At the NUS' recent Trans Conference, the Trans Campaign voted for a policy pledging to campaign against the attendance of police staff in uniform at Pride events. This move has been widely reported as a 'ban' of police attending Prides. In doing so, it attributes more power to the student movement than it has - most students I know can't even paint their own bedrooms without the permission of their landlord, never mind exclude a powerful state institution from attending a particular event. Imagine if the student movement did have this sort of power - we certainly wouldn't be paying £9,000 a year in tuition fees.
Many LGBT people have forgotten that the first Pride was organised to mark the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Stonewall was a spontaneous uprising of trans women of colour, drag queens, and homeless queer kids in response to the frequent police raids of gay bars in New York. The first Pride looked more a protest than a carnival, but even now as Pride has lost its connection to its overtly political roots it still tends towards rebellion and irreverancy. For people who know that radical history, who understand that Pride is a commemoration of an anti-police riot and who see Pride as a protest still, the presence of police marching with us at Pride often feels uneasy.
Some say it is a welcome sign that times have changed, that the police have come on leaps and bounds in their treatment of LGBT issues. Its undoubtedly true that the days of raids on gay bars and entrapment of LGBT people are, thankfully, in the past. I can understand, given this improvement, that perhaps people might be confused - angry even - about the majority of the Trans Campaign's delegates voting in favour of this particular motion. However, in all of the considerable discussion this policy has generated, it is striking that I have not seen one person ask why so many trans students, from all areas of the UK, live in fear of the police.
We know that the police have a problem with institutional racism in this country, and we know that the police are more likely to patrol working class areas. Because the police do not usually collect data on trans status of the people they search or arrest, we cannot know for sure whether the police are institutionally transphobic. However, the little data we do have points in that direction: trans people are more likely to be unemployed, have mental health problems, to be poor, and more likely to need to take on criminalised work in order to survive. This means that they are more likely to come into contact with the police, to be searched or arrested. And as a general rule, the more you come into contact with the police the more you fear them.
Like many people, I was brought up on the advice that if ever I was lost or needed help, I should find a police officer and ask for assistance. It came as a shock when the first time I was victim of a hate crime, the policeman I reported it to laughed at me. When I was sexually assaulted and went to the police, the police victim-blamed me. When I went to my first protest, despite the fact I was not breaking any laws, I was hit so hard by a police baton I fell unconscious. When I did break the law at a protest and I got arrested along with 5 other non-trans people, I was the only one of our number to be strip-searched, the only thing setting me apart from the others was my trans status. Perhaps I have had a string of bad luck, encountering all the bad apples in the barrel. But talking to other trans people, many of whom have had similar experiences, this mistreatment no longer shocks me. When it comes to transphobia, bad apples are unfortunately rather common.
I know that work is being done to educate the police in order to make them more culturally competent when it comes to dealing with the trans community. This is an education that every person in public life desperately needs, and I applaud those who are working - often unpaid - to provide this service. But this work is a drop in the ocean in terms of the work that is needed to reform society such that everyone regardless of gender, class, race or any other factor, is protected and served equally.
I was not given a choice as to whether I was to experience violence at the hands of the police. But police staff do have the ability to choose whatever they want to wear when attending Pride events. In order to ensure that Pride events are safe and accessible to all LGBT people, including those who have experienced police violence, I will be saying to Pride organisers: have individual police at Pride, but ask them to leave their badge and uniform at home.