Opinion: Gardaí At Pride - Don’t Reign On My Parade

With the news that An Garda Síochána will march in uniform at this year's Pride parade, the community is divided over whether they should.

A female member of the gardaí at Pride dressed in rainbow accessories

Members of An Garda Síochána (AGS) will be marching in uniform at Dublin Pride this year, and the news was met with mixed feelings. Personally, I wasn’t sure what to think, half my friends were outraged, and the other half were outraged at the outrage. I read that most people were happy with gardaí at the parade, which felt untrue to me. So, I decided to run a Twitter poll to get a better sense of people’s opinions.

2,694 votes later and 53% were unhappy about it, while 47% were happy. The comments gave some insight into how divisive this topic is for the community.

So, what’s the problem?

For those in favour, gardaí marching represents acceptance of LGBT+ people within Irish Society and shows that gardaí are not only for LGBT+ people, but they are in fact made up of LGBT+ people. For those against it, the gardaí marching is the complete antithesis of what Pride is meant to be: a political march, a riot, by the LGBT+ community for the LGBT+ community. For some marginalised and targeted people, gardaí marching in uniform at Pride shows them that the parade is more about empty symbolism than making them feel comfortable and safe. 

This is not an Ireland-only debate. Last year in Madison, Wisconsin, police were told they could not march in uniform. While some were disappointed, the decision was a largely positive one, prompting the police force to engage further with the community. Auckland also banned police in uniform from Pride, the organisers said the police did not “currently meet the degree of safety and awareness of intersectionality required by our rainbow communities”. 

But, isn’t Pride all about inclusivity?

This is the main argument I heard from people- that if you exclude gardaí you aren’t being very inclusive. I don’t think this argument holds any water. Firstly, inclusivity does not mean letting any group, regardless of their relationship with the LGBT+ community, march. Inclusivity means everyone from the community is catered for – and while there are LGBT+ gardaí, they can still be included by marching in civilian clothes. Inclusivity means we make arrangements for the most marginalised (gardaí are not marginalised), it means we try to make a space safe in a world that isn’t. Not allowing gardaí to march is not exclusion, it’s boundaries. 

It’s also interesting to hear people calling for “inclusion” when speaking about gardaí marching but not when Pride was nearly completely inaccessible to those with mobility disabilities. If we’re going to argue about inclusion perhaps we should start with disabled members of the LGBT+ community. 

People are still being targeted today by gardaí. I know this because I’ve spoken in private to those who have. This has come from friends/acquaintances, many of whom are QPOC, homeless or housing insecure, a lot of them are trans.

More than a uniform

The uniform means something; It represents the AGS, it represents their authority over civilians, and for some it represents oppression. On one hand I’m being asked to consider the individually of the gardaí, and my answer is that in uniform they are not individuals. I will wish any garda in civvys a happy Pride. 

Historically, interactions with the gardaí around Pride was for the safety of the people marching. It was born out of necessity. And the bulk of labour in terms of bridging that gap was done by LGBT+ people, not the gardaí. 

A community divided: Dismantling VS Reform

The community is divided. There was a Pride Bloc last year, a group who were opposed to corporate involvement in Pride, as organised by Queer Action Ireland. Regarding AGS marching this year they have said, “Policing in inherently racist and oppressive…Queer liberation is the dismantling of the institutions of power.” Again, this is a shift felt the world over. I’m currently working in New York and was handed a flyer for an alternative Pride march– no corporates, no cops.

But dismantling the police is a tall order for many people to get on board with. Many people would like to see reform as opposed to a revolution. Small, systematic changes over time. Especially for those who have been protected by police, the idea of abolition is scary and radical.

Pride should be met with this golden question: Who is it for? Is the gardaí marching for the LGBT+ community or is it for AGS, or is it for allies? The community is not a monolith, and we can’t agree on everything, but we could agree on a principle of Do No Harm, or more realistically, try to do as little harm as possible. The argument about cops at Pride is practically the same as the argument about corporates at Pride – who is it for?

Being completely on brand as an indecisive messy bisexual myself I am somewhere in the middle of these two groups: slowly learning more about systematic oppression and being less convinced reform is possible, and wanting with all the swag. I want to have my complimentary Pride burrito and eat it too. I want the fanfare, I need the sponsorship that comes with corporate involvement in Pride, and I desperately want to reject it all and go live in a lesbian commune in the woods.

How to guard everyone’s Pride

Some advocating for AGS to march in uniform is part of the older generation of queer activists. They have faced adversity in Irish society that I will never know. If they can welcome the gardaí, why can’t I? I can’t because I understand that oppression is complex, nuanced, spread out through the system like spores. Cis white gay men should not be the litmus test by which we measure all oppression. We have to listen to other parts of the community, and they have made themselves perfectly clear. 

There is a solution – they don’t march in uniform. See, they can take off their uniform easily. My friends cannot take off their skin colour, or their poverty, their identity. Most importantly they cannot take off the fear they feel in the presence of uniformed gardaí, whether that’s a fear you feel also or not. 

For those who would have liked to have seen gardaí marching at Pride in uniform, them marching in civilian clothes will hardly ruin pride for them. But for those who do not want to march alongside uniformed police, Pride will be ruined. The lesson we are learning is that progress doesn’t look the same to everyone.

Read in full on Bella’s medium.

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