On June 1st, a community safety alert account @defendpdx tweeted a user-submitted photo of graffiti on the sidewalk in Portland after protests following the death of George Floyd. In the center of the photo, spray-painted in big white letters, was the phrase “BOTTOMS, TOPS / WE ALL H8 COPS.”
The chant “Bottoms, tops, we all hate cops” has become the unofficial slogan of Pride month in a year Black Lives Matter protests are the central focus. Tall bottoms and short tops can come together for one cause: abolishing the police.
Where did the phrase come from? While the origin is still a mystery, the chant is a favorite among queer and leftist activists. Just a year ago, during New York’s Queer Liberation March in June 2019, a group walked through Manhattan holding a banner with the phrase.
The chant was popularized again online in August after counterprotesters at the far-right Straight Pride rally in Boston began shouting, “Bottoms and tops, we all hate cops.”
Sure, the slogan is tongue-in-cheek, but it serves a genuine purpose. The queer community, especially Black and trans people, are disproportionally the victims of violence — and, historically, police violence.
According to the New York City Anti-Violence Project, transgender people are seven times more likely to experience violence when interacting with the police compared to cisgender people, and the National Center for Transgender Equality reports nearly three out of all four deadly anti-LGBT hate crimes in the U.S. were committed against trans women and girls. The Human Rights Campaign reports on average at least 22 transgender and gender-nonconforming people are victims of fatal violence every year. The LGBTQ community is calling for an investigation after Tony McDade, a Black trans man, was shot and killed by police in Tallahassee, Florida, on May 27th, two days after George Floyd was killed.
This means chants like “Bottoms, tops, we all hate cops” aren’t just witty. They hold serious weight, and not just in the United States. Forbes reported in 2019 that at least 331 trans people globally were killed last year.
“Anti-police sentiment is pretty worldwide,” Lakan Umali, a professor at the University of the Philippines Mindanao, tells me. He tweeted the phrase “Bottoms, tops, we all hate cops!” in September after the Philippine National Police opposed an LGBT equality bill.
Umali is more interested in what the phrase symbolizes than its origin. “It’s difficult to pinpoint where a chant started because by its nature a chant is meant to be done collectively,” Umali says. “They’re kind of like folklore.”
Like any good meme, “Bottoms, tops, we all hate cops” has been modified. This time it’s to include all sexual positions, specifically switches (ones who oscillate between dominant and submissive roles). “I don’t want cops to think we don’t hate them too,” Rebecca Shaw, a podcaster and Twitter personality who identifies as a switch, tells me. If there’s one thing that all queer folks should get behind, it’s fucking the police.