Normally, I don't get into politics on this blog but this is something that has been bothering me and so I wanted to share my thoughts.
Ottawa has been preparing for this year's Gay Pride Parade in August. The organizers had asked any off-duty police who wish to march in the parade to please do so out of uniform, as many younger members of the LGBTQ+ community have negative associations with the uniform. Particularly members of colour and other minority groups.
This raised a flurry of opinions. There were many police officers who felt conflicted about being asked to deny a part of themselves, as they are proud to be both supporters and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community and police officers. A few days after this request, the Chief of Police made a public statement that he intended to wear his uniform and would leave it up to the discretion of individual officers as to whether or not they intended to follow suit.
That raised a blizzard of opinions. Some people felt the original request was divisive and disrespectful of the police and the work they do. Some people felt the Chief's response was disrespectful and exemplified why members of the LGBTQ+ community didn't feel safe around police. There were accusations of being insensitive, of privilege, of fear-mongering, of catering to stereotypes. It's been a very polarizing issue.
I find myself torn. On the one hand, I can understand being proud of one's job and particularly with the police, seeing this as an opportunity to show support and change the stereotype of the unfriendly and insensitive cop. But, in the end, I feel that the community's request should be honoured. If they say they're not ready for that step, then that should be respected. I can understand how the request would hurt and make some officers feel as if they have to choose between their identity as a cop and their identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and allies.
But does it have to be an all or nothing proposal? The police uniform is a symbol and while it is intended as a symbol of protection, in reality it can also be a symbol of oppression. And, to be clear, this is separate from the actual person inside the uniform, who can have all the good intentions and empathy in the world. So how can the gap be bridged? How can police officers send the message that they are part of the solution without having to deny themselves?
This may be simplistic, but what about an official Ottawa Police Department t-shirt for the event? Officers could wear the usual Ottawa Police Department shirt or if the department really wanted to show support, they could make a special shirt: Police and Proud. It would allow them to identify themselves and build bridges without having to bring in the symbol of the uniform.