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Police given Pride dress code amid 'concern' over uniforms and rainbow badges under 'anti

Aug 08, 2023

GMP chief takes stance on rainbow badges, while Pride organisers raise concerns about uniforms on parade

Police officers have been told they cannot decorate their uniforms with rainbow badges and patches at this month's Manchester Pride.

The Manchester Evening News has learned that Chief Constable Stephen Watson has told officers that, if they are in uniform and working at the event later this month, they cannot adorn it with any Pride-related emblems. Officers who are off-duty have his permission to wear their uniforms to Pride, it's understood, but not to decorate it with anything.

At the same time, it's understood that Manchester Pride had initially told GMP that it does not want off-duty officers marching in uniform at all at the parade part of the event for the second year running.

It means GMP officers taking part in August 26's parade will have to stick to a dress code which suits both sides.

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A source within GMP has claimed that Mr Watson's more 'old-fashioned' approach means he refers to the uniform as 'the King's cloth', and that as such it shouldn't be tampered with.

The news follows a decision made by Manchester Pride last year, in which off-duty Greater Manchester Police officers were asked not to attend the parade in uniform, after organisers warned of ‘increased levels of concern’ about the effect of the presence of cops in police gear at events on some members of the LGBT+ community.

Off-duty officers were instead asked to wear 'civilian clothing' or t-shirts with the Progress Pride flag.

The Manchester Evening News has been told by a police source that the reason for this decision was because feedback from the LGBTQ+ community said some people would feel 'oppressed' and 'threatened'.

Off-duty officers from Greater Manchester Police had marched in the parade in their uniforms in previous years and officers on and off-duty had worn rainbow emblems on uniforms at the event. Pictures taken from Pride in 2019, before Mr Watson became Chief Constable, show officers from Greater Manchester Police taking part in the parade with patches, epaulettes and lanyards in rainbow colours - the rainbow flag being a symbol of LGBT+ pride dating back to the late seventies.

Mr Watson's tenure has marked a culture shift. On taking the job two years ago, Mr Watson gave an interview in which he said he believed the public was 'fed up' with 'virtue-signalling police officers' and believed that the impartiality of officers could be undermined by responses to campaign groups including actions such as taking the knee or wearing rainbow pins, badges or shoelaces.

The interview led to Mr Watson gaining a reputation as the country's 'anti-woke' police chief.

At Pride in 2022, officers on duty were prevented from wearing rainbow epaulettes or laces, as per requests from Chief Constable Stephen Watson.

The previous year, Mr Watson told the Telegraph that police officers' traditional impartiality was being put at risk by 'making common cause' with campaign groups.

“Whether it be through adulterating the uniform with pins and tabs and badges or whatever, and having all manner of florid social media accounts. These are all things which I think leave the public cold, and I just personally don't think they have a place in policing,” he told the newspaper.

The Telegraph also previously reported Mr Watson was against 'police officers putting rainbows on their epaulettes and wearing rainbow shoelaces'.

Meanwhile, it is understood that for 2023, off-duty officers had again been asked by Manchester Pride not to wear their uniforms in the parade. However, after the M.E.N learned of this and approached both sides for comment, it is understood a meeting took place in recent days between GMP and Manchester Pride and that the force has now applied for permission for off-duty officers to take part in the parade in uniform. It's not yet known if they will be granted permission.

GMP's Deputy Chief Constable Terry Woods said: “GMP is honoured to serve and be represented by members of all communities within Greater Manchester, including the LGBTQ+ community. Members of the force LGBTQ+ Network, understandably, want to attend the parade so have made an application to Manchester Pride, which is currently under consideration by the board.

“GMP fully supports officers attending the parade in their uniforms but, as part of the focus on improving standards in GMP over the last two years, officers have been asked not to customise their uniform in any way so that it remains consistent across all members of the force and is appropriate during the response to any incident or emergency.”

A spokesperson for Manchester Pride said: “We have a longstanding relationship with Greater Manchester Police. As a partner of Manchester Pride Festival and the broader charity, we are in regular communication. We have received an application from GMP to take part in this year’s parade which is being considered through our normal process. We are proud of the relationship we have nurtured with GMP and will continue to work with them in the future to support our community.”

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