News & Opinion

NYC Pride 2016

After Orlando, the Plan to Police NYC Pride

The Daily Beast

June 24, 2016

Mayor Bill de Blasio was emphatic in his message to attendees of Sunday’s New York City Pride March: “You will be safe. You will be protected.”

At a press conference held at the city’s LGBT Center on 13th Street, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton beside him, de Blasio added, “We have an obligation to our nation in the wake of Orlando to show what pride and inclusion looks like.”

The whole city, he hoped, would “stand up for and with our LGBT community.”

“There are no specific threats directly against this parade,” de Blasio said, twice. “But that doesn’t stop us from being vigilant or using all our resources.”

The city had prevented 20 terrorist plots from being carried out since the 9/11 attacks, de Blasio said.

The reason so many journalists were huddled into meeting room 101 at the LGBT Center was “Orlando,” and the fear it has engendered over copycat attacks.

Since Omar Mateen’s appalling murder spree at Orlando’s LGBT nightclub Pulse, New Yorkers have seen armed police outside the Stonewall bar, and increased police presence generally in areas with gay venues.

Yet, as de Blasio said, the Pride parade is huge, a day of celebration, with this year a mood perhaps of defiance and politics beating at its heart too. Twenty-thousand attendees are expected to be on 85 floats; last year 1.6 million watched.

This year, many more are expected to celebrate Pride. “We have the most vibrant LGBT community in the world in this city,” said de Blasio.

Trans figureheads Jazz Jennings and Cecilia Chung, and Syrian refugee turned activist Subhi Nahas, will be the March’s grand marshals, intending to symbolize the day’s theme of “Equality Needs You.”

On Sunday, the policing presence—both visible and not—will be massive.

Chief of Patrol Carlos Gomez said there would be thousands of uniformed officers along the March route from Midtown through to Greenwich Village. There would also be officers in civilian clothes mixing in with the crowds, to detect any suspicious behavior and activity.

There will, said Gomez, be heavy weapons teams, counter-terrorism personnel, and anti-radiation devices deployed. Helicopters will monitor rooftops; there will also be officers on rooftops looking down on to the crowds. The anti-terror hotline, Gomez added—if anyone say anything suspicious—is 888-NYCSAFE.

Heritage of Pride co-chair David Studinski told The Daily Beast: “I realize lots of people may be feeling worried and anxious. That’s OK to feel. But the important thing is that for the 49 people lost in Orlando, and to others in acts of violence and hate crime here and across the world, the last thing we should be doing is hiding. The important thing is to come together as a group, and march with our allies.”

Studinski said, for all those LGBT people who thought they were “over” Pride, the events of Orlando should act as a spur to support the March: “Having that togetherness and comfort is a really important reaction to counter some of those concerns.”

The Pride rally on Friday night and the March on Sunday will host Barbara Poma, the owner of Pulse nightclub, and Neema Bahrami, the club’s entertainment manager as “guests of honor.”

“We will be remembering lost friends, and looking forward,” said Studinski. “Gay life has to continue in Orlando. There’s no option there.” He hopes the mood on the March is positive: “It’s always someone’s first time, and means a lot to people because of that. We particularly want to reach out to trans, gender-non-conforming, and bisexual people, who are often marginalized, and suffer greater violence and discrimination.

“When you leave the event on Sunday, the goal is not just to feel great that day, but also to wake up on Monday morning and still having that feeling of pride, and have more of it every year. Anyone who has been through the coming out process knows that having that feeling of comfort and belonging is empowering.”

The number of police, armed at that, on the March and around LGBT venues, did not alarm Studinski.

“It actually makes me feel safe, and very happy and thankful that the NYPD does such a great job of protecting us. It shows us how far we’ve come that the police and authorities do as much as they can to help us—and have more and more out LGBT officers in their ranks.”

Commissioner Bratton said it was his first visit to the LGBT Center. He would march on Sunday with his wife, who likes dancing. “Come down, gay or straight. It will be safe,” Bratton said. “Bring suntan lotion—that’s the most important safety object you have on that day.”

Bratton said the historically fraught relationship between the LGBT community and police was “constantly improving,” invoking his own position as what he said was the first liaison officer between the police and gay community in Boston in the mid-1970s.

However, Bratton said there would be no very belated apology for the police’s raid on the Stonewall bar in 1969, leading to the eponymous riots.

“Out of that terrible experience came so much good,” Bratton said. It was the tipping point. So I think we should all celebrate that out of that terrible experience a lot of good came going forward. An apology? I don’t think so, I don’t think that’s necessary. The apology is all that has occurred since then.”
Bratton added, “We’ve come a long way, evidenced by the officers sitting in the front row here (here, Bratton indicated a group of out NYPD officers). Times have changed, and continue to because of events back then.”

It surely would have been easier, and more gracious, for Bratton to have simply apologized. What would it have cost him exactly?

The mayor faced a question about both he and Bratton being booed at the vigil in the Village after the Orlando massacre.

The mayor said they had been the last speakers, and the crowd was impatient to hear the names of the victims to be read. “But when you look at the totality,” said the mayor of matters affecting to the LGBT community, “I’m very confident that the majority of people think we are on the right track.”

The fact there was an NYPD vehicle outside the LGBT Center, decked out in rainbow colors, would have been “so inconceivable in 1969 there would be no words in English for it,” said the mayor. “We have traveled in just a few decades to the point where this NYPD has not only hundreds of LGBT officers, but regards itself as here to protect the LGBT community from any discrimination, hatred, or hate crimes. That’s a sea change.”