DENVER — An Aurora police sergeant is making headlines after writing a letter asking the organizers of Denver PrideFest to reconsider its decision to exclude law enforcement from this year's events.
"Just like anybody who is wanting to bring about change, which is what I'm trying to do, you have to do it outwardly," Sgt. Bill Hummel said. "It really felt like we were taking a step back."
In the email, which was first published by The Sentinel, Hummel writes about his early struggles as both a gay man and a gay police officer.
"We've gone from the Stonewall riots to an age where now we have openly gay police serving on police forces," he said.
He never thought he'd be unwelcome at a pride parade.
"We're a part of the LGBT community, and we're being ousted by our own," Hummel said.
For years, police departments have marched along pride parade routes, often to the road of the crowd.
The @AuroraPD sergeant says it's a minority who wants police excluded from Denver's pride events this year. He shared this video w/ me this morning, showing the crowds cheering the officers on as they marched in 2018.— Pattrik Perez (@PattrikPerez) May 21, 2021
The full story at 6 on @DenverChannel. pic.twitter.com/FTSLZpqgQT
Hummel attended Denver's pride parade in 2015 for the first time as an openly gay police officer.
"The first time I walked down Colfax in that parade, it was just overwhelming," he said. "It was a bit surreal because it wasn't something that I had ever pictured myself doing."
But after last year's Black Lives Matter protests against police violence, the parade's organizers felt they had to take a stand and decided this week to prohibit police from participating in the virtual parade and other in-person events.
"I think that this is a symbolic action to really address departments. [It's] not aimed at individuals, though I admit that this is a difficult and sometimes divisive decision that does affect individuals," The Center on Colfax CEO Rex Fuller said. "I think that's why we have struggled so much with this decision and why for so many years we've really tried to put off this decision."
Fuller regrets that officers like Hummel feel they're being excluded simply because of their badge.
"I personally, and I think many of the people here at our organization, have the greatest respect for the work that Sgt. Hummel does in the community," he said.
But he believes excluding them is a necessary step to start a conversation regarding police reform, especially among the Black and transgender communities. He's not reconsidering the decision.
"I feel that we need to listen to those voices to really try and begin a conversation about this issue and really address how we can have a more fair environment for everyone," Fuller said.
Hummel feels that conversation can't happen without police.
"There's no secret that there are sources of consternation between the police and in communities right now and a bit of a fractured relationship. We can't facilitate change and progress if we don't have a seat at the table," he said.
For now, Hummel will continue building a relationship with the community and celebrating who he is at Aurora Pride. Its organizers have chosen not to exclude police.
You can read Hummel's full letter to The Center on Colfax below:
Dear Executive Staff of The Center,
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Bill Hummel. I currently supervise a team of detectives who investigate child deaths, child sexual assaults and serious child abuses in the Crimes Against Children Unit with the Aurora Police Department. I have proudly served my community as a gay police officer since 2011.
I am writing to you because I am quite disheartened to learn that police officers would not be welcomed at Denver’s PrideFest. I vividly remember beginning my career in law enforcement and being absolutely mortified of how I would ever progress in such a career as a gay man. After my initial training and more exposure to the organization, I would come to find that dozens of openly gay men and women work for the Aurora Police Department. I heard stories from them about how they paved the way for young officers like me to be able to work in the field as an openly gay cop. Decades ago, I would have been hazed and fired for being gay.
In 2015, I finally got up the personal courage to march with APD in the PrideFest parade. I had tears rolling down my face as I walked westbound on that mile stretch of Colfax. Not only did I come out of the closet, but I was marching in my police uniform in front of the whole world. I will never forget when we neared Clarkson Street and my Mom ran out in the middle of Colfax Avenue to hug her gay police officer son. I had come so far and I finally understood why the festivities were referred to as “Pride.” I spent the next several years much more involved in the events. I organized more officers, I worked to recruit more LGBTQ applicants, I helped build floats, I worked with local businesses to have patrol cars wrapped in rainbow logos and I saw the birth of an Aurora Pride. A now-retired colleague called us “faggots” behind our backs while we organized. He went on to file complaints to city leadership that APD was marching for a “special interest group,” that being the LGBTQ community. Some members of the community spewed anti-gay hate while APD ramped-up efforts to be more outwardly involved in pride and fostered the concept of inclusivity.
In the last several decades, society has progressed in remarkable ways. In the 1960s police were beating gay people and now I am serving as a gay police officer. The Aurora Police Department has worked so hard to bridge the gap between police and our incredibly diverse community- I know this because I have personally been a part of that effort on many levels. Your decision to exclude the APD from marching in the Pride Fest undermines so much work that my colleagues and I have done. Rather than fighting for inclusivity, you are excluding a group of gay, lesbian and transgendered people from participating. How are we to be a part of the change if you won’t have us at all? Your decision to exclude APD Officers from participating represents an unfair condemnation of our entire profession. Such a blanket condemnation of all LGBTQ people would be abhorrent.
I am acutely aware of perceptions and of a strained relationship between police and communities across the nation. I wholeheartedly agree in police reform and getting to a place where our community trusts their police. Legislation, transparent practices and a raw dialogue are some things that will help us accomplish this. But, Executive Staff Members, exclusion is not the answer. Excluding the police and further fracturing the relationship that we are working to repair is not how we accomplish change.
There may be a small faction that does not want police present, but I do not believe for a second that the majority of the LGBTQ community wishes to exclude APD. The parade route resembles a standing ovation when my colleagues and I walk through- I have seen it year after year. We are an integral part of our community and should be treated with the same respect that is given to others. I am a police officer by profession, but I must remind you that behind my badge is a beating human heart full of love for my LGBTQ friends and family. I humbly request you to reconsider your decision to oust the APD from a celebration that is fundamentally built on inclusion.
Sergeant Bill Hummel
Aurora Police Department
Crimes Against Children Unit