Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago.
Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago.
Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Complaints and controversy have arisen in the Columbia Police Department following the Sept. 28 SC Pride parade. According to The State, two veteran police officers protested interim Chief Ruben Santiago’s order to march in the gay Pride parade.

The officers said participating in the event would violate their religious beliefs. Officials, however, said the officers were violating a director order. That order was later rescinded when City Manager Teresa Wilson, Assistant City Manager Allison Baker and Santiago learned enough volunteers had stepped forward to participate.

One of the officers later chose to participate in the parade, at the prompting of Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, who said she had encouraged the officer to march.

Santiago said he issued the order to ensure enough participation and representation for the department in the event. Baker said religious beliefs do not exempt an officer from his or her duties.

“There is no policy to give them foundation to claim (a religious exemption),” he said.

Santiago said officers do not have the discretion to pick and choose their assignments. A police department employee also wrote Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin saying officers are sworn to serve and protect all citizens, not just those they accept.

The writer said the oath officers take is to serve and protect everyone, not just people they accept. Officers cannot pick and choose assignments, the writer said.

Santiago has said the department will launch an internal education campaign so officer will “be more diligent when we put out directives … or for voluntary actions.”

One of the officers had reportedly hired an attorney and planned to sue the city. No lawsuit has been filed.

The names of the officers have not been released.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

4 replies on “Columbia police officers protest gay Pride participation”

  1. SC Equality has been working with the City of Columbia officials for several months to improve LGBT-inclusion and change policies to improve LGBT issues in Columbia. The city has appointed LGBT liaisons and is discussing offering LGBT diversity trainings for city employees and CPD officers. We have every confidence that this issue is being resolved and that the outcome will be positive for LGBT people in this city.

  2. I’m a lesbian and my girlfriend and I attended the pride. I feel that marching IN the parade should be voluntary for officers. If you are marching in the parade you are showing your pride or giving your support.

  3. I wish this article was a bit more specific as to the reasons these officers were being asked to march IN the parade. Was it just to follow along and keep order? In that case it is their job, Although it seems like they could have stationed officers along the parade path rather then them being IN the parade. Or was it to show city police support? In that case it should be strictly voluntary.

  4. This is a comment I posted on Facebook when this story was posted. After reading the story, I am not exactly sure what it’s all about, but from what I can tell, it’s all about inner politics. As far as the Police officers at SC Pride, I personally tested them by purposely asking some questions about where to eat and even joked with them. I found that they were very friendly to me, which I noted and was surprised, because most of the time they have shitty attitudes towards our community. Their attitude was entirely different than the police at Charlotte Pride who project a macho, not friendly leave me alone attitude. The officers that I observed at South Carolina Pride actually looked like they were enjoying themselves; the one near the stage was even bee-boopin to the music, when I saw this I kind of laughed to myself. I even spoke to the Mayor for several minutes and as far as mayors go he was super. In my opinion, Columbia law enforcement is heading in the right direction, bravo to them.

    As a person who has seen discrimination and hate for more years than most of the readers here are old. I feel that the officers should have the choice to volunteer if they so choose. We the LGBT fight for our rights every day, but we should not force others to do what they don’t believe in or support. It’s their right if they choose not to march, I hold no grudge, we have the higher ground for being understanding and being able to educate them that we are a fair and loving people. We will prevail.

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