May 22 is Harvey Milk Day, a relatively new holiday recognized by the California in 2009, helped forward by gay former State senator and supervisor Mark Leno. The holiday is growing in stature, and this year was celebrated in the Castro with a festive gathering, featuring DJs, drag, and speakers including Cleve Jones and gay current State senator and former supervisor Scott Wiener.
Former and current gay supervisors Bevan Dufty and Rafael Mandelman paid tribute on social media. The event was a touching homage to the “gay saint” who helped lead the LGBT civil rights fight after the Stonewall uprising against police brutality, which in turn is celebrated every year at Pride.
Milk himself was murdered, along with Mayor George Moscone, in part because of their pledge to curb police abuse and terror in queer, Black, and Brown communities. Murderer Dan White was pushed aggressively by the police union and conservative forces to rejoin the Board of Supervisors after he quit, in order to vote down a measure that would have taken a major step toward limiting police brutality, which Milk and Moscone supported..
Moscone’s refusal to reinstate him sparked White’s killer rampage; police brazenly supported White after the killing and targeted the queer community with abuse until the White Night Riots showed that queers could, and should, bash back.
In light of all this history, it was a shocking turn of events when today, the very day after Harvey Milk Day, our latest gay supervisor, Matt Dorsey, announced he was siding with police against San Francisco Pride over its ban on cops in uniform. What’s more, he’s being joined by Mayor London Breed, who appointed him just two weeks ago.
Pride’s decision to not allow uniformed police to march in the parade—made in 2020, supported by Pride’s executives of color and diverse Board—is a sequined step too far for Dorsey, a former SFPD spokesperson who crafted the department’s response to Breed’s terrorizing, wasteful, ineffective, and disgraceful “crackdown” on the Tenderloin.
Neither of them, nor the Fire Department, will march in next month’s Pride parade, unless the Pride organization reverses its decision, in order to appease the hurt feelings of the police. According to Breed’s announcement, “These members of our LGBTQ public safety community do all this work while also leading the push for change in the law enforcement community at large, and in their own departments. These are police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and firefighters who wear their uniforms truly with pride—in part because of the challenges they had to personally overcome…. Their presence in uniform serves as a message to others across the country that San Francisco values diversity and inclusion in our public safety departments, and in our city.”
Dorsey’s statement makes his decision a matter of diversity and recruitment: “All San Franciscans share a compelling interest in solving our public safety staffing crisis in ways that attract the most diverse and qualified pool of candidates we can. We can do that by showcasing our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in our police, fire and sheriff’s departments. But a policy of exclusion, which prohibits LGBTQ+ first responders and allies from marching in uniform, sends exactly the wrong message at a time when we can ill afford to do so.”
(Wiener says he will still march, Mandelman told us he will also march, and he thinks cops in uniform should be able to march too. “But lots of folks don’t, the community is divided, and SF Pride is in an impossible position,” Mandelman said. Gay former supervisor Tom Ammiano says, as spicy as ever, “This really reflects the level of oppression and encroachment on our autonomy we’re dealing with. We’re supposed to genuflect to this mayor’s opinions, when she could have just said, I disagree but leave it up to the community. Dorsey, taking a page from Trump and making the police the victim, is making this a wedge issue—his whole approach deserves a wedgie. Gay liberation, not gay accommodation!”)
As SF Pride’s interim executive director Suzanne Ford pointed out in an interview with Yahoo, however, you don’t have to reach very far back in queer history at all to see examples of police brutality that make the community uncomfortable, even at Pride itself. In 2019, cops busted up a peaceful protest (against cops at Pride, no less), violently pushed protestors to the ground and, two protesters claimed, beat them and mocked disabilities. Police also violently cracked down that year on the queer-inclusive Moms4Housing group in Oakland.
Those actions led directly to the uniformed cop ban in a year of national uprising and supposed reckoning in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Uniforms were obvious symbols of fear and death. “They can march in matching t-shirts,” Ford said. “Just no full uniforms.”
Banning police and large corporations—as Pride members voted to do with Google over its lax policy on homophobic Youtube harassment, until the decision was sidelined by legal concerns—was a huge step toward repairing Pride’s reputation as an over-bloated commercial mess, more a five-hour party parade of corporate-branded “allies” and bootlickers than a march against police brutality and socioeconomic oppression.
San Francisco joined New York, Denver, and Toronto Prides in the ban on uniformed police, a popular policy among many young people and people of color who simply do not feel they can express their true selves in the contentious presence of militarized “law enforcement” officers who carry deadly weapons as part of their uniform—not exactly a celebratory sight.
Setting aside the eye-rollingly cringe Mayor-splaining (who cares what London Breed thinks about Pride, her tacky over-bedazzled floats fashioned from ill-gotten gains notwithstanding?) and the Blue Lives Matter bullshit of thinking this policy is in any way “discriminatory” (who said Pride was “all-inclusive” anyway? It’s about us making the world we want) there are a couple of deeper issues here which deserve to be noted.
The first is that this announcement is in line with Breed’s general push for a more cop-filled administration—and really, who knows what agreement was fashioned to get a copagandist into a Supervisor seat as quickly as possible. Betting that conservative (read: monied, white) gays will side with her and Dorsey on this issue (and boost his chances in an election), she’s now drawn a clear blue line separating her from communities of color and others who suffer under disproportionate policing and incarceration. More police will not solve our problems, but none of our “moderate” mayors have yet met a cop budget or staffing proposal they won’t run up the flagpole and salute.
Secondly, if you’re setting diversifying the police force as a priority over listening to the community and ensuring its safety, you are not working toward an equitable goal. Pride is not an advertisement for the police force. If police recruitment and staffing levels are down, maybe you should examine the department—sexist, racist, homophobic texts and all—for the problem, not blame the good faith efforts of a once-a-year Pride event to consider its participants’ priorities.
Finally, this is more frightening conservative backlash, here under the cover of a cynical PR stunt, to any advancements the Black Lives Matter movement made towards a just society. No police have been defunded. Attempts to reduce the devastating carceral state are met with recalls funded by billionaires and embraced by the tech overclass. Investments in housing, education, and health continue to be stalled.
If disallowing cops in a gay parade in any way helps decrease the size of the police force, as Dorsey claims, I hope Pride sticks to its guns and, in the spirit of Harvey and Stonewall, keeps waving, “byeeee.”