UPDATED | 5:16 p.m.
The Atlanta Pride Committee, greeted with some criticism over its selection of a police officer as a parade grand marshal, on Wednesday worked to quell the discontent by naming the Eagle’s co-owners honorary grand marshals.
Pride announced on Tuesday that gay Rev. Chris Glaser and Atlanta Police Department Officer Dani Lee Harris, the agency’s LGBT liaison, would serve as grand marshals of the Nov. 1 parade. But initial reaction to the selection of Harris criticized the choice in the wake of the police department’s Sept. 10 raid at the Eagle.
On Wednesday, Pride announced that it added Robert Kelley (top photo) and Richard Ramey (bottom photo), the Eagle co-owners, as honorary grand marshals. Kelley was one of eight people arrested during the raid at the popular gay bar on Ponce.
“Of course it’s an honor,” Ramey says. “I feel like that the community is trying to reach out and all come together and work through this together. It is important that we don’t lash out against the entire City of Atlanta police force that protects us. Maybe that’s what the Pride Committee is trying to do, or so I hope. I do hope we were selected for the right reasons. It’s not Richard and Robbie that is selected – we are representing the Atlanta Eagle and what happened at the Atlanta Eagle.”
The Pride Committee selected the grand marshals Aug. 29 from nominations submitted by the general public. That’s two weeks before Harris spoke on behalf of the police department at a rally at City Hall against the raid, thrusting her role as LGBT liaison into the spotlight again.
The Sept. 10 raid at the Eagle has prompted two rallies, an internal investigation by police and calls from a handful of political candidates to find out exactly what happened and why. Even Mayor Shirley Franklin spoke publicly, though reluctantly, about the raid this week.
Pride, in an open letter issued Wednesday, defended the selection of Harris and says “backing away from honoring Officer Harris would be the wrong thing to do.” The organization says Harris was picked for her courage in coming out as interex while working in law enforcement and for serving as a voice for LGBT causes within the police department.
“Since the raid, Officer Harris has done nothing to indicate that she should be removed from the grand marshal post. APC has spoken with Officer Harris, and it is clear to us that she is as frustrated with the actions of the APD as are any of the rest of us,” Pride says in the letter.
The selection of Harris as a grand marshal prompted organizers of the rallies supporting the Eagle to call for a public meeting about the issue. The 90-minute session is set for 4 p.m. on Sunday in Piedmont Park.
Harris says she’s both surprised at the grand marshal selection and the criticism surrounding it.
“I’m extremely excited, even in light of all of the negative things coming about it,” Harris says. “It is refreshing that [Pride] is standing behind me. It was a total shock because I had no idea. I didn’t know it was coming or that I was being considered or thought about. In my field, I understand that I have a thankless job.”
But Harris says critics of her selection fail to see a distinction between her and the uniform she wears.
“I am appalled that no one can have rational sense to separate the uniform from the person. When something bad happens with the police, for some reason, all officers are all thrown into this big bad apple batch. When it is a good story, that is easily and quickly forgotten. When it is negative, that lingers,” Harris says.
Open Letter to the Atlanta LGBTQI Community from the Atlanta Pride Committee
The Atlanta Pride Committee (APC) shares our community’s deep concern over the recent police raid at The Atlanta Eagle. We join the growing number of politicians and community leaders in calling for a swift, thorough, and transparent review of the circumstances that lead up to the raid as well as the conduct of the officers during the raid. The infringement on the civil and human rights of members of our community or any community is fundamentally contrary to what we stand for. Our belief in the dignity of individuals is a core principle of our work.
One of the ways in which we honor the dignity of individuals is through our Parade Grand Marshal program. As part of this program, APC each year requests nominations from the community for grand marshals for the Pride parade. It is one way that APC can honor in a very public way people who make a significant, positive difference in the lives of LGBTQI people in Atlanta. This year, we opened the nomination period on August 3 with a press release, Facebook and Twitter postings, as well as notification on our website. Gay media outlets published stories on the request for nominations, and we sent several reminders via Facebook, Twitter, and our newsletter.
When the nomination period closed, we had received just two suggestions for people who use female pronouns. The Atlanta Pride Committee discussed both candidates and voted to invite Officer Harris to be a Grand Marshal. This all happened well before the raid on The Eagle.
Making the announcement of Officer Harris as one of our grand marshals in the wake of the raid has caused some members of our community distress. We understand how and why this is the case. However, it is important to APC for our community to understand that we chose Officer Harris as grand marshal for two reasons:
• She showed exemplary courage in publicly coming out as intersex while working in a potentially hostile environment.
• Through speaking engagements and diversity training, she has served well as a voice for the LGBTQI community within a police force that includes gay and gay-friendly officers as well as others who still clearly have more to learn.
If Officer Harris had come out as intersex prior to the 2008 Pride Festival, it is quite possible that she would have been honored last year. Her story came to light in the July 11, 2008 edition of Southern Voice. The Festival was held over Fourth of July weekend.
But we are able to honor her this year, and we are proud to do so. Since the raid, Officer Harris has done nothing to indicate that she should be removed from the grand marshal post. APC has spoken with Officer Harris, and it is clear to us that she is as frustrated with the actions of the APD as are any of the rest of us. She assured us that:
• An active decision was made by management within APD to exclude her before, during, and after the raid.
• Officer Harris has publicly expressed frustration with the way APD conducted itself before and during the raid.
• She supports the requests for an investigation into the activities of the APD surrounding this raid.
• She is actively advocating for a reform of standard operating procedures within the APD to ensure that similar circumstances do not occur again, and to outline repercussions for ignoring the procedures.
APC stands by our decision to honor Officer Harris. The real issue here is with APD, not with Officer Harris. In fact, both HRC and SoVo have honored Harris in recent months – HRC gave her their “Leon Allen and Winston Johnson Community Leadership Award” (May 2, 2009) and SoVo named her their “Editor’s Choice for Best Up and Coming Activist” (October 17, 2008). That’s just in the last 12 months of her five-year tenure as GLBT Liaison to the police department.
We share the community’s frustration and even anger for the way the patrons and employees of The Eagle were treated. But vilifying Dani Lee Harris is not the answer. It only serves to divide our community further over one of our own. Officer Harris has been an out, proud and active voice for LGTBQI people within APD since she started as a recruit in 2003.
The Eagle raid only serves to underscore the need for vocal advocates like Officer Harris in potentially hostile environments such as law enforcement.
We take issue with the APD and City management, but backing away from honoring Officer Harris would be the wrong thing to do. The right thing to do, the best thing to do, is to show our community’s support for her and the need to strengthen her role in APD – even more now than when she was selected as one of our grand marshals.