The Greater Philadelphia Gay Officer Action League, called GOAL, will no longer lead the Pride parade in June. The LGBT law-enforcement officials from the city and suburbs withdrew from the position of grand marshal May 27, after a petition circulated this month calling for the group’s removal.
“The community has spoken, and GOAL has listened,” the organization said in a statement. “Therefore, it is with great regret that GOAL declines this honor.”
The statement further noted that GOAL is for any LGBTQ-identified criminal justice, corrections, firefighting, EMS and military personnel. Started last year, the group currently includes police, probation and parole officers and sheriff’s deputies from Philadelphia, Bucks and Montgomery counties.
“To represent such a varied and diverse community within the pillars of law enforcement is a monumental task, but one we must accomplish,” the statement said. “In doing so, we have to do it not in opposition to our community, but in concert with it … GOAL will not accept this honor until the community, loudly and proudly, decides we have earned it.”
LGBT employees of the city of Philadelphia will continue to serve as grand marshals. GOAL and city employees were announced as joint parade leaders in April.
GOAL members said in the statement they will still attend Pride festivities as community members and would continue working to earn the community's respect. The statement noted the twenty-year history of LGBT law enforcement officers meeting in Philadelphia before they had the courage to come out in an organized group.
At a board meeting May 25 for Philly Pride Presents, the group that organizes Pride, members spent over an hour discussing the petition and their meeting with petitioners earlier that night, said Franny Price, executive director of Philly Pride. But some longtime members could not attend, and the board did not take a vote on whether to rescind GOAL’s invitation. A vote was expected by the end of the week.
Price was not immediately available for comment May 27.
Nellie Fitzpatrick, director of the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs, attended the meeting between Philly Pride and the petitioners, as did Brian Sims, the first elected openly-gay state lawmaker who represents the Gayborhood and Center City.
At least 350 people signed onto a Change.org petition against GOAL’s participation. At the meeting with Philly Pride, petitioners cited the fact that Pride grew out of the Stonewall riots against police. Several who said they survived police violence in Philadelphia described raids on strip clubs and sexual assaults. They added removing GOAL would be an opportunity for Pride to center racial justice.
The board of the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club also sent a letter this week urging Philly Pride to reconsider GOAL as grand marshals because “there are still tensions between our community and the police force.”
The letter noted Liberty City’s support for GOAL’s mission, but added, “Our nation is in the midst of an important conversation about the use of excessive force by the law enforcement community. In light of that conversation, we feel the invitation to GOAL sends the wrong message.”
Asa Khalif, a member of the group organizing to remove GOAL, said there wasn’t any discussion about calling for the removal of city employees from the head of the Pride parade.
“We didn’t have any concerns for that,” he said, adding, “We didn’t want the police, period. That seems to be where we were united.”
About 25 people met May 26 to discuss next steps to the petition. Khalif said some action was being planned in the event that GOAL was not removed.
"I'm very happy, very pleased with the outcome," Khalif said of GOAL's decision. "I appreciate everyone who stood together to say this couldn't go down."
He added it was about keeping the integrity of the spirit of Stonewall.
Some petitioners said COLOURS, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, would be a good Pride grand marshal. Price said the Philly Pride board was considering the LGBT organization for people of color for an honor at OutFest, an October event that draws a larger crowd.
Jo Mason, a transgender officer in Germantown and president of GOAL, hoped to improve the community’s understanding of the LGBT law-enforcement organization.
“The mission of GOAL is to be the community voice inside law enforcement,” they said at the meeting with petitioners. “I’m an LGBT community member first, and I bring that with me to work every day. Those injustices you stand against, GOAL’s there to stand against those same injustices inside the force.”