To close out Pride Month, Jezebel presents On Pride: A series of conversations with LGBTQ artists and activists about our communities’ relationship with police, building queer spaces outside of the parade, and other pressing issues affecting queer and trans people nationwide.
Queer Americans’ history with the police is one of violent oppression. The Stonewall riots of 1969, the “birthplace” of LGBTQ civil rights in the United States which all modern Pride celebrations trace their roots to, began with a police raid of a New York City gay bar, after all. While some LGBTQ people are no longer at such risk for police harassment, the more vulnerable members of these communities—people who are black and other people of color, trans, low-income, homeless, undocumented, disabled, and/or sex workers—are still at risk for experiencing violence at the hands of law enforcement.
Because of this ongoing tension, the presence of uniformed police officers at Pride celebrations has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, particularly when those officers proceed to arrest the very same queer and trans people they claim to be keeping safe from harm.
One such incident occurred in Philadelphia in early June. ReeAnna Segin, a 20-year-old community organizer and educator from New Jersey, was arrested at the city’s annual Pride Day Parade on Sunday, June 10th after allegedly attempting to burn a Blue Lives Matter flag. (Blue Lives Matter is the pro-cop countermovement established in response to Black Lives Matter’s organizing around police brutality in black communities.) Police officers also say that they found road flares, paint thinner, and a lighter stick in Segin’s backpack, per The Philadelphia Inquirer. Segin was held overnight in jail before being transferred to a men’s prison, Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, despite the fact that she is a trans woman. (Trans women are frequently housed in men’s prison facilities, where they face disproportionately high rates of violence. About one-third of trans people who were incarcerated were physically and/or sexually assaulted by staff and other inmates, per the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 survey on trans Americans.)
Segin, who was repeatedly deadnamed in early reports of her arrest, was released on bail the following day. She was charged with two first-degree felonies, attempted arson and causing/risking a catastrophe, along with the misdemeanor offenses of possessing an instrument of crime and recklessly endangering another person. The Philadelphia district attorney’s office withdrew the felony charges, reports 6ABC Action News, but the misdemeanor offenses remain.
Soon after her release, I had the chance to speak with Segin about her experience. She was measured and self-assured, choosing her words carefully and taking ample pauses as needed in order to make sure that she said what she wanted to say and nothing more. Mostly, we talked about police presence at Pride, and the event’s past, present, and future. On the question of police, she was unwavering that it was “disrespectful to the founding moments of Pride itself.”
“Going back to Stonewall, Pride is about rebelling against the government and against the police for oppressing you because of your queerness,” she said. “Our battle with the police is not over. They are still putting trans women in men’s prisons. They are still targeting oppressed communities.”
Our conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
JEZEBEL: For those of us who don’t live in Philadelphia, what’s Philly Pride like?
REEANNA SEGIN: There’s a parade where different organizations have to sign up in order to walk, and then afterwards there is a ticketed event with vendors and entertainment that you have to buy a wristband for. I’m against that. I understand having a good time at Pride, but Pride should be a political statement no matter what you’re doing. It shouldn’t be an event that costs money or requires a ticket to get into. That’s kind of classist and super exclusionary to a lot of people in the queer community, especially since so many people in the queer community have trouble making money and getting jobs. Low-income LGBTQ people are struggling, not only because they’re LGBTQ but also because they’re often black and people of color along with being LGBTQ. Trans people of color struggle so hard to get a job. All trans people do.
Who did you see at the parade?
Mainly, the people I noticed coming out were the white, liberal, cisgender gays and lesbians. That’s not to say that there weren’t other queer people there, but the majority of it was just cisgender gays having a party.
If not that, what do you think Pride should be?
I don’t think companies, or really anyone, should be taking advantage of Pride for monetary gain. Pride has historically been such a rebellion. Going back to Stonewall, Pride is about rebelling against the government and against the police for oppressing you because of your queerness.
How do you feel about seeing cops shift from an antagonistic role at Stonewall to a collaborative one today?
They’re still in an antagonistic role. They haven’t changed. They seem to want to convince people that they’re just there to help, but really they’re there to make sure no one makes a political statement.
I know you don’t want to discuss the details of your arrest since your case is ongoing, but can you tell me what lighting fire to a piece of pro-cop paraphernalia like a Blue Lives Matter flag might symbolize?
So, if someone were to decide to go with that plan of action, it would be a good way to make a statement about police brutality in marginalized communities, especially when the Blue Lives Matter movement is an oppressive and reactionary response to Black Lives Matter. Cops took the black community’s way of saying “We’re dying” and made it about cops. It’s racist in its roots and racist throughout.
I read that you had been housed in a men’s prison while in police custody. I’m not going to ask you to go into the specifics of that experience, but I was wondering if you wanted to talk about the impact that would have on a person to be housed in non-affirming facility—wait, I don’t want to call any prison facility “affirming.”
I know what you mean.
Do you want to talk about the impact that would have on a trans person, being housed in the wrong facility?
Trans women are more likely to face violence and sexual assault in prison when they’re put in a men’s prison. They have to worry about violence from other inmates and from the guards. Being put in a men’s prison can also have a huge mental impact, as well. It puts a trans woman in a position where she will be constantly and casually misgendered, which can trigger intense feelings of dysphoria and a sense of invalidation as a woman. It can make you feel like you’re being made a mockery of, that you are inhuman.
Reading about your arrest and the arrest of the Black Pride 4 in Ohio last year, I started thinking about the role Pride organizers play in these arrests by deciding to collaborate with police in the first place.
Organizers of Pride should not be willing to incorporate police into Pride events. I think it’s disrespectful to the founding moments of Pride itself.
You talked about feeling alienated at your local Pride events. Do you have people and communities in your life who make you feel embraced and cared for?
The response by local organizers as well as organizers and supportive people around the world has really inspired me and given me hope that we can make this world a safer and better place for queer people.
What would a safer and better place for queer people look like?
I think one of the beginning steps needs to be getting rid of government-orchestrated oppression. We need to work on the public education system. We need to work on getting health care more easily accessible to queer youth and queer adults. There’s a housing crisis among queer youth. So many young people are homeless because they’re LGBTQ. We need to work on community organizing to really help the people that need to be helped in these marginalized communities.
If you would like to donate to Segin’s legal fund, you can do so on Venmo (@ugly-chin-66) and/or PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org).