of which took place a year after the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. Those demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ community protested police raids at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village.
Our Lives Magazine Editor Emily Mills said it is important for those in positions of power to make space for marginalized communities.
“These issues still exist and the power imbalance is so lopsided that I don’t feel like you can really start to have the conversations and relationship rebuilding and trust rebuilding that you need to have with the community you’ve most harmed until you with the power are willing to take a step back,” Mills said.
Earlier today, Mills reported a detailed history of the local controversy over police officers at Madison’s pride parade.
Jill Nagler, an OutReach board member, said it was important for the organization to center its decision on the community it serves. She also recognized the challenge and necessity of acknowledging how institutional identities, like law enforcement agencies, can affect certain communities.
"As OutReach is an institution within the Madison community, we have to recognize our institutional power and how other institutions affect the community at large," Nagler said. "These identities we have mean different things in different contexts and present different challenges in different contexts."
Other cities have made changes to Pride events in response to high-profile police shootings. In Minneapolis, the police chief told officers they could participate in the Twin Cities Pride event last June 30 if they were not in uniform and unarmed.
Police officers in Sacramento did not participate in the city’s June 10 Pride event following the police-involved fatal shooting in March of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man.
UW-Madison Police Department spokesman Marc Lovicott said university police officers have participated in the parade in previous years but that they would respect the community’s interest. The UWPD also has a pride group within the department.
“We have a number of people here who care deeply,” Lovicott said. "In creating this Pride group, there’s a definitely interest in mending some of the relationship issues between the police and the LGBTQ+ community.”