If Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has anything to say about it, his officers will shine at the head of the city’s Pride Parade.
The department’s new “Pride Car” is ready to go. It’s gassed up. Rainbow decals gleam from every side, saluting Houston’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Acevedo plans to be front and center Saturday and he’s strongly encouraged his top leadership to join him in the march.
But not everyone is ready to join the parade. The prospect of marching in the free-spirited gay-rights celebration has some members of his leadership crying foul, and pictures of the festive cruiser sparked contentious debate on social media from nonplussed naysayers.
The behind-the-scenes brouhaha comes as Acevedo — who just celebrated six months as the city’s top cop — continues his efforts to remake the department and bring it in line with his ethos for “relational policing.”
He’s made it clear he expects his command staff to maintain a visible presence at major community events.
When asked about the complaints Friday, Acevedo said he hadn’t received any pushback from subordinates, only a call from the union asking if attendance was mandatory.
“If people are available, like any other community event, I expect them to be there,” he said. “If they’re not available, and they have a conflict, they just have to let me know.”
Union officials, meanwhile, attributed the confusion to miscommunication.
“We’re supportive of the pride parade and all our members who are LGBTQ,” said Houston Police Officers Union Vice President Joseph Gamaldi. “From my understanding, it was suggested captains attend the pride parade, but it was not mandatory.”
Gamaldi’s co-vice president, Doug Griffith, said the union had contacted Acevedo after receiving concerns from some members.
“We’re requesting the chief not order [people to march], but ask for volunteers,” he said. “Like you wouldn’t force someone to do something against their religious beliefs, I don’t think it’s fair to ask them to do that.”
He said their hesitance to participate does not signal an unwillingness to protect and serve the community.
“Just because they don’t want to march in the parade doesn’t mean they’re not going to give the same quality of service to people, regardless of race or sexual orientation,” he said. “Being as it’s the second largest parade in Houston, I would expect some of our command staff to be there anyway.”
‘A symbol of unity and service’
Acevedo first rolled out a pride car last year while police chief in Austin, after seeing the New York Police Departmentunveil a similar car during New York’s pride parade.
He said he wanted to support Austin’s LGBT community, still reeling from the hate-fueled massacre on June 12, 2016 of 49 revelers at Pulse, a popular gay nightclub in Orlando.
“That car served as a symbol of unity and service above all else,” he said, recalling seeing Austin parade-goers in tears when they saw the rainbow-splashed cruiser roll by. “The reaction of that community … made me realize once I got to Houston, I wanted to recreate that here.”
The department declined to allow the Chronicle to photograph the vehicle or say how much it cost to trick it out for the parade, but photos have long-since leaked online.
The parade — set to begin at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the intersection of Lamar and Smith Streets — is expected to draw 500,000 revelers.
Over the decades, law enforcement and gay and lesbian communities across the country have had a fraught relationship. Advocates across the nation traditionally march in June to mark the anniversary of the birth of the gay-rights movement, the Stonewall Uprising of June 28, 1969, when NYPD officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar and nightclub.
The subsequent riots and activism are credited with sparking the gay civil rights movement.
In Houston, the department has long participated or provided security for the city’s pride parades, said Jodi Silva, an HPD spokeswoman.
Officers march in other multicultural parades when invited, she said, including events celebrating Juneteenth, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Cinco de Mayo and Independence Day.
After photos of HPD’s Pride Car were posted online, social media users launched into a lively debate. Some questioned why the department was “taking sides” on a “political and social agenda.”
“Our police should remain neutral in these issues,” one user wrote. “I think a police car should remain painted neutrally like a police car.”
Numerous others, however, cheered the department’s decision to support the city’s LGBT population.
“People have got to chill,” wrote one HPD sergeant, who identified herself as a lesbian. “There are vehicles and memorials honoring other groups of people, there’s associations, there’s laws to protect them too…you know what we don’t have? Someone representing the GLBT Community, someone to support us, someone to open up with and feel comfortable.”
She continued, “I am proudly serving this city and I will proudly take a shot for any of you! Regardless of what you think of me or my community!!! If that makes you uncomfortable too bad. … I’ll drive it! I will represent with pride!!!!”
Acevedo, meanwhile, said the community comes first.
“We have one of the most diverse communities — THE most diverse community — in the country,” he said. “Community policing is about all communities. Community policing is about reaching out to every segment of society.”
Source: Chron News
Photo Credit: Rick Oliver
Photo Credit: Chron News