Police asked to not wear uniforms in Pride Parade

'There is a lot of symbolism that goes with that uniform'

Portland police at the 2016 Gay Pride Parade as seen on June 16, 2017. (Portland Police Department Instagram)
Portland police at the 2016 Gay Pride Parade as seen on June 16, 2017. (Portland Police Department Instagram)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Organizers of the annual Portland Pride Parade have asked members of the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office to not march in the parade while wearing their uniforms.

KOIN 6 News first learned about the request on Friday, 3 days before the parade is scheduled to be held in downtown Portland.

Debra Porta, executive director of Pride Northwest Inc., confirmed the organization made the “difficult decision” to ask law enforcement officers marching in the parade to consider not wearing their uniforms.

She said in the recent weeks, some LGBTQ community members have become more vocal about concerns they have marching with police officers in uniforms.

“There is a lot of symbolism that goes with that uniform,” Porta said, speaking by phone Friday morning.

She said there’s been a “history” between LGBTQ community members and law enforcement both in Portland, and nationally, that hasn’t always been the best.

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“We still run into issues,” she said. “This is a history that we all need to own, figure out how to navigate and somehow navigate together.”

In the letter sent to PPB and MCSO, Porta writes “…we are asking LGBTQ and allied people in law enforcement, who plan to march in the Portland Pride Parade NOT to march in uniform.”

The letter goes on to state, “NO member of law enforcement will be denied or turned away from the parade.”

Since the letter was sent out, Porta has met with members of PPB and MCSO.

“We’re asking them to consider not marching in their uniforms,” Porta said.

The request came as a shock to many LGBTQ members in PPB.

“To me, Pride Northwest is trying to put us back in the closest,” said Portland Police Capt. Bob Ball. “To take away the strides that we’ve made (as an organization) is hurtful.”

Ball is in charge of the reserve officers program for the bureau.

He said 1996 was the first time he marched in Portland’s Pride parade as an openly gay reserve officer.

“I went there and I was by myself and I was in uniform…and I was determined to do it,” He said. “(Then mayor) Vera Katz came over to me and said, ‘honey, you look scared to death’ and I said, ‘I am’ and she said ‘you know what’ and she grabbed my hand and she said ‘you march with me.’”

Ball said he knows the fear that some people may have with the police, which is why he made an open promise to Pride NW and to members of the community.

“If anyone is afraid to go to the parade because of the police and the LGBTQ community, I will personally hold your hand and you can march with me and my family in the parade and I will protect you,” he said.

“We will absolutely honor and celebrate any officer who marches with or without that uniform,” she said.

“To be clear, we are NOT asking you not to march,” the letter states.

The letter suggested law enforcement marching in the parade “maybe wear department polos or other shirt – something besides the uniform.”

Portland Police Bureau spokesperson Sgt. Pete Simpson said Chief of Police Mike Marshman and Mayor Ted Wheeler will both support any officer who wears their uniform and badge during the parade.

Several officers told KOIN 6 News they plan to wear their uniform during the parade in solidarity of each other and the community.

Sheriff Mike Reese said in an e-mail to all members, “We will not be participating in the Portland PRIDE parade this year. This was a difficult decision for me to make as I am proud to wear our uniform and I know you are as well at this event.”

Reese added that “I know many of you look forward to this event and if you want to participate in the parade as a private individual, I encourage you to march in plain clothes with the Multnomah County delegation.” (You can read the full e-mail at the bottom of the this article.)

Ball said he is proud to see how much the police bureau has changed in the 21 years since he joined. He praised the officers who came before him.

“They have endured slurs, hate, bigotry and for the older officers, even threats,” he said.

He said there is always room for improvement when it comes to relations with the community and diversity within the rank and file.

“We need African American police, we need Asian police, we need Hispanic police, we need male police, we need female police, we need trans officers,” Ball said. “Every part of our community should be recognized.”

Porta said she hopes there will be more dialogue with law enforcement and the LGBTQ community about how to improve relations after Pride weekend concludes.

“And although we know there has been lots of progress, we also recognize that there are significant numbers of people in our communities who are still harassed, who are still ignored, who are still effected by police presence,” Porta said.

Here is the e-mail Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese sent out to his staff on Friday afternoon.

We have a long-standing tradition of marching in the Portland PRIDE parade. As an organization that supports diversity and inclusiveness in both our workforce, as well as in our community, participating in this event serves as an opportunity to engage our LBGTQ members and community members alike.

Late this week I received the attached correspondence from PRIDE NW, indicating their preference that uniforms not be worn by law enforcement officers planning to march in the PRIDE parade on Sunday. I subsequently contacted Debra Porta, Executive Director of PRIDE NW, to gain a better understanding of the request.

On Thursday, Debra Porta and I met and had a very respectful conversation about the long-standing tradition of MCSO participation in the parade, the importance of PRIDE events to our members, and the broader relationship between the community and public safety agencies.

Through our conversation I learned of concern within their organization that some members of the LBGTQ community feel a uniformed presence in the parade might create unnecessary tensions.

After our conversation, and thoughtful consideration, I have decided that MCSO will honor the preference of PRIDE NW. It is their event and we will not be participating in the Portland PRIDE parade this year. This was a difficult decision for me to make as I am proud to wear our uniform and I know you are as well at this event. But, I believe it is important we consider the perspectives from all sides of this request.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has been and will continue to be an inclusive organization that supports and reflects the diversity of our community. I know many of you look forward to this event and if you want to participate in the parade as a private individual, I encourage you to march in plain clothes with the Multnomah County delegation.

We will continue to be a uniformed presence in the security detail assigned to the parade and as members of the Alliance for Safer Communities booth at the PRIDE festival. I will attend the event in uniform as part of the security detail.

Thank you for your understanding of this change so close to the day of the event. I hope that through honoring the preference of event organizers and taking time to engage in respectful dialogue we will build a lasting relationships of trust.

Michael Reese