New York City’s annual Pride celebration, which began 51 years ago as a defiant commemoration of an anti-police uprising and has evolved into a city-sanctioned equality jamboree, will take steps to reduce the presence of law enforcement at its events.
Starting this year, police and corrections officers will also not be allowed to participate as a group in the annual Pride march until at least 2025. The ban includes the Gay Officers Action League, an organization of L.G.B.T.Q. police, which announced the news in a statement on Friday night.
The New York Police Department will also be asked to stay a block away from the edge of all in-person events, including the march. Heritage of Pride, which organizes events, will instead turn to private companies for security and safety, calling police officers in emergencies only when necessary, they said.
The decision, which organizers announced on Saturday, follows years of pressure from some L.G.B.T.Q. activists, who have maintained that law enforcement was out of place at a march with roots in the 1969 anti-police riot outside the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan. It also comes after similar decisions in other cities around the country.
The Police Department did not respond to requests for comment. The president of the Gay Officers Action League, Brian Downey, called the decision “shameful” and an “abrupt about-face” in a statement.
“Their response to activist pressure is to take the low road by preventing their fellow community members from celebrating their identities and honoring the shared legacy of the Stonewall Riots,” Mr. Downey said.
The decision by Pride organizers reflects shifting attitudes toward policing in the city and the growing pressure on city institutions to address longstanding complaints about diversity and inclusion.
Mainstream L.G.B.T.Q. organizations have for decades been criticized for prioritizing the concerns of some groups over others, with transgender people and people of color saying the push for progress has often left them behind.
“The issue is, how do we make Pride safe for the people who feel the most marginalized and have often been left out of the conversations about how Pride is run?” said Beverly Tillery, the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, an L.G.B.T.Q. rights group.
In the case of NYC Pride, the changes are meant to address concerns voiced by some transgender, Black and Latino people who say they felt unsafe marching in front of a police force that routinely targeted and victimized them.
NYC Pride had previously resisted demands to sever its ties to the police. Calls for change escalated last summer, after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the nationwide protests against police brutality that followed.
“The community really called us out as an organization,” André Thomas, one of NYC Pride’s co-chairs, said. “Because they felt that we weren’t necessarily living up to our mission, our higher ideals and standards.”
The changes will not be felt immediately. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers have shifted most of their programming online. Though the march this year will have an in-person component, it will be much smaller in scale, a far cry from the ornate floats and hordes of spectators in the past.
Law enforcement will also not disappear entirely from future Pride events and their fringes. Officers are required to provide some security for public events, and because the Police Department issues some event permits, organizers will maintain a relationship with the police.
But the step to reduce the role of policing still marks a shift in the debate over the spirit of Pride events and who they serve. As celebrations in major cities have grown, some have worried that they have left their protest-driven origins behind.
“We as an organization started as a response to police brutality,” Mr. Thomas said. “So we definitely need to be cognizant and aware of that.”
From the inception of the modern L.G.B.T.Q. movement, its relationship with the police has been fraught. The rebellion at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, one of the major catalysts for the movement, was set off by a police raid.
When thousands gathered in New York City in 1970 a year later, in a rally to commemorate that day, they worried that officers might attack them along the route. Their fears that day were for naught, but anti-L.G.B.T.Q. attitudes persisted in the Police Department for decades.
As the event grew — acquiring colorful corporate displays, enormous crowds and support from city leaders — the number of police officers stationed along the route ballooned. Gradually, they went from being seen as would-be antagonists to security partners.
They also began to participate more actively in events. When gay police officers first marched in uniform in the parade in 1996 — they sued for the right to do so — it was seen by many as a victory.
“GOAL and our members have had our hands in every police reform and policy revision touching on the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A+ community in New York City,” Mr. Downey said in his statement.
But even as views have shifted, the uneasiness over the presence of law enforcement at Pride has remained, particularly among Black people and transgender or gender nonconforming people.
“As the police presence at Pride has grown over the years, the members of our community who are most marginalized, who are most harmed by police, have felt like Pride is not a safe place for them,” Ms. Tillery of the Anti-Violence Project said.
The Anti-Violence Project runs a 24-hour hotline for L.G.B.T.Q. people to report incidents of violence. In past years, workers consistently received calls during Pride celebrations from people reporting harassment or altercations involving “the very police who are supposed to be protecting them,” Ms. Tillery said.
Activists, including members of the Anti-Violence Project, have reported these incidents and concerns to Pride organizers. They pointed to other cities that barred uniformed police officers from their parades and called on New York to do the same.
As recently as 2019, organizers resisted. The tension in part led to the creation of the Queer Liberation March, which does not allow officers in uniform. At last year’s event, the police clashed with protesters, who said that officers used pepper spray on them.
Mr. Thomas, the Pride co-chair, said that organizers had thought of themselves primarily as event producers. In that capacity, they viewed the Police Department as “more of a safety measure.”
But the national reckoning over race and policing that began after the killing of Mr. Floyd generated internal discussion over Pride’s longstanding relationship with the police.
At the same time, community groups like the Anti-Violence Project were making another concerted push to reduce the Police Department’s presence at Pride.
“A lot of the community just kind of made it obvious that we needed to take a different stance regarding these issues,” Mr. Thomas said.
After town halls with community members and discussions with activists, Heritage of Pride opted to adopt an approach in which they use police officers as a last resort.
Pride organizers have committed to seeking out private security companies committed to inclusion. They will also work to train companies on best practices for interacting with L.G.B.T.Q. and minority communities, Mr. Thomas said.
As part of their efforts, Heritage of Pride also said it would provide de-escalation training, which seeks to defuse potentially confrontational encounters, to its volunteers.
David J. Johns, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said organizers had opened the door to change, but that they needed to hold themselves accountable.
“These kinds of shifts are necessary and difficult,” Mr. Johns, who has advised Heritage of Pride, said. “And when they’re done, they are often not accompanied by the kind of support that holds people through the process over time.”