The decision to bar Seattle police officers from marching in uniform in Sunday’s Pride Parade has garnered support from LGBTQ+ activists in the city, who see the move as a continuation of the national reckoning over police violence that erupted two years ago with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
But for LGBTQ+ officers, their exclusion represents a denial of their intersected identities, risks nearly 30 years of progress in the relationship between police and the LGBTQ+ community and raises concerns that young people and recent transplants will be less likely to report being victims of hate crimes.
Interim Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz announced this week that officers will not march at all in this year’s parade, and in an open letter he expressed frustration with Seattle Pride’s decision to bar uniformed officers from marching.
Diaz’s letter comes after the Seattle Pride board of directors said any police officers marching in the parade must do so out of uniform. In explaining their decision, the board referenced the criminalization of LGBTQ+ people and the community’s history of distrust with law enforcement. The board noted protests against police violence marked the start of the pride movement 53 years ago, referring to the Stonewall Riots. Many Pride parades around the country are held on the last Sunday in June in remembrance of that watershed moment in the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
Uniformed police officers will staff Sunday’s parade as a public safety measure. Seattle Pride contracts with private on-site security but will continue to work with Seattle police as required by the city for large permitted events, the organization said.
Seattle now joins Indianapolis, New York City and San Francisco in barring uniformed police officers from marching in Pride parades. While San Francisco’s mayor has said she won’t march in her city’s Pride parade this year because of the ban on uniformed officers, a spokesperson for Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell did not return messages Thursday seeking Harrell’s reaction to Seattle Pride’s decision.
Jaelynn Scott, executive director of the Lavender Rights Project, lauded the organizers’ decision to ask police not to participate in uniform.
“It sounds like they listened to the community,” she said.
Like others, Scott noted Pride marches began as a revolt against police violence against LGBTQ+ people, “especially Black and Latinx LGBTQ people.”
That violence continues, she said. “As long as there’s a problem of police violence against the Black community, there’s a problem of police violence against the Black LGBTQ community. Those things are not separate.”
Denise Diskin, executive director of QLaw Foundation of Washington, recalled the Black Lives Matter protests after the police killing of George Floyd. She said she couldn’t forget that just two years ago, officers were “standing on a rainbow crosswalk, gassing crowds of protesters.” She was referring to confrontations between police and protesters on Capitol Hill in which officers used tear gas, pepper spray, flash bang grenades and other methods to disperse crowds.
“Those memories are still fresh,” Diskin said.
While some might see Seattle police officers marching in Seattle Pride as a sign of support, Diskin said, “marching in the parade and smiling and waving at us one day doesn’t erase the other 364 days of the year.”
Bekah Telew, co-executive director of Gay City, said they hope it’s an opportunity for more dialogue with police around “why so many folks in the community have expressed these concerns.”
Norm Stamper was the first Seattle police chief to march in uniform at the Pride parade in 1994 — and the contingent of uniformed officers participating in Pride events grew over more than two decades, with King County sheriff’s deputies joining Seattle cops six years ago. In 2019, uniformed State Troopers marched in the Seattle parade for the first time in the agency’s history, said Jim Ritter, who retired from the Seattle force in 2020.
“Our biggest problem [at the time] was other agencies wanting to participate in the parade as well,” said Ritter, the first full-time liaison between Seattle police and the LGBTQ+ community.
Ritter, who is gay, helped launch the Safe Place initiative in 2015, recruiting thousands of businesses in the city to offer safe havens to victims of bias and hate crimes until police arrived. The program has since been replicated in cities across the country.
“For an organization that claims to be inclusive, this is hypocrisy at its highest,” Ritter said of Seattle Pride. “I don’t get angry very often, but this has hit a nerve with me that I can’t ignore. … It’s destroying a relationship that could take years and years to repair — and it’s not being done by the police.”
He’s especially worried that the message that police aren’t welcome at Pride events will mean fewer people will report hate crimes and extremists and anti-gay activists will become emboldened to prey on people.
Ritter pointed to the arrests of 31 Patriot Front members in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, whom police stopped from rioting at a Pride event this month. Five members of the white nationalists group are from Washington.
Oak Harbor police arrested Tyler Dinsmoor last week for threatening a lesbian couple, telling them, “It used to be legal to kill gay people.” Island County prosecutors charged Dinsmoor, 27, with a hate crime and charging papers say he also posted threatening comments targeting a Pride event in Anacortes.
“We need to deal with people who would do harm to others and we’re the only people who can do that,” Ritter said of police.
Diaz said in his letter Seattle police is looking to hire hundreds of officers over the next several years — and having a visible presence at the Pride parade “shows the department is diverse and welcoming to all.”
Seattle Pride responded to Diaz’s letter Wednesday, expressing disappointment he did not wait until after the event to share a public response.
“By opting to post this letter on Twitter and to the SPD Blotter, the SPD effectively put a spotlight on the LGBTQIA+ community for those who share ideologies with hate groups, and is inviting a repeat of targeted threats and violence against our community as we prepare for our first in-person celebration in three years,” the organization said.
Former police Chief Carmen Best marched in the parade in uniform for years and said it was always a great, unifying event that made LGBTQ+ officers feel validated.
“I just think that is so very sad,” she said of the decision to bar uniformed officers. “You’re asking them to deny who they are [and saying] that they’re not part of the fabric of society because of their profession.”
Seattle Times assistant Metro editor Anika Varty contributed to this report.