Birmingham Pride says police can march in uniform despite calls for ban

Police officers during Birmingham Pride.

Birmingham Pride will allow uniformed police to march in its parade, despite calls for a ban.

Ahead of Birmingham Pride taking place this weekend (24 and 25 September), veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has called for an outright ban on police marching in uniform or with police banners.

Tatchell argued police shouldn’t be allowed to march in uniform due to West Midlands Police chief constable, Sir David Thompson, refusing to apologise for the “past persecution of the LGBT+ community”.

He said: “Until they apologise, the police are not welcome. No apology, no participation.

“Individual officers can march in plainclothes but not the force as an institution.”

Tatchell wrote to Thompson to request an apology, and claimed his force was once “one of the most homophobic in Britain”.

He added: “While you are not responsible for past wrongs, you are head of the force that witch-hunted us.

“In the decades before the full decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2003, West Midlands officers arrested huge numbers of gay and bisexual men for consenting, victimless behaviour.

“They were one of the most zealously homophobic police forces in the country, with arrest figures above the national average.”

Thompson wrote back to Tatchell and said: “It is difficult of (sic) me to apologise for officers enforcing the law, even if those offences today seem quite repugnant.”

Birmingham Pride Festival director Lawrence Barton told PinkNews that despite Tatchell’s calls, organisers have decided to allow uniformed police to march.

“After ongoing and lengthy discussions with the chief constable and the officer with overall responsibility for LGBTQ+ issues and others in the community, we have, for this year, decided to allow officers to choose, as individuals,  if they wish to take part in the pride march in uniform or casual clothes,” Barton said.

“The deputy chief constable has written to me and has expressed that she wants to engage with all of the Pride organisations in the UK, and has, I believe already contacted members of UK Pride Organisers Network (UKPON) to facilitate this.

“I don’t consider the issue around policing to be fully concluded and it will require further consultation and discussion with [West Midlands Police] and the wider community over the coming months.”

Chief constable Thompson told PinkNews:”West Midlands Police aim to be inclusive so everyone can see they can play a role in policing. We are diverse with many LGBTQ+ staff.

“We attend Pride in Birmingham because we want to show we have a force that supports LGBTQ+ staff and wants to provide a good service. Everyone goes in their own time.”

Barton shared that in his view “open dialogue” is the only way to proceed.

“We understand other cities have chosen for the police not to attend in uniform. We are pleased that Birmingham Pride recognises Birmingham is a place where we want to celebrate and bring people together and not create barriers.”

In July, activists successfully lobbied Pride in London into banning uniformed police officers.

Having for years resisted such calls, organisers said: “We agree that the police uniform undermines that balance, and as such we are aligned that it should not feature in our parade.” Officers were allowed to march in plain clothes.

2021 saw a worrying spike in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime in Birmingham. According to a Freedom of Informationpublished on West Midlands Police website, June 2021 alone saw 181 recorded homophobic offences, a rise from 65 in June 2019. 

This figure is the highest recorded over the past four years, and the statistics also show a overall rise in recorded hate crimes, with 1,207 in June 2021, compared to 530 in 2019.