As Pride celebrations get underway in Vancouver, the Pride Society is grappling with two resignations: the parade coordinator and one of its board members have both signalled their intent to step down.
The resignations come after several weeks of controversy around parade applicants having to sign a mandatory pledge supporting trans rights in order to participate in the Aug 2 Pride parade.
“The purpose of the pledge is to highlight the need for equality legislation supporting the trans and gender-variant community, and it’s also to raise awareness on the issue,” Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) executive director Ray Lam told Daily Xtra July 10.
Tim Ell, who joined the VPS board of directors in 2014, resigned on July 25 citing concerns with Lam’s conduct surrounding the pledge.
Ell alleges inappropriate political partisanship by Lam pertaining to the pledge has divided the community and jeopardized the VPS’s relationship with the trans and gender-variant community.
“It’s been the Ray Lam show,” Ell alleges.
Lam declined to comment for this story, referring questions to VPS president Tim Richards.
Richards stresses the VPS is a nonpartisan organization. “We don’t want to be drawn into partisan politics,” he says.
“This is the right thing to do,” he says, referring to the trans pledge. “We have a marginalized group in our community and they need equality.”
But Ell says the championing of trans rights this year has been drowned out by a “cacophony of noise” over political parties due to the mishandling of an otherwise positive campaign.
Ell alleges there are two sets of standards in the pledge when it comes to political parties. “It’s become very clear that the yardstick keeps being moved for particular parties and not for others,” he says.
The VPS announced July 22 that the BC Liberals’ parade entry was revoked after party executives refused to sign the trans pledge.
“We’re taking a hard line because it’s important to the trans community,” VPS vice president Chrissy Taylor told Daily Xtra.
“Not a riding association, not an electoral district,” Taylor said. “We had to make it clear it’s somebody with authority on behalf of the party itself.”
Though the BC Liberals’ Vancouver-West End riding association signed the pledge and was initially granted permission to walk in the parade, party executives — faced with a fourth private member’s bill to explicitly add trans protection to the BC Human Rights Code — refused to support the bill or sign the pledge.
There has also been some confusion over the federal Conservative Party and whether it has signed the pledge and will walk in the parade.
Ell maintains the trans pledge hasn’t been handled properly.
“Maybe it is the right thing to do but the tactics that have been used to actually drive it forward have left a lot of people upset,” he says.
“I think everybody got lost in the idea that it’s a good thing to fight for trans equality,” he says. “The process and the procedures and the consultation did not happen.”
And that, Ell alleges, comes down to how Lam decided to shepherd the campaign.
“It was never actually approved by the board, which is a terrible, terrible thing because it’s a political action,” Ell says. “Those concerns were raised but they were never actually addressed.”
Richards says there was no vote because the Pride board works on a consensus basis.
“It didn’t need to come to a vote because we built consensus,” he says. “To me, it’s a no-brainer.”
Regarding Ell’s allegations against Lam, Richards says, “this is a big thing and it can’t be about one individual.”
Richards says the focus needs to remain on trans rights in BC.
“We’re sadly behind,” he says, citing protections for trans people in other provinces’ human rights codes.
“The right side of history is to change the law,” Richards says. “That’s what we’re asking parade participants to do.”
Pride parade director Bry Leckie wholeheartedly agrees that the focus needs to remain on the trans community.
The trans community needs protective legislation passed, says Leckie, who also submitted her resignation last week, effective after the parade.
“This isn’t about how sad it is that a political party isn’t in the parade, this is about real human lives. We’re dying, and we need your help,” she says on her Facbook page.
“Political parties that didn’t sign the pledge will survive until next year, but trans people will literally die if we don’t get these laws passed,” Leckie says on Facebook. “Political parties can choose to sign the pledge, but I can’t choose not to be murdered.”
Leckie, who declined to discuss with Daily Xtra the specific reasons for her resignation, stresses the situation is about the trans community and its need for equality in law. That must not be forgotten, she says.
She thinks the community has been very supportive of the VPS’s campaign for trans rights. She says the campaign has been non-partisan.
“I’m super proud we got the TEN [Trans Equality Now] pledge into the parade this year, and I know it sends a strong message that we support transgender and gender-variant people finally,” she says on Facebook. “That’s why I joined Pride, because I wanted to have meaningful trans inclusion for once. It took everything I had to convince people here that trans people were worth it, but in the end they did the right thing and stood up for trans rights, after over 40 years of not helping us as we died around them.”