Jun 24, 2022 - News

Police will march, recruit at Pride Festival

Animated illustration of flashing rainbow police lights.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Members of the Nashville police department will march in Saturday's Pride Parade and run a booth at the festival to connect with attendees and perhaps even recruit future officers.

Why it matters: It's the kind of police presence that's been rejected by festival organizers in other cities.

  • Officer Nakia Reid-Flores, who serves as the department's LGBTQ liaison, tells Axios the goal is "to build the relationship so the LGBTQ community, if they're a victim of a hate crime, they know they can call us. And, if they see us at Pride, I think it helps show that MNPD is an ally."

Zoom out: Pride events are rooted in the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, when police raided a gay club and gay and transgender people fought back. Reid-Flores says there is a lack of trust police are still working to overcome.

Zoom in: The Nashville department's participation at Pride comes amid a broader effort to connect with the LGBTQ community.

  • Reid-Flores leads the Safe Space Program, in which the department partners with schools and businesses to combat hate crimes.
  • She also works internally, leading discussions and training sessions with MNPD officers about LGBTQ issues. The sessions range from how to address someone by their preferred pronouns to how to transport a transgender individual.

What's happening: Reid-Flores says she would be happy if conversations about that work led to someone wanting to join the department.

Yes, but: A statement from the organizers says that "for many community members who have experienced police brutality, the presence of uniformed officers and police at Pride does not create this safe environment."

Flashback: Nashville police have had a significant presence at Pride festivities for years. They previously marched in uniform, and in 2019 the department unveiled a Pride-themed rainbow police cruiser.

  • Nashville Pride board president Mac Huffington tells Axios organizers appreciate the department's work to protect the LGBTQ community. But some community members "let us know that they were kind of uncomfortable with that increased presence" at the festival.

State of play: Organizers responded by trying to tailor police participation in a different way. Huffington says organizers aimed for a "middle ground" that gave police "a safe, positive presence where it won't offend anyone and it won't make anybody afraid."

  • Organizers hired a private security contractor for the festival and parade, although on-duty officers might be on hand for road closures "or other permitting regulations," according to the statement.
  • Officers who aren't in uniform will march in the parade with the mayor's office, Huffington says. The department says they will wear MNPD's specially designed Pride T-shirts.
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