3 min

Inspire, don’t trash

Speech freedom and the Pride Parade

Credit: Xtra West files

Those who volunteered with the Vancouver Pride Society have earned a very loud thank-you from this city’s queers: you pulled off something that was in danger of not happening at all some nine months ago.

This year’s parade had a controversy even before it was held. The VPS received letters asking it to intervene in deciding which queers could march this year. Some people wanted Lorne Mayencourt banned from the parade because of his government’s policies that make life harder for all sorts of vulnerable groups and individuals. Others wanted Queers United Against Kapitalism (QUAK) banned because of its confrontational anti-Mayencourt rhetoric at last year’s parade.

The VPS immediately recognized a free-speech issue. Lorne could march and so could QUAK, they decided, even though QUAK sees itself as a direct-action protest group and so won’t pay the usual parade entry fee. Fair enough.

But the VPS would not rule out asking the police to pull out QUAK if they thought they’d crossed some line.

And that’s where things get a bit fuzzy.

In the end, Mayencourt was in the parade and handed out roses to spectators. QUAK butted in front of Mayencourt’s entry and loudly denounced his support of his government’s policies. QUAK also asked the crowd to think about whether Mayencourt had a right to be in the Pride Parade.

What to make of it?

First, Mayencourt is gay and, like any member of our community, should be allowed in the parade. It’s absurd to suggest he should be ashamed of being a gay MLA.

QUAK should also be allowed in the parade, even if they don’t pay the parade entry fee. They’re holding a political demonstration when they protest in front of Mayencourt’s entry and both the gay and AIDS movements have a history of holding direct-action events and confrontational demonstrations. They’re a proud part of our community’s activist past, present and, no doubt, future. What the hell was Stonewall other than gays turning on the cops and bashing them, locking them in the bar and setting fire to it while taking over the streets for a week? There was absolutely nothing polite and respectable about the event that started our worldwide Pride movement. And that was a good thing.

But what about this idea that spectators shouldn’t be exposed to vehemently delivered political messages? True, pushing and shoving or other acts of violence should never be tolerated in the Pride Parade-unless it’s fighting back against cops or bashers who wade in. But forceful delivery of a political message is a key part of freedom of speech. Crashing a parade with your own demonstration is a legitimate form of freedom of expression.

So, Mayencourt has a right to be in the parade. QUAK has a right to crash the parade and to denounce Mayencourt. Spectators have the right to applaud or heckle both Mayencourt and QUAK.

Though there is a constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, there is no constitutional right to not be exposed to gay politicians handing out roses, loud rhetoric, or points of view that you disagree with. You might not like what Mayencourt has to say, or you might not like the manner in which QUAK delivers its opinion, but you have no right to be protected from exposure to either.

We must encourage frank political discussions in the queer community. We need never call the police on each other unless fists are thrown or weapons drawn.

Still, QUAK’s approach at the Pride Parade was counter-productive. Sure, most parade observers were icy toward Mayencourt; he’s clearly not a popular guy in our community right now. But spectators were equally unenthusiastic about QUAK’s participation.

QUAK would have earned more respect if it had gone with the happy energy of the parade and found a positive way of framing its message.

It’s a lesson the left needs to learn. It’s too easy to trash and heap negative abuse on people. It’s more responsible to show people the kind of world you’d rather create and entice them to buy into your vision.

Cheap words are just that: cheap (especially when you’re not paying an entry fee). Inspire us next year, QUAK, and maybe you’ll get somewhere. Or maybe not. But at least you’d be demonstrating a positive approach.