Aurora Pride organizers promote modified police participation this year after Denver decision to ban cops

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AURORA | Hours after organizers of Denver Pride, the largest annual celebration of LGBTQ rights in the state, announced that police personnel will be barred from participating in this year’s festivities, officials tied to Aurora’s Pride celebration announced they will not preclude any one group, including police, from participating in Pride events this summer.

Officials connected with The Center, a longstanding LGBTQ advocacy group that organizes Denver’s Pride celebrations, recently announced the group would prevent local police agencies from participating in a virtual Pride parade or recruiting at in-person events in 2021 in solidarity with the Black community, according to a statement issued May 19.

“We cannot in good conscience, as an organization that speaks up for justice, look the other way when it comes to police violence aimed at the Black community,” Rex Fuller, CEO of The Center, wrote in the emailed statement. ” … While we value our relationships with law enforcement and want to continue to build a safer community for all Coloradans, we feel we must take a stand. We have decided to not allow police participation in the 2021 virtual pride parade or to allow law enforcement agencies to participate as exhibitors.”

Off-duty officers not in uniform will still be able to participate in Pride events, Fuller said.

“This decision is also intended for institutional law enforcement participation, not individuals,” Fuller wrote. ” … We wouldn’t have any way to know if officers out of uniform were participating.”

The announcement follows a similar edict issued by organizers of New York City’s massive Pride parade last week also barring police participation.

But organizers of Aurora’s Pride celebrations, first launched in 2017, took a different tack late Wednesday, saying that no specific group will be prevented from attending planned events in August.

“We understand and support (people of color) members of our community advocating for police reform, and that experiences of harm from police violence have led them to advocate for police not being at Pride,” officials said in a statement released Wednesday night. “In the spirit of being in community together, Aurora Pride will not exclude any person or organization from any of its LGBTQ+ events.”

The announcement came shortly after several gay Aurora police officers spoke out against the decision in Denver.

” I was very disappointed and disheartened by that decision,” Aurora Police Lt. Chris Amsler said Thursday. “Being an openly gay man, Pride is that one time of year when I get to celebrate who I am. It was just very disheartening that I was being excluded because of the profession I have chosen and the badge that I wear.”

Along with Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, Amsler has organized Aurora police involvement in Denver Pride for more than a decade. After starting with a small contingent of a few officers, he said the Aurora police presence at the last Denver Pride parade in 2019 included more than 50 officers, multiple rainbow-decorated cars and a float.

Amsler said Aurora police were again planning on participating in the virtual Denver Pride parade this year, but recently had their invitation revoked and received a refund for payment they had remitted to participate.

Aurora Police Sgt. Bill Hummel, who first attended the Denver Pride parade in 2015, on Wednesday penned an open letter sent to the event organizers imploring them to reconsider their stance to bar law enforcement from participating.

“I am acutely aware of perceptions and of a strained relationship between police and communities across the nation,” he wrote. “I wholeheartedly agree in police reform and getting to a place where our community trusts their police. Legislation, transparent practices and a raw dialogue are some things that will help us accomplish this … exclusion is not the answer. Excluding the police and further fracturing the relationship that we are working to repair is not how we accomplish change.”

Denver Pride officials have so far not altered their stance.

“While our decision may be perceived by some individuals as excluding one group, I think it’s important to note that some members of our community view our decision as an act of inclusion —specifically some Black or transgender community members who have been asking for this change for many years,” Fuller wrote.

How police will be involved in Aurora Pride later this summer remains to be seen. The board that organizes the event on Wednesday stipulated that members will meet with police brass in the coming weeks to sort out details.

Aurora City Councilperson Alison Coombs, who sits on the Aurora Pride board, floated an idea to allow off-duty police to attend Pride events at the Aurora Reservoir only if they agree not to wear their full, department-issued uniforms.

“I don’t think that telling any LGBTQ person that they don’t belong at Pride is right — you can’t say that if you have a certain job, you’re not allowed to be here,” she said. “I do think when people see someone with a gun, a Taser and a pepper spray canister that a police uniform isn’t just a uniform. It includes … weapons, and it represents the right that nobody else has to use violence with state authorization.”

Amsler said he would support wearing plain clothes or a less technical outfit if it meant people would feel more comfortable.

“If it means that someone who is afraid of me or afraid of the police is willing to come up and talk to me because I’m in plain clothes or a soft uniform, I’m all for it,” he said.

Regardless of what garb off-duty police are permitted to wear at any Pride events this year, on-duty officers will still patrol large gatherings, including Aurora Pride, per municipal policy.

“There’s always going to be some type of police presence at these type of events,” said Amsler, who has previously helped organize security measures at Aurora Pride events.

Both Aurora police and fire officials have attended Denver pride events with fire apparatus and recruiting stations for nearly a decade. In 2019, Aurora police recruiter Abdul Syidi told The Sentinel it was a valuable event for recruiting new police officers.

“It comes and goes as far as getting applicants, but, yes, it’s worth it for us to show up,” he said. “(Pride) is a big deal for us. We really like it.”

It’s unclear if police will set up a recruiting booth at the Aurora Pride festival in the coming months. Amsler said he’s optimistic Aurora police will be able to recruit from the city they serve at the event, and lauded the overall decision of the Aurora Pride board to allow police.

“It’s so great that the LGBTQ community of Aurora can finally have its own celebration of Pride,” he said. “And when I heard that Aurora Pride had made the decision to include APD in that celebration, I was just ecstatic. It’s kind of been an emotional roller coaster the last couple days.”

Denver Pride events are primarily scheduled in the city the weekend of June 26 and 27. This year, the events are virtual because of the pandemic.  Aurora festivities, which are so far planned as public, are slated for the first weekend in August.

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