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Sacramento Debates Whether Uniformed Police Should March In Pride Parades


It's Pride Month, and celebrations are happening all over the country, a lot of them also marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, when New York police raided a gay bar. The patrons resisted, and a movement was born. Now there's a debate over whether to allow police officers in uniform to participate in Pride events. Sally Schilling from Capital Public Radio in Sacramento reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Happy Pride. Happy Pride.

SALLY SCHILLING, BYLINE: The Pride parade featured rainbow flags, tutus, glitter and off-duty police officers. Police Sergeant Michele Gigante was one of at least a dozen of them who marched in Sacramento's celebration yesterday.

MICHELE GIGANTE: So this is actually a really huge event for me as a - an out lesbian officer. It's a fantastic day, and I'm so happy that we're able to march in uniform.

SCHILLING: Gigante almost wasn't allowed to wear her badge this year. Ten days ago, Sacramento Pride organizers decided to ban officers from participating in uniform to honor people who have been harmed by police. Ebony Harper is a transgender activist in Sacramento. She agreed with the decision. She says police sometimes assume that all transgender people are sex workers. It happened to her just a couple weeks ago.

EBONY HARPER: I was stopped and asked for my ID. And I said, no, I'm not giving you my ID. And I said, I have a job. You know, I'm well-known in this community. But, you know, he still didn't believe me.

SCHILLING: Harper says there shouldn't even be a debate.

HARPER: That uniform represents pain to our community. So it doesn't matter if you're a gay cop. If the law says to arrest another gay person, then that's your duty.

SCHILLING: After some criticism, organizers and law enforcement came up with an agreement. Sacramento Police offered to start an advisory committee focused on LGBTQ issues. After that, Pride leaders voted to allow the uniform again. Here's board president Carlos Marquez.

CARLOS MARQUEZ: We believe the agreement that we were able to arrive at with the police department is fair and both reflects the point of view of those within our community who are the most marginalized and desperately deserve a platform upon which they can seek improvements within the police department.

SCHILLING: This debate is happening in other cities. Organizers of New York's Pride took up the issue last year in anticipation of the Stonewall riots' anniversary. They voted to allow officers in uniform, saying Pride is a platform for free speech. Last week, New York's police commissioner formally apologized for the Stonewall raid. But some in Sacramento were still angered by the decision to allow the uniform again, particularly transgender people and people of color.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Black lives...


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Black lives...


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Black lives...


SCHILLING: Yesterday, about 100 people linked arms and blocked festival-goers from entering. Breanna Martin helped organize the protest.

BREANNA MARTIN: What are you doing? You're killing black and brown folks, the same black and brown folks that are queer and trans. I am queer and trans, and I'm a black person. And I know I'm at risk to die, and I don't want to be.

SCHILLING: Gay police officers in the Sacramento parade felt like they were honoring the Stonewall memory, showing just how much things have evolved. But others in the LGBTQ community felt like this was their leaders giving into oppressive powers instead of, like at Stonewall, choosing to fight back. For NPR News, I'm Sally Schilling in Sacramento.

(SOUNDBITE OF HONEY DIJON'S "LIFT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sally Schilling