A vanguard of Black and Brown transgender and gender non-conforming activists – Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera to name a few – ignited the Stonewall Uprising 50 years ago in response to a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village of New York City. At that time in the 1960s, police raids of gay bars and gatherings were commonplace.
While the Stonewall Inn remains and serves as the birthplace for Pride – a marker of radical queer resistance against heterosexism, queerphobia, and racism – many of the local gay bars and communities here in Orange County, California faced a different situation.
Orange County witnessed a spring in gay bars 55 years ago, mostly concentrated in Garden Grove city – Rumour Hazzit, the Tiki Hut, the Mug, the Iron Spur, the Old Bavarian Inn, the Knotty Keg, the Hound’s Tooth, the Ranger, the Saddle Club, DOK West, and the Happy Hour.
According to the OC Weekly, police harassment shut down most of these bars. For example, in 1974, nearly 500 demonstrators marched 1.5 miles down Garden Grove Blvd to protest 43 arrests of queer people hugging, kissing, and hand-holding in gay bars in Garden Grove. Even 10 years after that march, the gay bar, Mac’s Landing, filed a $2.7 million lawsuit against the city because Garden Grove police had regularly positioned themselves outside of the bar at night, taking pictures of patrons going in and out and employed intimidation tactics.
Constant harassment from the police has dwindled the number of gay bars in Orange County. Today, the Frat House is the last gay bar in Garden Grove.
Despite the violent history between police departments and the LGBTQ+ community, the LGBT Center OC has decided to invite uniformed police officers to march in their contingent at the OC Pride Parade.
We, the undersigned, express profound and deep disappointment in this decision to include police officers without consulting the broader LGBTQ+ community in Orange County. We are disappointed that the LGBT Center OC, an organization that is supposed to serve the LGBTQ+ community, would make a unilateral decision without asking for the input of other queer groups. As a queer community that has a mixed, tense relationship with the police institutions, we are deeply concerned about police presence at the OC Pride Parade.
While we understand that this is an attempt to build bridges between police and the LGBTQ+ community, we hold some reservations. Uniformed police presence can be a triggering and traumatic presence for many of the LGBTQ+ community, especially people of color.
Using restorative justice as a framework, we contend that healing is a two-way street. Healing does not happen when the police show up to a Pride Parade without consultation from the LGBTQ+ community. Healing is about giving space, instead of occupying that space, especially when supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Healing does not happen when police claim to be “culturally competent” in LGBT issues by taking part in the LGBT Policing Partnership, a group that has not met in over a year and has only conducted a few trainings.
Restorative justice is about restoring the humanity and liveliness of the LGBTQ+ community. It is about confronting and healing the pain that police departments have inflicted onto queer bodies over and over.
Healing involves police officers being critical of their positions of authority. Healing happens when LGBTQ+, Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous, immigrants, refugees, disabled, and poor people can hold law enforcement accountable for their actions. It involves listening to our community needs without imposing an agenda onto us.
We demand a Pride that centers LGBTQ+ voices, needs, and power. We demand a Pride where LGBTQ+ people — especially those who have been marginalized based on race, class, immigration status, ability — feel safe and can be their whole selves. Pride is not only about radical queer resistance, but it is about envisioning and enacting a radical queer future where we all are liberated from the shackles of oppression. Until then, police presence within our presumed safe spaces will continue to be seen as violent, hostile, and traumatic.
To reach that future, we demand that the LGBT Center OC reconsider inviting uniformed police officers to this year’s Pride Parade and to proactively serve the LGBTQ+ community. We demand that the LGBT Center OC host open dialogue and community town halls about how to bridge relationships between law enforcement and the LGBTQ+ community.
Viet Rainbow of Orange County (VROC)
APAIT, a division of Special Service for Groups
Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD)