There’s a bit of a kerfuffle in Sacramento this year around our annual Pride parade and festival, to be held this weekend. First, let me try to get you up to speed on this developing story:
LGBTQ youth — primarily transgender youth, and many of them of color — have led a charge to have Sac police officers who march or ride in the parade, or staff the department’s booth at the festival, to leave their uniforms at home. As you may know, the Sacramento police department has a…storied relationship with POC, especially African Americans, in town.
The Sacramento LGBT Center, the organization that’s organizing Pride, initially listened to our youth’s concerns. After months of planning, and a series of community forums to discuss issues related to Pride, uniformed police officers who are working to secure the event were still to be in uniform outside of the festival grounds, but police uniforms were not to be allowed inside the event’s gates.
Some Sac police officers, including one out gay, white one, expressed hurt feelings, stating that they should be allowed to be “out and proud” police officers. Several white, primarily middle-aged cis LGBTQ men (and some darker ones) have supported those cops.
Yesterday morning, the LGBT Center’s board reversed the decision, overriding the Center’s Executive Director. This morning, it’s being reported that the Center’s entire staff is calling for the immediate resignation of the board president and any board members in support of uniformed police officers at Pride.
I was wrong to call it a kerfuffle. It’s a cluster fuck.
In everyone’s defense, emotions are high around these issues, especially during this time of year. For some, Pride season is the time to wave, and even twirl, that flag. For others, it’s a coming out of sorts. Just last year at Pride, after almost two decades of letting people make incorrect assumptions, I came out as bisexual to a largely unwelcoming LGBTQ community that tries to ignore or erase us — but that’s a story for another column.
As a father of four via biology, adoption, and foster care, not including dozens of others by community, I will be the first to confess that I don’t always get young people. It takes a lot of effort and energy to really get inside of their developing brains and try to understand what they’re not always telling you in your language of choice. I posit that if I were a childless, middle aged cisgender LGBTQ white man who thinks his dogs are his children, I might have an even harder time understanding young humans.
But whether we get them or not, it’s our responsibility as adults to protect them, and that’s our responsibility even when they need to be protected from a police officer.
Anyone, whether they be black, white, or green, who lived through an unarmed Stefon Clark getting executed by Sacramento police officers in his grandmother’s backyard, should be able to understand and empathize with LGBTQ kids of color being triggered by a police uniform. And they should be willing to put their desire to be “out and proud” in a police uniform at Pride behind them, in favor of the child in front of them who’s crying out for help.
I don’t have to recall my experience learning of Stefon Clark. Unfortunately, I have my own story with the Sacramento police department that I may carry with me for the rest of my life.
One night a couple of years ago, my husband left our SUV in our driveway as we headed to bed. That was atypical, as we usually park it in the garage. What was typical for my husband is leaving the car’s doors unlocked. Sometimes, I think he still thinks he lives on the rural Michigan farm he grew up on.
In the middle of the night, some unknown, curious passer-by decided to rifle through the car, found our garage door opener, and decided to pop the door, setting off both our home security system and our dogs. The latter woke me up before the alarm did — we have a shepherd mix and a pit mix that could win anyone’s “loudest dog” contest.
I hopped up, turned the alarm off, and lazily lumbered down the hall and into the great room, where I saw flashlights shining through the frosted glass windows that frame our home’s front door. Shaken, I sleepily staggered through the kitchen to silence the dogs, and decided to open the door to the attached, darkened garage.
That drowsy, instinctive decision wasn’t the best one I ever made.
“Stop! Show your hands,” a uniformed Sacramento police officer yelled, brandishing his gun in the shadows of my garage.
Now, you have to understand that, contrary to what you may have read or heard about Detroit (where I grew up), I’d only had a loaded gun pointed at me one other time. That marksman was my own father, and he was drunk, and pissed at me. Perhaps because of my history of arguing with my dad, that interaction didn’t shake me until an hour or so later, after I realized I could have been gunned down in the living room of the house in which I grew up, Marvin Gaye-style by my own father.
This time around, I was rattled to my core. A police officer, whom I’d learned as a child was a source of protection in troubled times, was drawing a gun on me — in my own home.
“Whoa! Wait,” I shouted, reflexively extending my left hand. Thank God I wasn’t holding a cellphone or a bag of Skittles, as I might not have lived to tell this story.
Thank God I also had a white husband.
My melonin-starved hubby had heard the commotion, and walked out of the same door into the same darkened garage. When the Sacramento police officer saw him, he lowered his weapon.
Clearly, a shirtless, barefoot, sleepy African American man was a threat in the middle of the night, but a shitless, barefoot, sleepy white man was not.
A couple of years ago. In Sacramento.
I’ve never been a trans anything, but I understand being targeted and threatened by police, and being triggered by the uniforms they wear. For several weeks after that night at my home, I was triggered walking into my own garage.
We should recall that Pride itself was born out of an uprising against police brutality 50 years ago this year. Yes, times have changed, as back then there were few out police officers who might have wanted to attend Pride.
But the spirits of Stefon Clark, Trayvon Martin and countless others remind me that times sadly have not changed all that much. Well, maybe they have for rainbow flag-waving cis white men, many of whom still long to be boys and fetishize police officers, but they haven’t for people, young or old, who look like me.
I’m disappointed by the LGBT Center’s board’s decision to reverse their stance with the Sacramento police department. “Out and proud” police officers at Pride could do so in a polo or t-shirt that identifies themselves and displays their professional affiliation.
I just attended Davis Pride a few weeks ago. Yes, it’s a smaller event, but it went without a hitch for hundreds of people, without one uniformed, armed police officer present. Similarly, there were thousands of people at last weekend’s Filipino Fiesta in South Sac, again with no armed police officers and no incidents.
And even if I hadn’t supported the Center’s initial decision to ban uniforms, since I didn’t attend a single Pride planning meeting or community forum, and I haven’t volunteered to work at the center or join their board, I would do one thing, and it’s the one thing that I’d recommend to every white cis gender person who complained about the rights of the police officers being trampled upon:
Shut the fuck up.
I take that back. I’d do another thing: I’d let the LGBT Center staff do the job they’ve been hired to do.
I “co-sign” the letter calling for the resignation of the board president and key board members.
And allow me to say it again:
Go to michaelpcoleman.com to connect with freelance writer Michael P Coleman, or follow him on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP.