5 min

Should Pride applicants have to prove that they’re LGBT-friendly?

A proposal to restrict participation in Halifax Pride raises questions about queer credentials, free speech and safe spaces

Vancouver Pride Society events director Andrea Arnot says there will be a scoring system for organizations seeking entry to the parade. Pictured is a photo from Vancouver Pride 2015. Credit: belle ancell/Daily Xtra

Pride is not for everyone, says a Canadian LGBT advocacy group.

In a failed motion last month, the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) asked Halifax Pride to restrict Pride participation to groups that support the queer community.

The idea stems from a dispute over Halifax Pride’s 2016 community fair, in which a queer Arab group accused a Jewish group of pinkwashing, and challenged their gay-friendly credentials. 

In a motion introduced at Halifax Pride’s contentious annual general meeting on Oct 5, 2016, NSRAP said Pride has allowed anyone to participate — “without ensuring that these organizations have LGBTQ-inclusive policies and provide materials relevant to the LGBTQ community.”

The Pride Society could “be better using its unique position as curators of the Halifax Pride Festival to more strongly challenge governments, corporations and community organizations to develop LGBTQ-inclusive policies, materials and procedures,” NSRAP said in its motion.

The motion was voted down. 

Áine Morse (centre) helps make signs in July 2016 for the Halifax, Truro and Cape Breton Pride parades.
Courtesy Áine Morse

Áine Morse, a co-chair of NSRAP, says Pride is meant to be a restricted space, and allowing any group in — regardless of whether they represent LGBT interests — alienates Pride’s intended base.

“I don’t think this boils down to an easy issue of free speech, as people made it out to be,” says Morse.

“The fact of the matter is that Pride is a closed thing already. It’s intended as a space for LGBTQ2A+ folks and their allies, so it’s already closed. We already say if you can’t support that, then you don’t belong here.”

Morse says who exactly would be allowed and who would be excluded could have been hammered out by Pride, had the motion passed. 

“I think a Pride festival is a way to hold business, politicians and organizations to account and I think that’s important to move queer and trans rights forward,” says Morse, who adds that rejected applicants could have been encouraged to develop more inclusive policies — and offered assistance.

Halifax Pride member Kevin Kindred says Pride societies should be supportive of free speech and be wary of censorship when an issue is controversial.
Courtesy Kevin Kindred

Halifax Pride member Kevin Kindred introduced his own motion at the meeting, which passed. 

Kindred’s motion affirmed that Pride supports “controversy, disagreement and protest” at its events and will not censor any lawful participation by groups who wish to “express their pride in whatever way they choose,” even if that expression includes criticizing another group at the fair.

While some saw Kindred’s motion for free speech as antithetical to NSRAP’s motion for exclusion, Kindred says he was actually disappointed to see NSRAP’s motion fail. He says Pride societies should look at disagreements on a case-by-case basis, but “broadly speaking, we should be very supportive of free speech and very wary of censorship.” 

“When the issue boils down to a controversial subject that has a lot of emotion for those involved, I think the right response is to ensure there is more speech and not less.”

Morse has heard criticisms that NSRAP’s proposal would have limited free speech and divided communities, but says some control is needed to keep queer and trans people safe.

“I think it’s creating safe spaces, and tapping into what genuinely creates safe spaces for people, and I will never apologize for that,” Morse says. “Some people may see it as divisive; I see it as a necessary commitment to queer and trans folks.”

Kindred differentiates between what he calls emotionally contentious issues — such as what should and should not be said about Israel — and what he considers reasonable limitations on freedom of speech, such as prohibiting corporate logos on Pride flags or limiting police participation in the parade. Police are “a government entity with a specific purpose that is problematic in the context of the queer community,” he says.

Daily Xtra contacted Halifax Pride to ask if they plan to implement NSRAP’s guidelines even though the motion failed. 

Directors did not respond to requests for an interview, but chair William Blois provided a press release by email.

“After such an emotional discussion, our board is working to process the meeting’s events,” he says. “We now take the responsibility of reaching out to alienated groups for guidance to direct our actions for better community engagement and representation.” 

Grand marshal Romi Chandra Herbert (left) and his husband Spencer (right), the MLA for Vancouver-West End, display a trans-rights poster at Vancouver Pride 2015.
Ross Johnson/Daily Xtra

In 2015, the Vancouver Pride Society made headlines when it demanded groups marching in the parade sign a mandatory pledge supporting trans inclusion in human rights legislation. 

VPS events director Andrea Arnot says this year the society has designed a scoring system for entries to the parade. Entries will have to describe on their application how they fit with Pride values, what policies they use to promote sexual and gender expression diversity, and whether the organization has a history of homophobia or transphobia.   

The VPS also says it has investigators to research if parade applicants have complaints against them or support anti-queer groups. They also still require a standard pledge to uphold Pride values.

In an online survey, the VPS is also consulting community members on what barriers they may face accessing and feeling safe at Pride.

Calgary Pride has not received much feedback for the exclusion of police or other specific groups. Pictured is Calgary Pride 2011.
Daniel Arndt/Flickr/Creative Commons

Calgary Pride requires participants to sign a statement of values, pledging to “create an environment where everyone enjoys the same universal rights,” “cultivate a city that embraces diversity with respect and dignity,” and “engage in the community, seeking opportunities for mutual benefit.”

Everyone who signs is welcome to participate, says Craig Sklenar, Calgary Pride’s director of government affairs. 

Politicians are asked to report what they have done for LGBT people, and can only carry signs and materials printed by Calgary Pride showing their name and office.

No guidelines like NSRAP’s are on Calgary Pride’s radar, Sklenar says.

“There is no pass or fail point of our application,” Sklenar says. “We do ask what Pride means to you. We are very much about understanding where everyone is coming from. But someone’s view of Pride is going to be completely different from someone else’s.”

Sklenar says Calgary Pride has not received much feedback calling for exclusion of police or other specific groups, but would respond cautiously if it did.

“We don’t react; we like to have a thoughtful understanding of the concerns and how we can address them and move forward, so that everybody participating knows why we acted the way we did,” Sklenar says.

Sklenar says Pride means different things to many people, so no one-size-fits-all solution exists. 

“For me it’s such a watershed moment of accepting who I am and being unafraid of hiding that. For others it’s a celebration or a reckoning or being a supporter and an ally,” he says. “We have to remember that this is a big umbrella.”