The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) is still deliberating police involvement in the 2017 parade and no petition outweighs any other form of community feedback, organizers say.
The VPS received a petition on Feb 20, 2017, supporting fully uniformed police in this year’s parade. The petition runs counter to Black Lives Matter Vancouver’s online call for the complete removal of police.
The counter-petition is spearheaded by Vancouver Gay Liberation Front co-founder Gordon Hardy, gay journalist Kevin Dale McKeown, trans and sex worker rights advocate Velvet Steele, and trans Métis two-spirit elder Sandy-Leo Laframboise, according to a media release.
Hardy says local Black Lives Matter organizers have yet to prove that the relationship between the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and people of colour is as abusive here as it is elsewhere.
“We know that relations between black communities and the police have been very fraught in American cities and we know that there have been instances of tension between the black community in Toronto and the police service,” he says. “It seems to me it’s up to them [BLM] to make their argument, provide verified examples of police harassment or abuse towards members of Vancouver’s black community, not the reverse.”
Hardy says having the police and representatives of an elected city government, as well as churches, unions and other city services and politicians, march in Pride, represents the LGBT community’s progress from a time when such partnerships were unthinkable.
He is not persuaded by the argument that these institutions historically disenfranchise some of the groups represented by BLM. “I’m sorry, I have to disagree. They can vote. They’re franchised. It depends how you see Canada, is it a racist oppressive society or is it an enlightened social democracy?”
Hardy says he thinks most Canadians see Canada as a non-oppressive social democracy — “and that is one of the reasons we welcome the police.”
For Laframboise, the parade is no longer a protest march but a show of progress.
“While I understand BLM has suffered a lot of injustices and they are a marginalized group just like the queer community, the VPD was working with the LGBT community when the Toronto police were raiding the bathhouses in Toronto in the ’80s,” Laframboise contends.
“I can’t say that this group suffered more than that group; what I can say is I suffered my own share. Did I fear them when I was being beaten, chased, misgendered by the police, absolutely. But it didn’t stop me from working with them. The parade is not the place to offer trauma counselling. ”
According to Hardy, the counter-petition had 2,599 signatures when a printed copy was delivered to the VPS office on Monday.
After receiving the printed petition, the VPS released a statement on Facebook scolding the counter-petition group for inviting media to their offices to film the presentation, suggesting this was disrespectful and could have potentially endangered some marginalized VPS staff and volunteers who may not be out.
“We also want to be clear that while petitions can play a role in community consultation, important issues — especially those concerning human rights — are not always a popularity contest,” the VPS says in its Facebook post.
“Vancouver Pride will continue to engage in respectful dialogue with any group, organization or individual who wishes to do so,” it adds.
VPS co-executive director Andrea Arnot tells Xtra that all information will be taken into consideration.
“Any feedback people have given us, including petitions, we take all information in at this point and we are reading it, we are discussing it and will all become part of our decision-making process,” she says.
As Xtra has previously reported, the VPD is planning to participate in the 2017 parade, despite decisions by both Halifax and Toronto police to withdraw.
Arnot says the VPS is still working with police to determine their level of involvement. But, she says, nothing is off the table while the VPS is still considering all feedback.
“We haven’t made a decision, we are in process and anyone who wants to give us feedback is welcome.”
She says anyone can request a meeting, send an email or comment online.
“We are just asking people with strong feelings on both sides to please be respectful of everyone,” she says. “Everyone is a human being, we are all part of the larger community of Vancouver but part of a queer community. The comment sections on news articles and social media are horrific and vulnerable groups don’t need that. I saw a comment saying, ‘you need to be killed.’ We are asking people who have strong opinions to please be respectful in your opinions and not attack others personally.”