Coming Out: Against Police at Pride

Washington, D.C. Pride last week / Photo by Larry Cohen

With the publishing of this piece, I will be announcing to the world that I identify as a queer man. Coming out is something I am able to do with relative comfort. I am a white man living in a supportive family with close friends who accept me for who I am. Coming out would be infinitely scarier but for the work of countless LGBTQ+ activists before me. It was not that long ago when police raids terrorized LGBTQ+ bars and meeting places during the 1960s. Until 1974, the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. As Pride approaches, it is important for young people like me to reflect on how we got here and how we maintain forward progress. This means resisting cooption by police.

The riots at Stonewall were a monumental moment for the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Fed up with entrapment and arrests of LGBTQ+ citizens by police, and police brutality during raids of gay bars and clubs, around 400 patrons of the Stonewall Inn—where the latest raid had occurred—fought back. Over the ensuing days, their community mobilized in support. Among the leaders of the Stonewall protests were Puerto Rican drag queen Sylvia Rivera and Black drag queen Marsha P Johnson. As in many other movements across history, Brown and Black LGBTQ+ people were on the front lines.

Since the Stonewall riots, the LGBTQ+ community has made a lot of progress. Police raids are no longer customary, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, and people like me can come out with much less fear. There is even an annual “Pride” parade/festival in most cities to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots and celebrate queer identity. As in the ’60s, though, injustice is still rampant in America: Transgender soldiers are banned from serving in our country’s military, mass incarceration threatens communities of color, and Black trans women are being killed at alarming rates. Here in Baltimore, police deliberately misgendered a trans person arrested at a protest at Johns Hopkins University.

Too many members of the LGBTQ+ community—particularly gay white men—stay silent on these issues. As Pride in Baltimore approaches, it is paramount that we remember the history from Christopher Street in 1969, especially that it was a response to the repression faced by queer communities at the hands of the police. Police in America—born from Civil War era slave patrols—do not “protect and serve” all communities. They have repressed the LGBTQ+ community, supported the racist war on drugs, murdered Korryn Gaines and Freddy Gray, and maintain the status quo by consistently arresting non-violent protesters.

It is necessary that ALL members of the LGBTQ+ community stand together to protect our minority and gender non-conforming family. That we stand against police presence at a festival commemorating riots against acts of police brutality. That we stand against oppressive structures and systems that terrorize vulnerable communities. The time to participate in a long history of radical queer activism and movement building is now. As Pride approaches, one word should be on the minds of every member of the LGBTQ+ Community: liberation. Not just for ourselves, but for all facing persecution and disenfranchisement.  

Henry Bethell is lifetime Baltimore resident and an advocate against mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex. He has lectured with Maryland Leadership Workshops on creating inclusive communities and recently graduated from Baltimore City College. He plans to go to Sarah Lawrence College next fall, where he will study public policy and journalism while playing division III soccer. You can follow him on Twitter @henrygannett.

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