DENVER (KDVR) – The Denver Pride Fest will look different this year, and it’s not just because of the pandemic.
Organizers have told local law enforcement agencies they are not welcome to participate in this year’s festivities. This comes at the same time New York City’s Pride Parade organizers banned NYPD from its events until 2025.
Denver Pride Fest is scheduled for June 26 and 27 at Civic Center Park. Organizers said they felt they needed to take a stand against police violence and harassment.
“The Center was founded 45 years ago in response to police violence and harassment of the LGBTQ community. The entire history of the LGBTQ civil rights movement is rooted in a history of opposing police harassment and violence aimed at our community. There are numerous examples of police violence going back beyond the famous Stonewall Riots of 1969.
For all these decades, The Center has worked to address these issues and improve the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the police and we have made great strides. However we cannot in good conscience, as an organization that speaks up for justice, look the other way when it comes to police violence aimed at the Black community—a history of violence that goes back even further in American history.
While we value our relationships with law enforcement and want to continue to build a safer community for all Coloradans, we feel we must take a stand. We have decided to not allow police participation in the 2021 virtual pride parade or to allow law enforcement agencies to participate as exhibitors. We hope to facilitate future conversations about how we can reform policing in our community that will involve all members of our community and support new and just ways of keeping our communities safe,” said Joe Foster, vice president of development and communication for The Center on Colfax/Denver Pride.
Local law enforcement officers, including those at the Aurora Police Department say they are disappointed and disheartened by this news.
“I’m offended for my brothers and sisters that are a part of that community. Its hypocrisy is some of what I am hearing from our officers. If we are trying to have equality within the communities, you are alienating us now just because of our job. We’ve made huge strides with the community, the LGBTQ community, the law enforcement community. It’s outrageous to see now you’re uninvited,” said Marc Sears, president of Aurora FOP Lodge 49.
“I understand people’s anger, I understand some people just don’t like the police. But we are more than this uniform and we are part of this community,” said Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson.
She continued, “We know reform needs to happen. We know evolution needs to happen with law enforcement. We’re doing the work, trying to make those changes, but not accepting us as human beings because of the uniform we wear doesn’t seem as inviting or inclusive as the community I thought we were.”
Wilson also said their presence offered additional security for the large-scale event.
She said, “We’ve seen tragedies across the nation people prejudiced against LGBTQ+ people have done horrific things during parades. We kind of saw ourselves as a force multiplier. We are here, we are here to protect this crowd and the thousands of families here to just celebrate who we are as individuals. We kind of saw ourselves as that extra layer of protection, armed law enforcement, God forbid something were to happen.”
Eddie Gomez has a unique perspective on the issue. His partner, CSP Trooper Daniel Groves, was killed in the line of duty in 2019.
Gomez said, “It’s just really upsetting to see because of a few small handful that everyone is going to be excluded. It’s hard. My partner, Dan, would’ve loved to have been part of pride celebration. If he were excluded, he would be so upset.”
“I’ve spent my life in a community which has always been inclusive, celebrating our diversity and to find out we are excluding people was kind of upsetting,” he continued.
Gomez said he feels very much connected to the law enforcement community.
“I have friends in the Aurora Police Department who are gay, who have been extremely supportive of me as part of the gay community and the blue family. It’s really hurtful to see how hurt they are and how upset they are that they can’t be part of a community wide celebration. My love and support goes out to all our men and women in blue, especially those part of the LGBTQ community. My love and support is behind each and every one of you.”
In past years, Aurora police officers have marched in the parade and set up recruiting booths.
“If you want to be part of the solution, sign up. We have already openly expressed the fact we don’t care what your sexuality is, gender, what your color is, what your race is. You want to actually combat this? Come with us, join us, be part of our family. Don’t make our jobs harder. Be a part of the solution and the matters that are at hand right now. That means, why don’t you sign up? Go through the police academy, go through the hiring process, go through field training, go through everything you have to do to be part of the solution. Stop being part of the problem,” Sears said.
Wilson said she is hopeful they will be invited to take part in the future. She also said Aurora’s Pride Fest organizers have assured her they will be welcome at that event, set to take place in August.
“I look back at Stonewall and the riots and they stood up to the police and it was a negative experience, but how powerful it is to see officers walk down the streets hand in hand with their partner, spouses, and significant others saying that was then, this is now. We are here to protect you.”