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Why Black Lives Matter just pulled out of San Francisco Pride

San Francisco Pride 2015.
San Francisco Pride 2015.
Rick Loomis via Getty Images

San Francisco Pride, the country’s largest annual lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) pride celebration, is kicking off this weekend without one of its grand marshals: Black Lives Matter.

Bay Area members of the black millennial social justice movement withdrew from the event on Friday, stating that they will no longer participate in this weekend’s festivities in response to SF Pride organizers’ push for increased police presence.

"The Black Lives Matter network is grateful to the people of San Francisco for choosing us, we choose you too," Malkia Cyril, a Black Lives Matter member, said in a press release. "As queer people of color, we are disproportionately targeted by both vigilante and police violence. We know first hand that increasing the police presence at Pride does not increase safety for all people. Militarizing these events increases the potential for harm to our communities and we hope in the future SF Pride will consider community-centered approaches to security at pride events."

Two other grand marshals also dropped out: St. James Infirmary, which focuses on providing medical and social services for sex workers, and Janetta Johnson, the executive director of the TGI Justice Project, which advocates for imprisoned transgender, gender nonconforming, and intersex people.

SF Pride’s grand marshals serve as the "public emissaries of Pride," according to the organization’s website. "They represent a mix of individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. With the help of community input, Pride selects these groups and individuals as Grand Marshals in order to honor the work they have put into furthering the causes of LGBT people."

In March, SF Pride named Black Lives Matter an organizational grand marshal for this year’s parade, which is themed "for racial and economic justice." However, Black Lives Matter organizers grew concerned after SF Pride officials announced Tuesday that there would be a "significant police presence," including security screening to enter the festival area at the Civic Center — a first in SF Pride’s 46-year history.

Fears about security at SF Pride arose, in part, because of the June 12 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in which 49 LGBTQ people were killed. But the SF Pride organizers’ decision to increase the police presence at the events disproportionately alienates LGBTQ people of color, a group that led the riots against police raids at Stonewall Inn in June 1969 that catalyzed the modern gay rights movement pride commemorates.

A 2014 study from Columbia University found that LGBTQ youth and transgender women of color are disproportionately subject to discriminatory and abusive police practices, including being "endemically profiled" by law enforcement for potentially engaging in sex work.

And according to a 2015 study by the San Francisco LGBT Center of 400 community members, only 50 percent of LGBTQ people of color and 40 percent of transgender people of color believed police would help them if needed.

Michelle Meow, the SF Pride board president, told the Guardian that she supports and endorses the Black Lives Matter organizers’ decision.

"Increasing police presence in our community is not the solution," Meow said. "I will be missing some of you, but I know this is the beginning of something that we’re going to do in San Francisco. We stand here today in support and solidarity of all of our honorees and grand marshals, including Black Lives Matter."

But despite Meow's statement of support, SF Pride’s increased security measures will remain in place.

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