Uniformed police not welcome at London Pride, organizers say

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Pride in London says uniformed officers should not march in the parade, following calls by LGBTQ+ activists to ban them due to Scotland Yard’s “homophobic” handling of the investigation into serial killer Stephen Port.

The move came after human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the case, which the independent police watchdog recently announced it was reinvestigating, showed “institutional homophobia is alive and well in the Metropolitan Police.”

Tatchell added that the case, as well as other recent revelations of homophobia, racism and misogyny on the force, meant that Pride in London needed to take a stand on the involvement of police officers in the parade.

He said that if the Met police had carried out a proper investigation after the murder of Port’s first victim, Anthony Walgate, the other three gay youths Port subsequently killed would still be alive.

Officers were unable to link the deaths between June 2014 and September 2015, despite the striking similarities and the fact that three of the men were found in St Margaret’s Cemetery, Barking, meters from Port’s home. while the fourth was found outside his apartment.

Tatchell said: “While there are many good officers, and they are welcome to march in plain clothes, Pride needs to challenge the police as an institution, otherwise they will never reform.”

In a statement, Pride in London said: “We work hard to strike a balance between the real and legitimate concerns of members of our community and being as welcoming as possible. We agree that the police uniform undermines that balance and as such we are aligned that it should not feature in our parade.”

The Gay Liberation Front, which organized the first Pride March in 1972, also signed an open letter calling for an end not only to police participating in the march but also to patrolling the march.

The letter, organized by Lesbians and gays support migrants, states: “The organized presence of the police in Pride en masse gives a platform to an institution that represses us. Having a police presence in Pride in addition to patrolling Pride makes Pride unsafe for our community.”

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The letter and Tatchell also called for Pride in London to ban the Home Office for deporting LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and fossil fuel companies for exacerbating the climate crisis.

“Their participation in Pride today is totally inconsistent with the original liberation spirit of the first Pride in 1972,” Tatchell said.

Last year, Pride in London voted against a motion to bar the Met LGBT+ Network from participating in the annual parade following pleas from then-commissioner Cressida Dick to allow its officers to march.

This came after the organization received hundreds of letters in response to a Twitter campaign highlighting examples of perceived institutional racism within the Met.

Its community advisory board sought input from different groups for several weeks and recommended in a report that police not be allowed to march as a group in the parade. The report noted that while all LGBT people had the right to participate in the parade, not all organizations shared that right.

Similar demands have been made of other Pride events around the world, with Toronto Pride barring uniformed officers from participating in the parade in 2019.

Tatchell’s comments came as he prepared to retrace the route of London’s first ever UK Pride march, from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park, at an event to celebrate its 50th anniversary on July 1.

The activist, who was also one of the organizers of the 1972 march, said Friday’s event was also “an attempt to recapture the radical roots of Pride, which was both a celebration and a protest.”

“In 1972, we would never have accepted the police marching in the parade, because we were being hunted for witches,” he said.

The program for the 1972 march began with a list of recent prosecutions of several gay men for having sex in public toilets, known as cottaging, after being arrested for “pigs in plain clothes.”

Tatchell recalled how the police presence at that first march from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park was “unnecessarily large for a peaceful protest.”

“At some points, there was almost one officer for every dealer. Some police officers pushed us and some made homophobic comments. We remain defiant.”

Later that day, when protesters arrived in Hyde Park and held a picnic, called Gay Day, Tatchell said police saw them kissing between people of the same sex, which was then an offense punishable by arrest. “They didn’t dare to arrest us because there were so many of us.”

A spokesperson for the Council of National Police Chiefs said: “Participating in Pride is important to LGBTQ+ colleagues within the police force. It allows LGBTQ+ people to see that they are represented in the police service and is a great public engagement opportunity where we can promote safety messages, understand community concerns and recruit from diverse communities.”

The Met has been contacted for comment.

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