Eating pancakes at 7am is not my idea of a good breakfast, but since the occasion marked the beginning of Pride Week, I hauled myself out of bed and wandered up the street to the Ottawa Police Station.
I had debated whether or not to attend but decided, since I had been coming to the monthly meetings of the Police Liaison Committee to the queer community, that it would it would be good to be seen there — blearily eyed, but not armed with a tape recorder.
As I was walking there, I bumped into a friend who was leaving to catch a plane. When I told him where I was going, he gave me a big hug and wished me luck.
His well wishes reminded why I wasn’t exactly eager to go — it has been bumpy road for police-queer relations the last couple of months. The divisions between police and the queer community seems to be widening, and the liaison committee has exacerbated the growing schism rather than bridge the gap.
For months, the queer representatives on the liaison committee have largely refused to challenge the police’s move to release the name, photo and health status of a man charged with HIV non-disclosure.
After exchanging goodbyes, I continued on my way — hesitating at the traffic lights opposite the station before I finally crossed the road.
The first person I met was Brent Bauer from the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative. He had just finished talking to the media about the police’s handling of a recent high-profile HIV-nondisclosure case.
Inside the station, tables were set up, but Bauer and me sat together on the outskirts — either as wallflowers or pariahs — watching the social gathering go through the motions of a community celebration.
I say community, but I am struggling with that description.
From my perspective, there wasn’t a whole lot of queer community represented — there were the members of the liaison committee, a number of youth and what looked like the entire Capital Pride committee. There was no one else there — not even the usual smattering of reluctant leaders from other organizations.
Capital Pride’s presence was understandable, since they were the only group to accept donations from the breakfast. The other two community groups, Ten Oaks Project and AIDS Walk for Life, refused to accept any money — they recognized the need for queer groups to stand side-by-side when facing a form of discrimination that is disguised under the name of ‘public safety.’ (In the interests of full disclosure: I am a volunteer on the board of directors of the Ten Oaks Project.)
Last week, the liaison committee’s Marion Steele promised to rustle up other charities to take the place of Ten Oaks and Walk For Life. No dice, I guess.
Up until now the Police liaison committee has failed to see the magnitude of what has happened after the Ottawa police released private medical information — of a man already in custody — that included his name and photo to the public. An act, by the way, that has also been criticized by Ottawa Public Health.
In taking the police cash, Capital Pride has shown that they too, fail to see the magnitude of the disaster that the police actions could cause. They have also distanced itself from other community groups — a decision they made with eyes-wide-open when it became clear that other groups were walking away from the breakfast.
The groups who understand the damage the police actions have done have already shown their solidarity — the Youth Services Bureau, Aids Committee of Ottawa, Bruce House, Pink Triangle Services, the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative, Jer’s Vision, Xtra and Ten Oaks Project have all stated their dismay at the Police handling of the HIV non-disclosure case.
Capital Pride does, however, have another chance to show their solidarity with queer and HIV activists working on the HIV criminalization file. At the Human Rights Vigil on Thursday, they have asked a police officer from the Hate Crimes Unit to speak. Bauer has asked them to un-invite the police.
The question is, will they stick to their guns, or will they change the lineup?
But, back to the breakfast. It is an event intended to show off collaboration between the police and the queer community.
I am not sure it did. Marion Steele co-chair of the committee tried to speak out about the liaison committee being committed to the community — especially in the aftermath of the HIV non-disclosure case — but she got sidetracked by the smell of sausages and the seriousness of her message was lost in humour.
Doug Saunders-Riggins, Chair of Capital Pride also spoke, but only to announce the opening of Pride week.
If there was someone who did shine at the event, it was Bauer — he is not a face that anyone was eager to see and he is definitely not a favourite with the liaison committee. But he was there, alone, representing an increasing number of queers, AIDS activists and community groups who are not happy with the police’s recent actions.
It is partly because of Bauer that I am glad I went to the breakfast. He restored my belief in what standing up for the queer community means and what Pride should represent.
The pressure isn’t going away until the liaison committee — and now Capital Pride — understands the magnitude of what’s happening. What Capital Pride decides to do about Thursday’s vigil will be interesting — and god knows what will happen on Sunday when the police march in the Pride Parade.