by Mark Van Streefkerk
“Stonewall was a riot!” is a popular chant heard at Pride marches, and it’s not wrong. At the heart of Pride is a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, sparked when queer and transgender people took a stand against a police raid at New York’s Stonewall Inn. LBGTQ+ communities and activist groups have convened every summer since then in cities around the world for marches, rallies, and festivities that honor this historic resistance. In keeping with the origins of Pride — and especially given the violent and sometimes deadly confrontations between police and protesters during last year’s protests for Black lives — Capitol Hill Pride Fest (CHPF) organizers announced that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) will be banned from their events.
In a press release issued on May 21, CHPF directors Charlette LeFevre and Philip Lipson announced that SPD would be banned from the CHPF march and rally on June 26 and 27 at Cal Anderson Park. In addition to a police ban, CHPF called on Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz to fire the six officers who traveled to D.C. during the January 6 Capitol insurrection. The press release also commended a recent decision by New York Pride to ban police presence at their events until 2025.
“In line with New York Pride, Capitol Hill Pride also believes the sense of safety that law enforcement is meant to provide can instead be threatening, and at times dangerous, to those in our community who are most often targeted with excessive force and/or without reason,” the CHPF announcement said.
LeFevre organized the first CHPF in 2009. Before that she was the Capitol Hill Community Council vice president. LeFevre has also been active in social justice and police accountability activism, notably through her blog writing for the Seattle P.I. Citing examples of broken trust with SPD, including officers posing for pictures with an open carry group instead of escorting them out during a CHPF event in 2015, unanswered messages and requests to the Office of Police Accountability, and considering the existing lawsuit against SPD for using excessive force against protesters on Capitol Hill last year, LeFevre said CHPF had decided on the ban a few weeks ago.
For those wondering how CHPF will be protected from potential counter-protesters like alt-right groups, LeFevre believes it’s likely that some officers are aligned with those groups.
“How can we schedule any safe event when any police officer — we don’t know if he attended [the Capitol insurrection in] Washington D.C.? … it appears there is somewhat of a guild within SPD of white, Trump nationalism. I hate to say this — we can’t trust any officer,” she said. “Regarding the police, we’re done.”
The CHPF announcement said they will continue to request police to remain at the perimeters of the event. According to the City’s special event-permitting guidelines, police are still required to block off traffic for the event, although LeFevre said she is looking into alternatives for directing traffic. Instead of working with SPD for safety and security, CHPF will work more closely with the Seattle Fire Department and Medic One, as well as volunteers, and they’ll hire a private security group if necessary.
In a post from the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild on the day of CHPF’s announcement, SPOG President Mike Solan criticized the police ban, saying “Banning Seattle Police officers from Pride Week events is disgusting, bigoted, discriminatory and contradicts our community’s beautiful inclusive LGBTQ message.”
He went on to say, “Anyone that believes in [SPD’s] banishment has no place in Seattle and does not believe in the inclusive LGBTQ message.”
Trans Pride Seattle has also restricted police presence at their events. Elayne Wylie, executive director of the Gender Justice League and executive producer of Trans Pride Seattle, said “I think that’s a rational decision,” when asked about CHPF’s banning of officers at their events. “We have practiced something similar since 2017 … We have limited the presence of SPD by enacting our own internal security measures, giving us a lot more agency to hold the event that we want.”
Trans Pride has relied on community members to form a volunteer safety team, as well as hiring uniform security and plainclothes security around the perimeters. Trans Pride communicates to SPD where they would like them to be stationed, “out of sight, but near enough to the event to respond in the case of an actual police-appropriate emergency,” Wylie said.
In 2019 a blend of volunteer and private security was highly effective at preventing disruptions from a Proud Boy event that happened on the same day as Trans Pride. “Our security team was able to prevent more than 150 incursions from that small group of Proud Boys,” Wylie remembered. “I don’t think that SPD could have done that … our community was very motivated.”
Compared to other Pride organizing groups, CHPF is considerably smaller, and LeFevre admitted, “We are about as ground level and non-budgeted as you can get.”
Seattle Pride, organizers of the Seattle Pride Parade and Pride in the Park events downtown have no connection to CHPF. Usually drawing crowds around 400,000 annually, Seattle Pride’s programming for this year is completely virtual. Seattle Pride is gathering community feedback about police presence at their events to inform decisions about next year’s Pride festivities. You can submit your feedback here.
Egan Orion, executive director of PrideFest — which produces the Seattle Center’s Pride Festival, an event unrelated to CHPF — said, “PrideFest doesn’t have SPD ‘attending’ our events … that’s more an issue for parades and marches.”
Orion pointed out that a bigger issue is that almost all special events require SPD to provide traffic control and security as a condition of the special event permit. “We implore city council and the mayor’s office to drop that restriction so that we have the flexibility to use private security and/or community-led volunteer security, which is particularly important for LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC-focused events, considering the fraught history our communities have had with the police.”
📸 Featured Image: Last year’s Capitol Hill Pride Fest march drew a small but mighty socially-distanced and masked-up crowd. This year, Capitol Hill Pride Fest announced the Seattle Police Department has been banned from their events. (Photo: Charlette LeFevre)
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