Organizers of the New York City Pride parade made headlines recently after barring police officers from marching in its annual parade until at least 2025. The organizers made plain that consistent police brutality in the United States motivated this decision, stating that “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.”
Condemnation of the parade organizers' decision from some corners was swift, with LGBTQ police officers telling NBC News they felt “disheartened” and Mayor De Blasio calling the decision a “mistake.” On May 18, The New York Times editorial board felt the need to add its two cents in, deriding the move to ban police from the pride parade as a “misstep.”
As a gay law librarian, I myself felt disheartened by the complete lack of context these critics were bringing to their analysis of the parade organizers decision. The New York Times editorial board argued that the LGBTQ community should actually be grateful to the police, stating:
“It wasn’t so long ago that L.G.B.T.Q. people were thrilled to cheer for every out person and ally who would march in the parade, including L.G.B.T.Q. police officers, who often received some of the biggest cheers from onlookers. These police officers were vital in helping make the L.G.B.T.Q. community more visible and varied in a nation slow to overcome old stereotypes and fears. Today, at a time when Republican legislatures are attacking transgender rights across the country, it’s a strange moment for the L.G.B.T.Q. community to be closing the door on some of its own and missing an opportunity to broaden its coalition.”
While it is accurate to say LGBTQ people work in law enforecement and have participated in Pride parades, it is also undeniable that police have a long history of violence against this same community. That context is either entirely missing from criticism of the pride organizers or given short shrift.
Ibram X. Kendi, author of comprehensive histories of racist thought like Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and How to Be an Antiracist, wrote in 2019 in The Atlantic an article titled “The Antiracist Reading List.” There, Kendi walked readers through his bibliography to expose newcomers and those more seasoned in critical race theory alike to suggested readings -- to provide the historical context connecting events like Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s black face scandal to the longer history of racism in the U.S.
As a legal information professional, I feel that a similar context is needed here, as well. Marginalized people in the United States have a long history of subjugation in this country and the police have played a consistent role in that history. In order to appreciate this moment of conflict between NYC Pride organizers and the police, I offer below the following LGBTQ Police Brutality reading list. This is merely a starting point, but hopefully one that will be of use to readers interesting in learning the history behind the understandable frustration and pain in the queer community when it comes to law enforecement.
On the pre- and post-Stonewall eras: Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall by James Polchin. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter. The New York Times: "Arrest Reports from the 1969 Stonewall Uprising." The Ghosts of Stonewall: Policing Gender, Policing Sex, in Queer Injustice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States by Joey L. Mogul et al.
On modern day policing and the queer community: Lambda Legal: Police, Protected & Served?. Hidden Injustice: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Juvenile Courts by Katayoon Majd, Jody Marksamer and Carolyn Reyes. UCLA School of Law Williams Institute: "Discrimination and Harassment by Law Enforcement Officers in the LGBT Community." Amnesty International: "Stonewalled: Police Abuse and Misconduct Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People in the U.S." Urban Institute: "No Cops at Pride": How the Criminal Justice System Harms LGBTQ People by Melanie Langness and Gabriella Velasco. Gay and Bisexual Men’s Perceptions of Police Helpfulness in Response to Male-Male Intimate Partner Violence, 14 W. J. EMERGENCY MED. 354, 357 (2013) by Catherine Finneran & Rob Stephenson.
On intersectionality and the queer community: Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology edited by Patrick Johson and Mae Henderson. Kent State University: "Police brutality and why it is a LGBT issue." Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andre Ritchie. The Atlantic: "We, Too, Are Targets of Police Violence" by Maura Ewing. PinkNews: "Police open fire on queer bar giving first aid and washing pepper spray out of Black Lives Matter protesters' eyes." Lambda Legal: "25 Black Queer Books to Honor Protests and Pride Month. Black Lives Matter, Intersectionality, and LGBTQ Rights NOW" by Monique Perry.
Ibram X. Kendi ends “The Antiracist Reading List” by calling on us readers to have an open mind, and go through the rigorous process of educating ourselves on our nation’s racist past: “This anti-racist syllabus is a first step. It is for people beginning their anti-racist journey after a lifetime of not truly knowing themselves or their country. It is for people opening to knowledge now, to changing themselves now, to changing the world now.”
I similarly hope that this reading list offers a first step — the step of diving into the important context regarding the queer community and their response to police brutality in this country. Many may differ in their estimations of how a parade should or should not interface with law enforcement — many certainly differ in how we should stop police brutality more broadly. As we develop our opinions, however, I’d be remiss as a librarian if I didn’t suggest a few more sources to consider.
Nicholas Norton is the Research Resources and Inclusivity Initiatives librarian at Cornell Law Library. Prior to joining Cornell, Norton completed his M.L.I.S, J.D., and B.A. in Asian Studies at Wayne State University. Beyond legal research, Norton has community organizing experience in political, electoral, and issue-based campaigns. From serving as Research Director for 501c4 organization Florida Watch Action to playing a key role on President Biden's Voter Protection team in Michigan's largest county, Norton aims to close information gaps, increase public engagement, and distill complex policy topics into digestible formats. Visit gaylawlibrarian.com