Twin Cities Pride officials reversed course Friday, deciding to allow uniformed police officers to participate in the annual parade Sunday while offering an apology to local law enforcement for failing to have fuller discussions before moving to exclude them.
The decision came hours after a meeting with Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau, who had openly criticized the move to ban police from participating as “divisive” at a time when the community should “be lifting each other up.”
“We recognize this decision has made members of the law enforcement community feel excluded, which is contrary to our mission to foster inclusion,” Pride Executive Director Dot Belstler said in a statement. “Our intent is and was to respect the pain that the people of color and transgender communities have experienced as of late, but our original approach fell short of our mission.”
Pride officials had asked police not to march in the LGBTQ parade after a Ramsey County jury’s acquittal last week of officer Jeronimo Yanez in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop. The ruling touched off days of demonstrations and increased tensions between law enforcement officials and groups that feel unfairly targeted.
Officers will now be permitted to participate in Sunday’s parade while holding the unity flag or marching alongside the rainbow, bisexual or transgender flags, Belstler said. Police will still be present to provide security.
During a short video response Friday afternoon, Harteau appeared before a rainbow flag to applaud Pride officials for “a thoughtful conversation.”
“I look forward to future discussions. I look forward to seeing everybody out at the parade on Sunday,” said Harteau, who will attend with her family. “And I want to wish everyone a happy Pride.”
There have been sharp divisions on the issue. Social justice activists demanded that police “sit this one out” to show respect for those mourning the Castile verdict and groups who feel a growing rift with law enforcement. But Harteau, police unions and others were quick to point out that Pride— an organization that has long championed inclusivity— was showing hypocrisy by banning an entire profession.
In her Thursday letter to Belstler, Harteau wrote that she understood the “magnitude of recent events” and offered to sit down with her to discuss “how we can work together in the coming months to make sure everyone feels both safe and welcome.”
Harteau, the city’s first lesbian police chief, said she was “beyond disappointed” by Pride’s initial decision and hurt that the group didn’t come to her first with their concerns.
Harteau and Belstler met Thursday evening with Roxanne Anderson, executive director of The Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition, in an effort to find common ground.
They decided that police officers would again be invited along the route on foot. An unmarked police car will also lead the parade down Hennepin Avenue.
In previous years, several marked squad cars and uniformed police officers have led the procession through downtown Minneapolis. Last year’s parade, which drew about 350,000 people, saw increased patrols following a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Between 25 and 30 Minneapolis officers typically participate, walking with flags and riding bicycles, said police spokeswoman Sgt. Catherine Michal. The parade attracts more than 100 law enforcement officials from the Twin Cities area, she said.
Minneapolis and St. Paul police also share an information booth at the Pride Festival in Loring Park, which acts as a recruiting station. “We strive to mirror our community, so this is a great place for us to meet people,” Michal said.
In an internal memo following the reversal, St. Paul’s Deputy Police Chief Mary Nash encouraged officers to attend the parade. The event provides an opportunity to build community relationships, she said.
“We cannot complain about being excluded and then stay at home come Sunday,” wrote Nash, the department’s LGBTQ liaison. “We have to be better and lead by example. We can only change what people think and feel about us as police officers — one positive contact at a time.”
By Friday afternoon, the Twin Cities Pride Facebook page was filled with nearly 200 comments, many of which chastised the group for rethinking its stance to bar police.
Dionne Sims, a 24-year-old black bisexual woman, said she would boycott this year’s parade because the reversal made her and her friends feel “disrespected.”
“To have cops marching in a parade meant to celebrate the very people who often get the brunt of police brutality, whether it’s ‘a few bad apples’ doing that or not, is disingenuous,” said Sims, of Minneapolis. “[It] glosses over the fact that the relationship between police and LGBTQ people and people of color is still tumultuous at best.”
Across the country, other Pride events have taken similar action in limiting police participation.
Organizers in Portland, Ore., are asking officers to consider not wearing their uniforms because some “don’t feel comfortable attending alongside police in uniform,” according to the Oregonian. The request left law enforcement officials upset and at least one county sheriff’s department decided not to march.
Minneapolis Pride officials vowed to continue listening to minority groups.
“To our transgender and people of color communities, we will continue to respect your pain and angst by bridging the divide and continuing conversations on both sides of this issue to ensure we consider alternatives that make each group feel comfortable and safe,” said Belstler.