During Pride month this year, several local LGBT nonprofit organizations like Aqua Foundation for Women, Pridelines, and Survivor’s Pathway, collaborated on an event centering on the City of Miami Police’s unveiling of their rainbow-wrapped cruiser.
Meanwhile, the organizers of Wynwood Pride, alongside Miami-Dade’s Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (who has a strong track record of supporting LGBT rights), kicked off this "celebration" with a ribbon-cutting photo-op that unnecessarily and egregiously positioned uniformed police front and center.
Just days before Pride month began, on Memorial Day Weekend, Miami’s LGBTQ Advisory Board uplifted and publicly locked arms with the Miami Beach Police Department (while also using binary gendered language to celebrate those "serving") — despite the fact that Black folks have regularly been met with unnecessary use of force, treated with disdain and disrespect, and have even been killed by MBPD during Urban Beach Week for years.
Several local activists commented with both concern and critique on the Board’s post.
Instead of community members hearing from Gabriel Paez, the Program Director for Miami-Dade County’s LGBTQ Advisory Board (who is in the above photo in a red shirt, and is believed to have made the actual post), we only heard from Ray Guell, his husband.
Over two months later, the post is still up (with the same binary language pictured above). Not a word has been uttered by Mr. Paez in response to community concerns (his husband, however, responded with several other comments in the same flavor).
Two days later, this very same advisory board raised both the Pride and Progress flags over the Stephen P. Clark Government Center for the first time ever. Yet again, a uniformed officer was front and center — literally. It is also worth noting that the board, which has only one trans-identified member, and only one Black LGBT member, just installed a police officer on the board, and has also installed two members that do not identify as LGBT.
With just 15 seats on the first official board that is supposed to represent the concerns and lived experience of queer and trans people in Miami-Dade, one now belongs to a police officer, two to cis/het people, and the rest to mostly white (or "white-passing"), affluent cisgender gay and lesbian people — a number of whom also control the power and purse of several local LGBT nonprofits. Instead of working in tandem with local organizers, who’ve requested limited police presence in our spaces, or supporting grassroots efforts to defund the police, they are providing police officers with increased access to our own decision-making bodies; we must ask ourselves why.
We must also ask ourselves why those in positions of power are so resistant to input surrounding these topics. For example, when several trans community members took issue with a post made by current Executive Director of Aqua Foundation for Women, Grace Lopez, about the aforementioned celebratory police event (wherein she hashtagged “transgender rights” while posing and smiling for a photo-op in an Aqua T-Shirt), feedback was met with nothing shy of righteousness and dismissal.
Instead of trying to better understand this context and history, or why her post landed as hurtful to a number of trans people, Grace became defensive, denoted that this was her “personal page,” and then simply began unfriending trans folks who’d offered her feedback (she unfriended at least three trans people of color that day). There’s grave irony in hashtagging “transgender rights,” and then immediately dodging feedback from actual local trans people, one of whom, Tori Bertran, happened to be both a former board member of Aqua and a monthly donor.
Several subsequent attempts to follow up with Grace and a member of Aqua’s board have been ignored. It is our hope that Aqua’s leadership will take active steps to acknowledge community members’ concerns, and will take responsibility for these actions. The way in which Aqua’s current leadership has engaged multiple trans/non-binary people around this issue is demonstrative of a historical pattern of local “LGB” organizations being harmful and exclusionary toward trans people (especially those that speak out), while actively purporting to be inclusive, affirming, and supportive of all LGBT people.
For the record, there’s nothing about the police, prisons, or jails that are associated with affording rights to trans people. These punitive and antiquated systems continue to have disproportionately negative impacts on trans and non-binary people. Many trans/non-binary people who are arrested end up being abused, housed by sex (rather than gender), and/or placed in solitary confinement, which is considered torture by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations.
Recent actions on behalf of local decision-makers and organizations with regards to the police are in gross incongruence with the platitudes they poured out in response to the state-sanctioned murder of George Floyd. It was only a year ago that many of the very same local nonprofit decision-makers named/pictured above were attending racial justice trainings, and were writing seemingly heartfelt social media posts filled with hashtags like #DefundThePolice, #BlackLivesMatter, #NoJusticeNoPeace, and #WhiteSilenceIsWhiteViolence. It was only a year ago that these very same organizations were mass distributing their organizational commitments to racial equity and antiracism.
To be actively antiracist is to work toward a world that is safe and inclusive for everyone - a world in which all people and all identities can freely exist. To be antiracist is also to be willing to analyze, critique, and interrupt systems that contribute to racial inequities and other forms of oppression. To align with the police, in any manner, is the opposite of antiracist work.
Police in Florida continue to underreport LGBT-specific hate crimes, and especially those directed at transgender/non-binary persons, despite community outcries for proper reporting (only one small element of justice). Local police forces routinely harm, wrongfully arrest, rape, and kill trans/non-binary people, BIPOC queer folks, LGBT people with disabilities, queer/trans sex workers, and queer/trans people who sit at the intersections of multiple forms of oppression.
When any members of these directly impacted groups speak on topics involving prisons and the police, those who are not members of said groups should witness, listen, express compassion, try to understand, and seek to do what is being asked of them — not double down with defensiveness and/or dismissal.
After a year of near-constant racial uprisings in our country, the police have only continued to do harm to queer and trans people, even at this year’s Pride events. Since there has been ample national discourse around these topics, there is simply no excuse for local LGBT decision-makers to not be informed (and thus responsive to community input and needs). While many radical entities in cities like New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle have been demanding that the police not be present at Pride, nor at other queer/trans events, South Florida’s LGBT nonprofit leaders are forging new partnerships with the police — actively aligning themselves, and the organizations they represent, with state violence, all whilst willfully ignoring community input about these partnerships.
