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Uniformed Police Now Welcome To March In St. Louis Pride Parade

Revelers march down Market Street in this file photo from a previous Pride Parade.
Pride St. Louis
Revelers march down Market Street in this file photo from a previous Pride Parade.

Updated at 5:28 p.m. with comments from Sayer Johnson from the Metro Trans Umbrella Group

After initially banning uniformed police officers from the St. Louis Pride parade, officials from Pride now will allow law enforcement to participate in the event later this month.

Pride officials originally made the decision to ban uniformed officers to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, a violent conflict between police and gay and transgender people. Now, organizers say they want to use the June 30 event to promote healthy relationships between the police and those historically marginalized by law enforcement.

“Through education and communication, we can build bridges to move forward and be those agents of change that the city so desperately needs,” said Jordan Braxton, director of diversity and inclusion for Pride St. Louis.

The annual pride events commemorate riots that began after New York police targeted and raided bars that catered to gay and transgender people. Many consider the uprising the birth of the modern gay rights movement, and communities often celebrate during Stonewall’s anniversary in late June.

Conflicts between police and transgender people in particular have resulted in calls for bans on uniformed officers during pride events across the country. Activists say police often don’t respect transgender peoples’ preferred pronouns and unfairly assume many are sex workers.

Grand marshals now reconsidering role

Tuesday’s announcement means the Metro Trans Umbrella Group is now reconsidering its role as grand marshal of the parade.

UPDATE: Metro Trans Umbrella Group Leaves St. Louis PrideFest Parade Over Police Marching In Uniform

The advocacy organization had agreed to lead the parade after Pride St. Louis announced no uniformed police officers were going to be marching, MTUG co-founder and President Sayer Johnson said. Now, it’s possible the organization might pull out, he said.

Johnson said he was disappointed and hurt by the decision. Police marching without uniforms was an “opportunity wasted,” he said.

“It would have been such a gracious gift for the St. Louis Police Department to say, 'We hear you and we see you, and you’re right, we have hurt you, and this year we’re going to step back and we’re going to center you,'” Johnson said. “That didn’t mean not marching, just marching without their guns and uniforms.”

The decision illustrated the differences in privilege between white gay and lesbian people and transgender people, Johnson said. Transgender people, especially transgender women of color, often feel so unsafe around police that they don’t call 911 when they’re in trouble, he said.

"We have a strange relationship at best and a hurtful relationship at worse with police,” Johnson said. “[To repair that relationship], I think that listening to your most marginalized folks, listening to that and honoring that is a good first step, and that’s not even happening.”

A gesture of 'respect and inclusion'

Pride St. Louis’ about-face came after “months and weeks” of conversation with a “passionate” board, Braxton said. Allowing the officers is more true to the inclusive spirit of the parade, she said.

“I would like to see police treat the people in our community with dignity and respect,” Braxton said. “Education is our greatest weapon in this war against intolerance, and that’s exactly what we have. We’re just trying to educate.”

Mayor Lyda Krewson cheered the decision during a press conference on Tuesday. She said excluding police officers was not “in the spirit of our city.”

“Thankfully, the world has made a lot of progress in the last 50 years,” Krewson said. “Today, we look toward the future. Continuing to include police in the parade helps build trust, understanding, respect and inclusion.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

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Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.