Durham County

Durham police welcome to march in Pride parade, but not in uniform.

Durham’s annual LGBT Pride parade, as seen in this September 2011 file photo, is back this year with new organizers.
Durham’s annual LGBT Pride parade, as seen in this September 2011 file photo, is back this year with new organizers. chuck.liddy@newsobserver.com

Durham police officers are welcome to march in this year’s Pride parade, as long as they’re not in uniform.

Pride: Durham, NC will be held on Saturday, Sept. 29 at Duke University.

Police officers from inside and outside North Carolina responded on the event’s public Facebook page that they felt they were being excluded.

Durham Police Department officers assigned to provide security for the event will be there in uniform.

But a Durham police officer who did not want his name used said it’s important for gay officers to be able to march in full uniform too because it shows younger gay people that it’s acceptable and positive to be both gay and a police officer. He said wearing a uniform as an officer is part of who he is.

Pride Committee Chair J. Clapp said the decision was in response to a survey about what people wanted at Durham’s Pride celebration. This year’s Pride has new organizers, led by the LGBTQ Center of Durham, and stresses transparency and inclusivity on its website.

Survey results of 122 responses showed people want a parade, music performances, LGBTQ-affirming local businesses, food trucks, drag queens, local artisans, dancing and drag kings.

Changes that survey responders wanted are a reduced police presence, wider aisles for accessibility, water stations, shady areas, no alcohol at the festival, nightlife options, more dancing and diversity of food options.

Clapp said the Pride committee met with the Police Department and shared the request for no uniformed officers, squad cars and firearms in the parade. He said they told police that they know there are LGBTQ officers in the department and they want them at Pride. However police were also told that people who are impoverished, black and brown are extremely uncomfortable around the police.

“We don’t want anyone to feel like they have to hide who they are,” Clapp said. “I understand why police officers think they want to march, because they have had a long journey. I don’t want to discredit their experience. We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable at the event, and right now not everyone feels comfortable around the police.”

Clapp said officers have told him the uniform is part of their identity.

“We don’t want to take away their identity. Our hope is to build bridges and find the appropriate middle ground,” Clapp said.

He said officers who want to march can wear Police Department polo shirts or other attire showing they are officers, just not the uniform.

“For people of color and a lot of queer folk, the police uniform can mean very scary things,” he said.

“We would be perfectly happy if officers working would signify they are queer,” Clapp said. He said they are also talking with Duke University Police, but aren’t sure if Duke officers will also be at the event.

“We realistically understand we must maintain a positive working relationship with police ... We made a request, and the Durham Police Department made a commitment, and everyone is presenting it as our decision,” he continued. “We made a request based on feedback from the community. Our goal is to advocate for the needs of people who don’t have have a voice in our community always.”

The DPD issued a statement in response to an interview request.

“At this point the Durham Police Department’s role will be to provide security for the parade. Our agency remains committed to supporting the LGBTQ community,” wrote Wil Glenn, public affairs manager for the department.

For several years, the NC Pride committee led by John Short organized the annual parade and festival. But last year they scheduled it the same weekend as the Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur, drawing criticism for excluding the Jewish community who had long been participants in the parade. Short eventually canceled the parade and instead NC Pride was an afternoon and evening event on Rigsbee Avenue rather than the traditional Ninth Street and Duke University East Campus area of the celebration. The new Pride: Durham, NC committee formed this year.

Pride: Durham, NC described the history of the city’s Pride observance on its website as beginning after a group of sunbathers were attacked at the Little River on April 12, 1981. “Ronald Antonevitch, one of the men attacked later died at Durham County General Hospital. Demonstrations in front of the Durham County Court House in response to the murder was the true beginning of the NC Pride March. These demonstrations happened annually across the state from 1986 until 2000.”

Pride parade marchers will include elected officials. Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson, who is on the Pride committee, will participate along with Mayor Steve Schewel and others. On the Durham City Council, Johnson and Council member Vernetta Alston both identify as LGBTQ.

Pride events

Friday, Sept. 28: Human Rights Campaign Triangle’s “Queer Prom: A Night for Everyone” from 8 p.m. to midnight at Rigsbee Hall, 208 Rigsbee Ave. For ages 21 and older, tickets are $35/single or $60/couple.

Saturday, Sept. 29: Prayer and opening ceremony at 11 a.m. Parade in early afternoon. Live performances on the main stage at 2 p.m. All events on Duke University East Campus. Event ends at 4 p.m.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan
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