Image caption: ReeAnna Segin raises a fist of solidarity, flanked by fellow protestors. A red socialist flag and a Philly-style Pride flag fly in the background.
By Mar Escalante
Photo by K. Daniel Bryan
At the recent Philadelphia Pride Parade, ReeAnna Segin, a trans woman, protested police brutality by publicly attempting to burn a “Blue Lives Matter” flag — a pro-cop symbol that has gained popularity among people opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement against police killings of Black people. She was then tackled to the ground by three cops, held in custody for over 24 hours during which she was transferred to a men’s prison, and given a list of charges including two felonies.
During her time in custody, Segin was misnamed and misgendered in numerous police statements to media. While many media outlets have since updated their articles to reflect her correct name and gender, these updates were due to the work of her advocates against the harm committed by the initial police statements. Furthermore, these updates did not mitigate the physical danger and humiliation to a trans woman being placed in a men’s prison after being held in custody for an extended period of time. This treatment by the PPD is unconscionable.
The DA’s office has since withdrawn the two felony charges; however, the misdemeanor charges still stand against a person expressing their First Amendment rights at a public rally–excessive to say the least. This whole situation highlights a crucial point: Welcoming cops at Pride parades is dangerous to members of the LGBTQ community. Cops have no place at Pride.
History of Pride
The Stonewall riots in 1969 occurred when police officers raided the Stonewall Inn and began arresting patrons en masse. This was not an unprecedented occurrence, and the LGBTQ community was fed up with being targeted and marginalized. Thanks to trans women of color activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera among others, the community fought back against state violence that night. Riots and protests continued over the following days, and the modern-day LGBTQ movement was born. Each year, Pride parades are held in cities all around the country in part to celebrate the social and legal gains since Stonewall. But Pride is not only a celebration, it is also a time to engage in liberatory struggle, which is far from over.
Pride in Philadelphia
In 2016, when Philly Pride Presents decided to host GOAL (the Gay Officer Action League) as one of the Grand Marshals for that year’s Pride Parade, a petition circulated in protest. Petitioners stated that the Stonewall riot was “started by Black and Brown trans women and drag queens, who were then and continue to be the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community.” They wrote, “The police, as an institution, continue to carry out racist and transphobic violence.” Their advocacy resulted in GOAL’s decision to withdraw.
In 2017, a similar message was taken up by The Equity Coalition, which organized a march to “Take Back Pride” in support of historically marginalized communities. In an op-ed for Philadelphia Magazine, Ernest Owens wrote, “The movement for LGBTQ rights was championed by intersectional pioneers who were of color, transgender, non-binary, poor, and in-between. Now more than ever, these vulnerable marginalized voices should be centered in Pride.” While the QTPOC Take Back Pride march was vocal, it was nonviolent; however, demonstrators “were pushed over, had bikes slammed in their faces” by the cops. The Equity Coalition recently released a statement about last year’s incident.
Police Violence against Trans People and People of Color
Statistics support concerns raised by members of the Philly LGBTQ community. Trans people and queer people of color in particular face tremendous threat of state violence. According to a 2013 study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, trans people are 3.7 times more likely to experience physical violence from the police. Trans people of color are 6 times more likely to experience violence. According to a 2012 FAQ by FORGE, 22-38 percent of trans people have been harassed, 15 percent have experienced physical abuse, and 7 percent have been sexually assaulted by the police. A press release from the National Center for Transgender Equality released data showing that LGBTQ people such as Roxana Hernandez, who died in ICE custody after being denied medical care, are 97 times more likely to face violence in detention centers than non-LGBTQ people. And in a Lambda Legal survey, trans and non gender conforming people, especially those of color, reported significantly higher rates of verbal assault, physical assault and sexual harassment in jails and prisons, while 60 percent reported being placed in a single-gender section that did not match their gender identity.
Protecting Our Communities
The LGBTQ struggle against state violence, championed at Stonewall and remembered at Pride, is ongoing. Statistics and actions show that regardless of their intentions to maintain order, police presence is a threat to marginalized members of the LGBTQ community. This reflects the message from ReeAnna Segin’s protest as well as the police response to it: cops are not a force for protection but a source of danger to queer and trans people and to communities of color. Pride parades must remain a safe space for all members of the LGBTQ community, therefore police should not be welcomed. We must remain vigilant against state oppression, stand up on behalf of our most marginalized communities, and remember that as civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
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