After being canceled the past two years by the coronavirus pandemic, San Francisco's beloved Pride Parade, seen here in 2018, will return June 25-26, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Nader Khouri)

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Last month, police were not going to march in San Francisco’s Pride Parade.

But this Sunday, a small number of police will march in uniform down Market Street after parade organizers and LGBTQ members of SFPD reached a compromise over police involvement in the parade.

Both groups were engaged in lengthy negotiations through the pandemic, which stalled in May when the San Francisco Pride board of directors announced that off-duty police officers were not allowed to march in uniform.

Police said they wouldn’t march without their uniforms, while Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Matt Dorsey, the Fire Department, and the Sheriff’s Office announced they would boycott the event in solidarity with the police.

While tensions between the LGBTQ community and the police have existed for decades, the 2019 San Francisco Pride Parade was particularly contentious. A group chained together with rainbow tubes blocked the parade route to protest police brutality and corporate involvement in the parade. The protest resulted in two arrests and calls for the police to be barred from participating in the parade.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the parades of 2020 and 2021 to be canceled, thus postponing SF Pride’s decision about police involvement in the parade.

But the Pride Parade is back in 2022 and a small number of police will march in uniform down Market Street on Sunday after representatives from San Francisco Pride, the nonprofit that organizes the parade, and San Francisco Police Officers Pride Alliance, an employee group that advocates for LGBTQ officers in SFPD, reached a compromise earlier this month.

They agreed that police and fire department command staff will march in their class AA uniforms along with a small number of LGBTQ officers in uniform, while most other law enforcement will march in casual dress, according to a joint press release.

“There were a lot of my queer elders in the Police Department, who have retired, who put their careers on the line to fight the department for the right to be able to march in uniform at Pride,” Kathryn Winters, treasurer of the SF Police Officers Pride Alliance, said in an interview. “And with LGBTQ rights under attack in parts of the United States, for me, giving up any hard-fought right is unconscionable in these times.”

Winters, a transgender woman from San Francisco, was part of SFPD from 1998 till 2006, when she moved to Texas to do advocacy work for the transgender community. A decade later, after a failed attempt to join a police department in Texas, Winters moved back to San Francisco where she knew she would be welcomed back into SFPD.

For Winters, police marching in uniform at the Pride Parade is not only about defending LGBTQ rights, but about ensuring the community is represented and visible in the city.

“You may see somebody that you see all the time in uniform and then, when you see them out of uniform, you don’t really recognize them. It’s something I’ve seen time and time again over my life as someone who’s spent a long time working in uniforms,” Winters said. “And so I really feel it’s important for us to be able to be visible in our uniforms and say, hey, we are out and proud queer people … and if you’re ever in need now, you’ve seen us. You’ve seen us in our uniforms. You’ve seen what we look like.”

Winters was instrumental in achieving a compromise with Suzanne Ford, interim executive director of SF Pride. Along with Officer Mike Petuya of SF Police Officers Pride Alliance and Carolyn Wysinger, president of the Board of Directors of SF Pride, the organizations were engaged in months of discussions online over Zoom that culminated in the May decision that police could not march in uniform. At that point, the two parties had not met in-person for 18 months due to the pandemic.

That changed when staff at Manny’s, a community space in San Francisco that hosts discussions on civic and political issues, saw an opportunity to bring Winters and Ford together to talk through the issue in person.

“We realized that there were maybe some things that we hadn’t maybe even heard each other on,” Winters said. “Especially on Zoom, if you get multiple people talking, you can lose so much stuff.”

The night before the two parties reached an agreement was June 1, the beginning of Pride Month.

Manny’s hosted an event called “Should Uniformed Officers March at Pride?” with Winters and Ford, while Breed, Dorsey, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited San Francisco’s Twin Peaks to kick off Pride Month celebrations by lighting the pink triangle.

Dorsey recalls the energy that night, as Pride celebrations returned after two years of pandemic cancellations and Winters and Ford inched closer to a compromise.

“They had a real heart to heart. It was a really moving thing where they were getting close to an agreement,” said Dorsey, who is gay and the former SFPD communications director before being appointed by Breed to represent the city’s District 6 on the Board of Supervisors.

