On Monday, June 13, I stood at the head of almost 8,000 people to mourn the loss of the 49 victims of the Pulse shooting in Orlando.
The vigil included local and national politicians, activists, and faith leaders. Sporadically the crowd erupted into applause at key moments--when Pulse staffers said they would not be intimidated, when survivors of the Mother Emmanuel church shooting prayed with the local LGBT community in solidarity.
But the biggest round of applause came when Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer thanked the police and first-responders for their life-savings efforts during the shooting that killed so many in the LGBT community.
Thousands cheered and hollered in gratitude for their local police--true heroes in the face of this tragedy. I applauded with them, but I admit, I did so with a little surprise. This is Pride month. We just had the deadliest mass shooting in our country's and our community's history. And thousands of gay and queer people are applauding--the police?
The Orlando police saved lives during the Pulse shooting. That is not a question. What does deserve questioning is how the LGBT community really feels toward police this Pride season.
In Orlando, gay and queer people are caught up in a swell of gratitude. In Philadelphia, when an LGBT police organization was named grand marshal of this year's Pride parade, the community balked. The outcry led the police group to decline the honor.
That was in May, before Orlando. Now, major Pride events in cities like San Francisco are ramping up police protection out of fear of new attacks--which some LGBTs have welcomed while others feel more police at Pride is not the answer.
LGBTs have a rooted distrust of police that dates back to, well, Pride itself. Police sparked the Stonewall riots in 1969 after they raided the bar. LGBT people, particularly transgender people and people of color, still face significant harassment across the country from law enforcement, and bar raids like Stonewall persist into the current day.
However, police departments have made great strides in connecting with local LGBT communities. They often participate in sensitivity training and even march alongside queer people in Pride parades. But the idea of leading one, as we saw in Philadelphia, still feels wrong when honoring the history of the brave pioneers that first fought back on Christopher Street.
I have to say, watching the thousands raising their candles at Orlando's vigil, I saw an opportunity for a new dialogue between the queer community and the police. Maybe out of this horror has come a chance for cities beyond Orlando to call in local law enforcement for better protection and more understanding. Just because Pride commemorates a time of police distrust doesn't mean we have to repeat that history endlessly every June.
Orlando has shown that, in some cities, LGBTs can feel pride in both themselves and the city charged with their safety. Hopefully, the rest of the country doesn't need another tragedy in order for police to treat us as equal citizens or for LGBTs to reward and include police when they do make valuable steps forward.