Pride month in the U.S. took on a somber tone when a gunman opened fire at Pulse, an Orlando gay nightclub on Latin night, killing 49 and injuring more than 50 LGBT people of color and one identified straight ally.
The shocking massacre on June 12 also fueled fears of another attack against LGBT people, including the numerous Pride festivals taking place this month and in the coming months.
Police presence at Chicago Pride’s festival, including the June 26 parade that attracts a million people, was ramped up significantly with hundreds more officers patrolling the streets as well as K9 units and bike officers, according to media reports.
James Fallarino, spokesperson for New York City Pride, which culminates with a June 26 parade that attracts some two million people, said extra security is a top priority.
“People will see a greater police presence … it’s important for people to see that presence,” he said. Private security will also be out in force and there will be such security measures as bag checks and “wanding” – scanning people with a hand-held metal detector – at various Pride events.
While security is a key concern for New York City Pride, Fallarino said the festival also would honor and memorialize the victims.
New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has predicted this year’s parade will be the largest ever in response to the horror of the Orlando killings.
“We agree that it is more important than ever to be out and proud and show your pride,” Fallarino said.
Safety in Orlando, other cities
In Orlando, the city is still reeling with shock and pain. Numerous vigils followed by even more funerals were attended by thousands of the city’s vibrant LGBT community.
Orlando Pride is held the same weekend as Atlanta Pride, with its parade slated for Oct. 8. Preparations are already underway to ensure the event is as safe as possible.
“Come Out With Pride, held in downtown Orlando’s Lake Eola Park, last year attracted over an estimated 140,000 people.
The safety of those individuals is and will continue to be a top priority for us,” said Come Out With Pride spokesperson Jeff Prystajko. “We work closely with the Orlando Police Department to implement various measures, including utilizing additional private security, to ensure our guests are safe. We have already had conversations and will continue to work closely with authorities in planning this year’s festival,” Prystajko said.
Atlanta Pride executive director Jamie Ferguson said the nonprofit pays the Atlanta Police Department more than $40,000 a year to provide security at the festival in Piedmont Park – one of the organization’s largest budget items and about equal to the amount spent on entertainment. Private security personnel are also utilized.
What happened in Orlando is a huge tragedy, but unfortunately attacks in queer spaces are not new and security of Pride participants is always a concern, she said. “We are not just starting to think about it,” she said.
‘Long history of feeling threatened’
But ramping up a strong police presence is not the answer, she said. This year’s Atlanta Pride grand marshals include two transgender women of color as well as Solutions Not Punishment Coalition (SNaPCo), an organization that challenges the Atlanta Police Department and other local police departments on its treatment of trans and gender nonconforming people of color.
Queer people and especially queer people of color have a long history of feeling threatened and unsafe around police officers because of past abuse, Ferguson said.
Atlanta Pride is working with various groups to devise strategies that are reasonable and safe. “More police is not an acceptable solution,” she said. “We have to take care of everyone we can in all the ways we can.”
No one can control when someone might want to hurt a group of LGBT people, but Ferguson said the festival will provide the best security available.
“If we let them stop us, then they are already winning a little bit,” she said.
Sue Doster, co-president of InterPride, an international organization working to connect Prides from around the globe, said numerous Pride organizers have reached out to the organization seeking guidance and resources. Doster noted Boston Pride already has an elaborate security plan that was put into place following the deadly 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
“There are Prides in the world where sadly this is more of a day-to-day reality,” she said.
In Turkey, for example, on June 19, the Istanbul police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at people participating in a Trans Pride rally. In April, a court convicted an ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jew of murder for stabbing and killing a teenage girl at a gay Pride parade in 2015.
“But even in those hostile climates, Pride finds a way. In America, even in the wake of this tragedy, I guarantee you across the country Pride will find a way. Pride cannot be extinguished,” Doster said.