I’ve been away from WordPress for over a week and, oh boy, has a lot gone on around here. For one, I am in the midst of new temporary employment, which I promise to expound on in a later post. But I want to devote this post to a little something… okay, a rather big something that’s been going on here in Madison, one that has plagued the biggest and most important event in Madison’s LGBT+ community.
I’ll cut to the chase and let you know of the outcome: There will be an OutReach Pride parade this coming Sunday afternoon, starting at the west end of State Street, circling once around Capitol Square, and ending with a rally. And baring anything unforeseen on my end, I will be there as Allison and marching with fellow members of our crossdressing/transgender support group.
You may be reading that and are thinking that there was a possibility that the parade and rally wouldn’t be taking place at all. On the contrary, the event is not in any danger of not taking place. However, it will be taking place without one prominent group of participants — law enforcement. Had they been part of the parade, there would have been another prominent group that would have boycotted the event — those who have real disdain for law enforcement.
Here’s the deal: Since the current version of Madison’s LGBT pride parade was established in 2014, most (perhaps all?) of the parades have included units for the LGBTQ employee resource groups from the Madison Police Department (MPD Pride) and the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Some in the broad LGBT+ community have long felt disdain for the police as a whole. And make no mistake, the reasons for their disdain have been valid. Need I remind you that the Stonewall riots of 1969 were a reaction to police raids of gay-oriented establishments.
But harmful (dare I say brutal?) police actions haven’t been limited to the LGBT+ community. Unless you’ve been living in a cave in recent years, you’ve noticed that police departments around the country, from Missouri to Maryland to Minnesota to wherever else, have been called on the carpet for their officers’ actions of physical and at times lethal brutality against people of color. We here in Madison, as well as down in Milwaukee, have not been strangers to such disgusting actions. Needless to say, there are those from the broad LGBT+ and allied community who feel empathy (dare I say sympathy?) to minority segments whose members are vulnerable and/or have been directly subject to police brutality, including those of color. And that’s led to the controversy surrounding this year’s OutReach Pride, with very vocal LGBT+ activists, especially those from the trans portion of our acronym, protesting not just the inclusion of MPD Pride but the presence of Madison Police as a whole. That word “presence” because a requirement of OutReach’s parade permit with the city stipulates that uniformed (and armed) MPD officers serve as security along the parade route.
As OutReach suggested earlier this month, they were aware since at least last year’s parade of concerns about the police presence in OutReach Pride. But to my eyes and ears at least, it was only in the past few weeks that the issue really boiled over… or at least it did on the Facebook group I’m a member of that’s devoted to the Madison trans community. And with that, I must talk about how I myself got into this morass, or at least I think I did (and I must use generalizations as much as possible since, well, what happens in the group stays there):
A couple of weekends ago, I had posted that OutReach statement I linked in the above paragraph to the group, just as a “for your information” post and not a reason to start a verbal fire. But within an hour, if not a few minutes… boy oh boy, did my post create a 5-alarm fire. Not even a side mention about a couple of MPD Pride members joining us for outreach (the verb, not the organization) mollified those tho loudly voiced their concerns. Their reasoning was that if even those who are employed by the police are part of a LGBT-oriented employee resource group… well, they’re still part of the police, meaning they’re associated with units who those in minority groups are very afraid of.
While OutReach was initially defensive about the police presence at Pride, they relented late last week and withdrew the applications for both MPD Pride and the UW—Madison Police’s LGBT resource group, as well as that of the Dane County Sheriff. (Side note: Madison’s fire department withdrew from the parade in sympathy to the boys in blue.)
But just because OutReach withdrew the police units’ entries doesn’t mean the police won’t be there at all. For one, as mentioned above, armed MPD personnel must be there to provide security (it’s in OutReach’s parade permit with the city). But also, the county sheriff and the members of the police forces’ resource groups can march, although they won’t be permitted to don a uniform or firearm, nor can they march under a police-related banner; in other words, they must appear as civilians.
Needless to say, a few sighs of relief have been released by all involved, including those who are (were?) still opposed to the police presence in the parade. Those in opposition were serious enough in their concerns to plan a counter-rally at the same time and almost the same terminus as OutReach Pride. Instead, said counter-protestors will take part in the parade, but will stage a “victory party” (that’s what they’re calling it) somewhere after OutReach Pride finishes up and clears out around late afternoon on Sunday.
