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Outreach Pride Parade (copy)

A street-wide rainbow flag makes its way to the Wisconsin State Capitol last year as part of the annual Outreach Pride Parade.

A campaign urging sponsors of Sunday’s Pride Parade to boycott the event and organizers to stand up to the police preceded last week’s decision to ban uniformed officers from area law enforcement agencies from participating in the parade.

“It created accountability for sponsors to take a stand and everything came out as we hoped it would,” said Shawna Lutzow, a co-founder of the Community Pride Coalition that sent out letters via email and social media to more than 50 businesses and individuals who are either sponsoring or have an interest in the parade.

Local law enforcement groups were told they couldn’t march in the parade by the OutReach LGBT Community Center last week. The group told the police agencies that their presence at the parade while in uniform will make many people of color and other marginalized groups feel unsafe and uncomfortable.

The controversial decision led to over 90 people showing up at a community meeting that included members of the Madison police and LGBT community at the Madison Public Library on Monday night. There were strong opinions voiced for and against the decision.

OutReach board members said the decision was made last week after discussions that have taken place for at least a year. But others talked about letters received by owners of Madison’s gay-owned establishments last week as the critical piece that led to OutReach’s decision. Jason Harwood, who identified himself as a bartender at one of the bars, said the sponsors were bullied into siding with OutReach’s decision.

Harwood also called OutReach’s decision exclusionary.

But Lutzow said the decision will allow more people to march Sunday. “For many more people, there is less to be afraid of now,” she said. “Plus, police officers are welcomed to march, just not in their uniforms.”

Johanna Heineman-Pieper said she was traumatized to march behind the huge contingent of police officers in last year’s parade. “It was all the uniforms, the guns, the cars, it was overwhelming,” she said. “I felt threatened by the system.”

Madison police Lt. Brian Chaney Austin, who has led nearly 50 training sessions for officers dealing with bias and race equity, said the decision was disappointing but he still supports OutReach. He said the Madison department has taken “baby steps” to make inroads dealing with people of color and other marginalized groups. That includes a new standard operating procedure on how to deal with people from the transgender community.

“We accept that there are fear and concerns and we want to talk about them and listen and try to make changes,” Chaney Austin said.

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Rob Schultz has won multiple writing awards at the state and national levels and covers an array of topics for the Wisconsin State Journal in south-central and southwestern Wisconsin.