Madison, WI – We at the Out Professional Engagement Network (OPEN) believe it is important to respond to OutReach’s decision to withdraw applications by local law enforcement to march in the Pride Parade. This decision has sparked a tremendous emotional reaction. Rather than fracture and divide our community, we hope to issue the challenge to rise to the occasion and begin the process of healing and reconciliation between the LGBTQ community and officers. As an organization, we have a responsibility to bring together representatives from throughout our communities with diverse perspectives to have a challenging yet meaningful dialogue to move us from a state of reaction to being proactive in making change.
We know that the LGBTQ community, especially our members who are queer and/or transgender people of color (QTPOC), are suffering harm and pain, and that their concerns have not been well-heard and addressed in the mainstream. Our goal as an advocacy organization is to break the cycle of marginalizing voices in our community. More importantly, when police misconduct occurs, it disproportionately targets the most marginalized people in our community. Given that reality, it is understandable that QTPOC and other members of our community are often fearful of law enforcement. When officers wear their official uniforms, that reaction is particularly powerful — even if the officers happen to be members of the LGBTQ and/or QTPOC communities. This problem is not just about the Pride Parade. It is about the relationship between law enforcement and our community.
We want to thank local law enforcement for their statements of acceptance regarding the parade decision and about their desire to further discussions in our community about the deeper issues involved. We are grateful for the support that our community receives from our law enforcement agencies, and we know that we can build more connections with them through these efforts.
As we mentioned at the Madison Police Department listening session on August 13th, OPEN feels it is imperative to bring all interested parties together to address this larger issue going forward, not just to reach a properly-informed consensus on how to handle law enforcement’s participation in the Pride Parade, but to find ongoing and substantive ways of building trust and better relationships between our
communities and the police. With that goal in mind, OPEN will be facilitating community-based strategy sessions and similar forums to engage in deeper discussions to build these much-needed connections.
We are asking EVERYONE to participate in this. We need you. ALL of you. This work cannot happen in the few days we have left before the Parade. It has been said, “Change moves at the speed of trust.” We are committed to the long-term work ahead of us.
Over the past several years, our Pride Parade has become a source of joy, love, and kinship. As such, we feel withdrawing support from OutReach or the Pride Parade is unproductive in furthering the goal of improving the relationship between our community and police officers. Our community deserves the joy of Pride, and the work that needs to be done will last long beyond this upcoming Pride Parade. We need longer tables, not higher fences. We’re ready to get to work.
I’m a gay man old enough to be able to remember Stonewall. I grew up in Madison but moved to New York City in the early eighties. From that time on I’ve watched the Gay Pride Parade in New York City evolve from a statement of self-recognition with fists raised in defiance to a celebration of joyful empowerment and inclusion. In New York City the relationship between the police and the LGBTQ community has evolved from raids and ridicule to partnership and parity. The presence of the police and fire departments in a parade that draws millions isn’t met with derision and taunts but with some of the loudest applause given to any group marching in the parade. The uniformed units of police and firemen marching with pride and patrolling the streets keeping the parade safe is an outstretched symbol of open arms and a healed relationship. It seems tragic to me that Madison has not been able to make that same transition from fear to friendship. New York took the lead getting us out of the closet back in 1969. After almost 50 years it’s time for Madison to catch up.