Plainly, this is offensive, and it flies in the face of not only our own history, but the work of so many of our own queer and trans elders and ancestors, many of whom spent a good portion of their own lives rallying against the police and other systems that harm queer/trans folks.
While more vocal trans people are often dismissed by LGB institutions as "angry" or are deemed "troublemakers" or "rabble-rousers," we must not forget that we would not even have a Pride without the important contributions, leadership, tenacity, and direct pushback of transgender people, particularly BIPOC trans folks. We would not have the freedoms that some of us have without trans visionaries like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who chose to fight back when the police brought violence into the Stonewall Inn (as was the routine) on June 28, 1969.
And we must not forget that these very same trans visionaries were later banned from participating in Pride in 1973 by white cis gays, who wanted the event to focus on ‘acceptance’ rather than protest. What we are seeing today, with the centering of police and corporations at Pride, and the simultaneous silencing of trans people’s feedback, is only a present-day manifestation of the same white cis gay energy that told Sylvia and Marsha they weren’t welcome — and that their fight and their fervor wasn’t welcome either. It is also the reinforcement of several virulent strains of toxic positivity (i.e. “not all cops are bad,” and “why can’t we all just get along”) that are often only promoted by those with immense privilege around these topics.
Our history of resistance to the police in queer and trans spaces didn’t begin nor end at Stonewall. In 1959, Black and Latinx trans femmes directly clashed when LAPD raided Cooper’s Do-nuts. Seven years later, in 1966, trans sex workers fended off the SFPD who raided Compton’s Cafeteria (in which no reports or documentation was filed). And in 1982, Blue’s Bar, a common meeting place for queer men of color, was violently raided by the police. This led to uprisings that explicitly named the ongoing police violence that was being aimed at queer and trans communities, and especially those of color.
Additionally, many of the broad social justice principles that we attempt to practice today are rooted in theories derived from the blood, sweat, and tears of Black transgender and Black queer feminist thinkers. This encompasses everything from intersectionality (Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw), to the frameworks and ideas we’ve adopted from revolutionaries like Angela Davis and Ericka Huggins, to the tools we’ve modeled after present-day warriors for trans liberation - people like Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who channeled her lived experience at Stonewall in 1969 into the uprising she later led at Attica Prison in New York in 1971.
What all of these people have in common is that they have always known and broadly espoused that the police are at the very epicenter of harm in our communities. The police exist to benefit the white-wealthy-elite. Nonprofit organizations exist to protect and serve those in need. The real conflict of interest occurs when nonprofits are run by the very same people that the police exist to protect and serve.
Cisgender queers choosing to form or bolster relationships with the police need to know that these actions do not, nor will they ever, keep our communities safe. Police presence in our spaces actually poses direct risk to queer and trans people whose lives fall squarely "in the margins." The police have only harmed and killed the most "minoritized" among us. To continue to center and uplift the police exemplifies a level of tone deaf that is rooted in privilege, racism, classism, and the desire to be proxy to power. Plainly, the police represent the antithesis of Pride and liberation. A rainbow-wrapped cop car only obscures both queer/trans history and present-day queer/trans realities. It is only a reminder and reinforcement of the status quo — a country that relies on a unique combination of privilege, power, and shiny new toys to routinely trap and snuff out people of color and trans folks alike.
Just one month after all of the above-named issues surrounding Pride occurred in South Florida, Steve Rothaus, a highly celebrated local white gay journalist, published an article in South Florida Gay News about the inclusive and non-conflictual nature of South Florida Pride events. It is with the above information, analysis, and "receipts" that we hope it is now obvious that his article was not representative of the full gamut of perspectives surrounding Pride in South Florida. The voices that continue to be centered in this discourse are often those with privilege — disconnected from the actual experiences, feelings, and needs of the totality of queer and trans people in our local communities. One of the intentions behind this article is to expand community dialogue around these topics to include more diverse, critical, and boots-on-the-ground voices.
If we have anything to learn from our queer radical roots in the Stonewall Riots, Act Up, The Lesbian Avengers, and Dyke March, to present-day’s #Not1More (#NiUnaMas), #TurnUp4TT, and Blackout Pride, it is that LGBT decision-makers and organizations who continue to partner with the police, especially during Pride, and especially after this past year, must be held accountable for these decisions.
To all who have centered the police in queer/trans work, especially during Pride, please know that the very communities you exist to serve do not broadly condone nor support your actions. Your decision-making around these issues is in direct conflict with your stated commitments to racial equity and antiracist work. Your dismissal of community feedback, and/or refusal to acknowledge it, is met with criticism from grassroots queer/trans organizers — especially as many of us are re-imagining safety by intentionally centering the feedback and leadership of the most justice-impacted community members, who are calling for us to divest from the police, and to reinvest these resources in community-led programs instead.
Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian feminist writer, teaches us that our silence will not protect us. That by us speaking these truths, we make contact with others. We examine the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. To have a Pride that our transcestors — people like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera — would be proud of, we must continue to speak truth to power. And so we will. We hope and believe that others will join us along the way.
Stay tuned. Our demands are to come.
All screenshots courtesy of QUALS.
QUALS is in the early stages of building an organizing base of radically leaning queer/trans folks in South Florida. To learn more about QUALS, and/or to stay abreast of information related to pressing local LGBTQ+ issues through an antiracist, abolitionist and liberatory lens, please complete this form: tinyurl.com/QUALSinfo.