Denver, CO

Let Denver cops enjoy gay pride festival

David Heitz

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Denver police put up tape to keep the peace during a demonstration in March.Colin Lloyd/Unsplash

I think the Denver Center for gays and lesbians is way off base for banning police from pride activities.

I write this not only as a gay person who has had terrible experiences with police, but also a person who has enjoyed close personal relationships with cops.

And I write this not so much to stir up controversy, but to remind myself of just how much fun I did have with cops many years ago.

I went to a party in Palm Springs, Calif. In 1995 or 1996 called “Pigs in Paradise.” It was supposed to be for cops and their admirers.

It was a huge party in a hotel. Lots of alcohol was involved. Everyone seemed to have a good time. I sure did.

I dated several cops way back in the day, mostly in my 20s. Anaheim and California Highway Patrol both were represented.

Some cops are nice guys when they’re not on duty. I certainly must share some values with them, because I have had many good relationships (romantic and otherwise) with cops.

Hoping Pride would help me out of shell

But I also was beaten by Denver cops and called an anti-gay slur more than once. I don’t want to repeat that trauma, I want to move past it.

And for me to consider attending a gay pride celebration is a huge step. I have been reclusive the past few years.

But now I’m working, I feel good, I don’t look bad for a guy my age. I have been considering going to the pride celebration.

But now I have a bitter taste in my mouth over the cops being banned. There are some decent cops. Banning is what some cops would like to do to us. We shouldn’t stoop to a similar level. We should celebrate the fact that despite police brutality, there are cops who want to hang out with the gay people. And I especially salute police who are openly gay.

Openly gay Aurora cop speaks out

People like Aurora cop Sgt. Bill Hummell. He penned a letter to the Aurora Sentinel speaking in support of police participation at the gay pride festival.

“I currently supervise a team of detectives who investigate child deaths, child sexual assaults and serious child abuses in the Crimes Against Children Unit with the Aurora Police Department,” he wrote. “I have proudly served my community as a gay police officer since 2011.

“I am writing to you because I am quite disheartened to learn that police officers would not be welcomed at Denver’s PrideFest. I vividly remember beginning my career in law enforcement and being absolutely mortified of how I would ever progress in such a career as a gay man.

“After my initial training and more exposure to the organization, I would come to find that dozens of openly gay men and women work for the Aurora Police Department.”

Gay cop buys me Dr. Pepper before arrest

I had an interaction with a gay Denver police officer while experiencing homelessness. He arrested me for camping (I fell asleep under an overpass along the Platte River trail) but he was kind enough to buy me a Dr. Pepper first.

We had similar political leanings that we talked about. I felt vindicated to find another gay person who voted for Donald Trump. We spoke openly about our sexuality in front of the other cops with no problem.

I imagine there are a bunch of gay cops who are Trump supporters. I’m sure I would enjoy their company at the pride celebration if I were to run across one.

I have surrounded myself with much bitterness, especially as it pertains to police and being gay. I view the pride fest, if I attend, as sort of a healing moment.

But now it doesn’t feel like a healing moment at all. It feels like more negativity surrounding the trauma of police brutality.

The Center’s point of view

In a statement on its website, The Center on Colfax says this about public backlash they have received about the policy:

“The LGBTQ pride movement has never been without controversy. In recent days, many people have expressed outrage about The Center’s decision to not invite law enforcement to participate in this year’s event. The decision has not been an easy one nor made lightly.

“A little background about the pride movement. The first pride parade was held in New York City in 1970 to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of the previous year. That seminal event is seen by many as a key moment in the LGBTQ civil rights movement. The Stonewall Riots were also a protest in response to continued harassment by police of the gay community.”

“Indeed, The Center’s own history is closely tied to incidents of police harassment here in Denver in the early seventies. Over the years The Center and many other organizations and individuals, including LGBTQ officers themselves, have worked very hard to improve relationships with law enforcement and make it possible for LGBTQ officers to serve proudly. So why make this decision now when for many people in the LGBTQ community things are much better than they used to be?”

In particular, the Center sites tension between black members of the LGBTQ community and police.

“Things are better, but not for everyone. While many individuals in the community are currently upset by this decision, The Center received a great deal of criticism over the years for working with police. (After a DPD officer shot and killed Jessie Hernandez, protestors briefly stopped the pride parade because of police participation.)

“In the context of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, many staff members at The Center have also objected to The Center working with police. One black staff member recently resigned in part over our relationship with police. Another black staff member has such a visceral reaction because of past trauma around interacting with police that they literally have an anxiety attack at the thought of having to deal with officers. A black volunteer with the pride committee has privately admitted his fear around being stopped by police because of what has happened to so many black men.”

Wanting to focus on the positive

I have been through great trauma, too. I cannot relate to the black experience. But I don’t want to detest cops forever because of my trauma, especially when (how quickly I forget) I used to have great fun with people who work in public safety. Dance parties in Palm Springs, even.

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The Advocate masthead in 1997, when I served as executive news editor.Photo/David Heitz

I ask the decisionmakers at Denver Pride and the Denver Center to reconsider their stance on police attendance. I served as executive news editor of The Advocate, the national gay and lesbian newsmagazine headquartered in Los Angeles, from 1997 to 1998.

I even oversaw an Advocate cover story on "Gay Cops." I was told to interview cops with an eye toward finding a good-looking one for the cover. Sometimes gay people can be shallow.

I am a strong supporter of civil rights. And I make no excuses for the poor behaviors some police have shown, particularly toward people of color.

But I may be an even stronger supporter of the Constitution, and Freedom of Speech in particular. It is on those grounds that I believe Denver Police and all police should be welcomed at the gay pride celebrations.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

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