“There really was this palpable sense of, oh yeah, Pride is back! We’ve missed this … we had a couple years without this and how nice it is to be back and celebrating and seeing each other. Isn’t this great? Do we really want to sit this out?” Dorsey said. “I think it just put everybody into a sense of let’s try one more time to get this done.”

Winters, Ford, and colleagues talked through possibilities for a compromise. They came to an agreement that all first responders will march together in a contingent, with police and fire department command staff in their class AA uniforms and most other law enforcement in casual attire.

“We feel it’s important to show that we have command staff that support LGBTQ officers,” Winters said, explaining that the class AA uniform is the command staff’s dress uniform. “One of the things that some people had concerns about was officers with weapons at pride, so their dress uniform actually covers their service weapon.”

The uniform compromise came down to an understanding between the two parties that some officers are on regular duty and are detailed to march in the parade, meaning that they will march in uniform and then return to their regular control duties. LGBTQ officers and allies in the police department who are choosing to be at the parade, but who are off-duty, will attend in casual attire.

They also agreed to work with Chief Bill Scott’s office to reinvigorate the chief’s LGBTQ Police Advisory Forum and to work with San Francisco Pride to organize a series of community discussions with the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ officers.

“We’re going to hold them in the communities rather than at police stations or headquarters — down in the transgender district, hold them in the Castro, wherever those organizations are, we’re going to go to them rather them coming to us,” Winters said.

Dorsey received confirmation that Winters and Ford reached a deal minutes before the raising of the Pride flag at City Hall on June 2. He was relieved that SF Pride and the SF Police Officers Pride Alliance had reached a compromise, and that first responders and city government officials could now attend the parade.

“I have enough self-awareness to know that it’s not going to ruin anybody’s Pride weekend to have one less middle-aged gay guy to wave at,” Dorsey said. “It’s a bigger deal that the mayor of San Francisco was not taking part. I really respect and admire her leadership for that, because if there’s something I know about London Breed, she loves marching in the Pride parade. It is like, one of her favorite things.”

Dorsey also emphasized how important the compromise is for effectively governing the city of San Francisco, whose police force is facing recruiting challenges. Pride organizers and police in San Diego reached an agreement in May allowing police officers to march in the San Diego July 16 parade.

If San Francisco hadn’t reached compromise, Dorsey fears aspiring police officers may have been inclined to move to a city like San Diego rather than San Francisco to join police departments.

“I think if we have a pride organization that’s saying, “you can march in the parade but not in uniform,” we’re sending a message of exclusion,” Dorsey said. “We want to attract people to our Police Department who value diversity and want to work for a city where diversity is valued.”

Going forward, Dorsey is going to insist that advocating for change is going to be productive rather than punitive.

“I don’t think we’re getting anything out of punishing police officers because of an incident that happened a couple of years ago where there was a use of force that, I think was very objectionable,” Dorsey said, referring to the 2019 parade where the two protesters were arrested.

“There are historical issues with going back to Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria. There are wrongs that need to be righted, but the way to do that, I don’t think, is to punish or exclude or send the wrong message,” Dorsey said.

Instead, he recommends that people encourage SFPD to adopt policies and diversify their police force so they can better serve San Francisco.

“One of the things I will say about the SFPD is that their recruiting slogan … is ‘be the change.’ So I think that’s what I would say to anybody who’s criticizing SFPD. You know what you should do? Become a cop!” Dorsey said.

SF Pride did not have a spokesperson available to discuss the topic of police ahead of this weekend’s parade.

In a joint press release from SF Pride and SF Police Officers Pride Alliance on June 3, they said that “Pride grew out of conflicts between LGBTQ communities and police at Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall Inn. Ever since then, we have attempted to bridge that divide. That is why we are grateful to have reached a compromise solution today. It shows everyone is working in the spirit of Pride to come together!”

When asked for comment about the compromise, Breed said she appreciates “how our LGBTQ police officers and public safety workers came together with the Pride Board to come up with a compromise. The understanding and respect they showed each other is reflective of this year’s pride theme: love brings us together. Pride Month brings people from around the world to celebrate in San Francisco and I am proud of everyone involved who listened to each other this past week and focused on what unites us.”