Foyle Pride overshadowed by councillor's criticism of PSNI
PSNI officers did not march at Londonderry's Pride parade after a row erupted on social media about their involvement in the event.
But a gay police officer who manned the PSNI's information stall at the event said that the organisation's presence was crucial to tackling hate crime against the LGBT community.
On Thursday independent councillor Gary Donnelly posted a Facebook status showing several 'Policing with Pride' PSNI vehicles en-route to Londonderry from Belfast.
He claimed that the PSNI was "pretending to care about civil/human rights for some while violating the basic rights of others".
Foyle Pride hit back on its Facebook page, clarifying that the PSNI "had not been invited" and that it had "a blanket ban on uniforms of all kinds" on its parade, a statement that resulted in a furious backlash from followers, some of whom said they would not be attending the parade.
Councillor Donnelly, who attended Saturday's parade, said that to invite the PSNI to march would have been "hypocritical", claiming: "The PSNI is responsible for denying people in this city and in the six counties their very liberties and human rights. I think it would have made a mockery of the parade, and any parade that does include the PSNI is very hypocritical."
But gay PSNI Constable Alan Fenton - who manned the information stall at the event, handing out PSNI recruitment material and advice on reporting hate crime - said that it was crucial for him and fellow officers to be part of Pride to highlight the issues around hate crime.
"The PSNI has been involved in the Pride Festival for the past number of years," he said. "For this year we have an information stand and the policing with pride vehicles throughout the city and the event. Our officers were involved in the flagship parade in Belfast and it was never envisaged that we would participate in all of the pride parades across Northern Ireland. Pride is an important event for those in the community who identify themselves as being LGBT and we see Pride as an opportunity to highlight that hate crime in whatever form is wrong and the importance of reporting it. It allows us to show that we are here to protect all members of the community."
Foyle Pride chairperson Eimear Willis said that it didn't exclude the officers.
"We are a small enough Pride. We do not need a big police presence," she said. "We deal closely with the PSNI LGBT Network and PSNI. We couldn't do the parade without them. It's actually the PSNI who decided not to march. It decided to march in Belfast because it was a flagship Pride.
"If people have a problem with the police not being active in the parade, it's not us, we haven't excluded them. That talk just hasn't happened, and the PSNI made an active decision not to take part, but it is active on the stalls."