Take a flight of fancy with me for a moment. The scene is the 8th District police precinct in the French Quarter. It is a pre-shift meeting for beat cops. The Captain announces that since it’s Pride month, they have rainbow badges for everyone. The reaction in the room is varied. Many roll their eyes. A few make jokes under the breath. Some are genuinely happy at the announcement. The one lesbian and one gay male cop in the room are swelling with pride and can’t wait to don the badges.
As the cops, and badges, hit the streets, the public reaction is even more varied. Imagine:
A white gay male sees the badges and thinks: “That’s awesome. We’ve made so much progress. I need a latte.”
A young black trans man sees the cops walking and, badge notwithstanding, thinks: “I better watch myself and not get in trouble. Don’t make eye contact. If I get arrested, they’ll put me in the male population in jail. When they discover I have a pussy, they’ll gang-rape me.”
A non-binary college student majoring in social justice sees the badges and thinks: “What a croc of shit! Those assholes have no business wearing those badges. They hate us!”
A young trans woman of color sees the badges and thinks: “The cops weren’t wearing any rainbows when they arrested me last month for no damn reason.”
A trans activist sees the badges and thinks: “Is that for real? If so, why do they keep misgendering trans women who are murdered?”
A middle-aged lesbian sees the badges and thinks: “I wonder if that’s just a cheap PR stunt. Anyway, I guess that’s better than having them raid our bars and tear gas us in the streets.”
All of the aforementioned reactions are valid for, after all, perception is based on individual experiences and biases. And since everyone has different life experiences and varying degrees of privilege (or lack thereof), it’s no surprise that the reaction on social media last week to the debut of the NOPD’s rainbow pride badges was mixed.
When a rival publication posted an article titled “Why the NOPD’s rainbow badges are an insult to queer liberation,” some people went ballistic. LGBTQ+ groups on various social media platforms lit up with heated threads. Cynics claimed it was all bullshit and argued the badges were meaningless. Others pointed out that the idea for the badges came from a gay officer. Those who didn’t like the badges pointed to the long history of homophobic oppression within the NOPD. Still others rebutted that change has to start somewhere. Some asked the question at the heart of the matter—how do you show support without being patronizing?
As a realist, I think that is a very good and very difficult question. As a historian and pragmatist, I would have probably advised the NOPD brass to do things a little differently. For example:
Before rolling out rainbow badges, issue a formal apology for previous wrongs—especially a history of financial shakedowns and bar raids as well as the horrific response to the Up Stairs Lounge fire
Meet with trans advocates to really hear their grievances
Provide training and adopt policies to address trans issues
Don’t wait to the end of the month to roll out the badges
Make wearing them optional
Many people are angry with the police and that is understandable. If that anger is ever to subside, the NOPD needs to acknowledge the harm they have and continue to impose on LGBTQ+ people. Acknowledging the problem is the first step in solving it. I realize some will say most cops are good and invoke the “few bad apples” metaphor. And while that is true, let us not forget the federal Consent Decree that the U.S. Department of Justice recently imposed on NOPD. It takes more than a few “bad apples” to earn a Justice Department Consent Decree.
Rainbow badges are a nice gesture but the vehement backlash against them illustrates it will take much more than a rainbow badge to gain the trust of many within our community.