Now, before I go any further, I must make completely clear that I have a lot of empathy with those who raised concerns about the presence of law enforcement at OutReach Pride and at similar LGBT-themed events around the country. No, the concerns are not unique to Madison, as stories from earlier this year out of Toronto and Minneapolis have verified. But it really gets your attention when the issue hits close to home (both geographically and metaphorically) as well as chronologically (just a few weeks before the event).
But while there seems to be some peace in our usually pleasant LGBT+ community after this whole brouhaha, I’ve been feeling a lot of emotions over what went down, and happy isn’t one of them:
- I do feel sad over how OutReach has been painted in a bad light. They are Madison’s LGBT+ community center, and not only have they put on the pride parade every August since 2014, they have served our community admirably and have been a welcoming place for those of any identity. Did they handle this situation with the best of intentions? Well, that’s in the eye of the beholder (and more on those other beholders in a moment). But while they perhaps could have diplomatically solved this more than a few weeks, if not more than a few months before the parade, their decision this week to reverse the police units’ permits but still allow them to participate as civilians was as close to a Judgment of Solomon as they could get. No, not everyone will be happy about this (and indeed, there are those in the world of local commentary who are critical of it), but it’s not like they’re shutting a door completely.
- I do feel disgust over how hot the arguments got over this controversy, especially on our TG support group’s Facebook page. And I’m really disgusted over the conduct of those in the group who demanded the police stay away and threatened a boycott. They were relentless in their diatribes, especially to those who even challenged them over their attitudes. There were at least a couple of familiar figures I know in our group who became so disgusted by the heat of the police topic that they unsubscribed from our Facebook group… only to have some of the very people who created that heat through their vociferous protests over the police pretty much tell them, “Well, if you’re not with us, then don’t let the door hit your backside on the way out.” (Side note: Had the counter-rally gone ahead on Sunday, the counter-protestors, a majority of whom identified as LGBT, would have occupied a spot of the State Capitol where virulently anti-LGBT protestors have tried to make their presence known in the past during OutReach Pride. Yeah, it would’ve made for strange bedfellows.)
- As Paulo Coehlo said it best, “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” And as indicated above, those who stood for the TQPOC community in an angry, unmeasured way did not set a good example, nor for that matter did those who countered their arguments in an equally uncivil way. And it leaves me disheartened for the TQPOCs in that they wound up having in allies those who set out to only throw flames and push others into capitulation instead of you know, actually standing up in defense of TQPOCs.
- Just the same, it leaves me hopeful that TQPOCs can perhaps shed those so-called advocates, step out of the shadows, and be a more visible part of our trans/queer community. That’s not to say they haven’t made the effort; it’s just that… well, let’s just say that in the trans/CD group meetings I’ve attended, most of the people there have been non-minorities. (Side note: The so-called TQPOC defenders in our Facebook have been lily white as well. Just saying.) I know our group is ready to say “come on in, you shouldn’t have to be afraid of us” to TQPOCs.
- Above all else, though, I feel anger at those in our LGBT+ community in Madison. While it’s good that we stand for what we believe is right, we were just playing into the right-wing. In other words, we can’t be acting like we’re part of a circular firing squad. There is an even more vocal group out there who are stopping at nothing to strip away our rights and wish us out into the cornfield. This controversy plays right into our enemies’ hands, and lingering resentment only exacerbates it further.
So to my fellow LGBT+ members, let’s put aside our differences. Yes, OutReach has made their decision. Yes, on-duty cops will still be there, but in a security capacity. Yes, off-duty law enforcement will be there, too, but only to march out-of-uniform in a civilian capacity. And, yes, our concerns about the police are valid (make no mistake about that), but we should put off arguing over it until after OutReach Pride. Let’s put on our big-boy pants (or big-girl skirts or whatever have you), straighten up, fly right, and march together as a community on Sunday. We’re a united front, not the Wars of the Roses.
Oh, and yes, you best believe I’m going to be there (baring some unforeseen personal emergency) and be a part of and show support for Madison’s still-very-proud LGBT+ community, especially the trans community. Because a good image and a positive front is what’s needed now more than ever.