By Terrance Turner
In the wake of the deadly shooting at a gay Orlando nightclub—which killed 49 people and injured 53 others—changes are being made to Houston’s upcoming Pride parade. HPD Executive Assistant Chief George Buenik stated on Monday that the police department is re-assessing its plans for the parade, which takes place on June 25. “We think we had a good plan in place to begin with,” he said, “but I met with acting Police Chief [Martha] Montalvo today, and we are going to increase additional staffing.” There will be additional officers in police cars, on bikes, and on foot, he said. In addition, plainclothes officers will be behind the scenes.
The plans have not been finalized, the assistant chief cautioned. It was not yet clear how many more officers would be in attendance: “We don’t have any specific numbers at this time.” Further, some security measures would be dispensed with. “For a parade, it’s an open venue; we don’t have checkpoints, so there will be no bag checking,” Buenik said.
Throughout the speech and following Q&A, the chief spoke in reassuring tones. “We’ve successfully provided law enforcement services and security for the Pride parade for a number of years,” Buenik said, adding, “We’ve never really had any problems or major incidents.” In response to a question about potential problems with a controversial handgun law in Texas, he calmly dismissed the concerns. “Open Carry really hasn’t been a problem for us since it was implemented in January,” he said. “As far as I know, we haven’t made any arrests.” He encouraged potential guests to not be fearful of attending: “We want people to come downtown to enjoy the parade. We don’t want them to be in any type of fear, because we’re going to be down there trying to keep everybody safe.”
In an emotional speech given during Monday’s vigil at the Montrose Center, Pride Houston CEO Frankie Quijano echoed those sentiments and added some strong ones of his own. “What you will see are more HPD officers inside and outside the festival area, as well as along the parade route. We’ve added more private security forces throughout the entire celebration footprint,” he told the crowd. “You will see metal-detection devices all throughout the celebration. There will be random searches of vehicles within the festival to include vendors, volunteers, entries, and guests.”
Quijano revealed that a 20 x 30 rainbow flag with the names of the Orlando victims written on it will be present at the festival. Guests are invited to sign their own names to the flag. It will be delivered to the Orlando parade as a show of support. Quijano added, “This flag will also be marching at the beginning of our own Pride parade for all to see, and remember, those who have fallen.”
The leader of the organization responsible for arranging Houston Pride also addressed the fears of those uneasy about attending. “I’ve heard some talk of people not attending because they are afraid. Everyone must make [their] own decision for themselves,” Quijano said. However, he remained resolute in his decision to continue. “Pride will still be happening. We will not let fear control us or force us back into the closet. Our community has come too far in our fight for equality to turn back now,” Quijano forcefully intoned, his voice rich with emotion. “Let your light shine in our community’s darkest hour.”