6 min

Vancouver Pride stands firm in decision to support marginalized LGBT people and ban uniformed police

‘We chose to listen to those voices that often do not get listened to,’ Pride Society says

A spectator holds a sign at the 2017 Pride parade in Vancouver. Credit: InkedKenny/Xtra

The Vancouver Pride Society is standing by its decision to ban uniformed police from next year’s parade, despite the “ugly” and “racist” backlash staff have received from some members of the LGBT community.

The VPS reached its decision after a year and a half of community consultations inspired by Black Lives Matter Vancouver, who spearheaded the discussion and launched a petition to remove police from the Pride parade and re-prioritize the participation of marginalized LGBT community members.

After meeting with police, BLM, other marginalized queer and trans community members and a multitude of community organizations, Pride finally reached a decision this fall.

It’s not a decision it took lightly, the organization writes in a lengthy Facebook post on Dec 11, 2017.

But a decision had to be made, it says: “Listen to the voices of marginalized members of our communities, the many LGBTQAI2+ groups who had called on us to remove uniformed police in the parade — or keep the status quo.”

“We chose to listen to those voices that often do not get listened to,” the VPS writes.

The backlash was swift.

“In the days since news of our decision has become public, our staff members have faced many personal attacks online and in person,” the VPS writes. “Many of the comments we have seen are ugly, violent, racist and anti-black.”

“But this was never a popularity contest. Pride has always been political and Pride has always been about human rights,” the post continues.

“Just because some of us may no longer feel threatened by police, doesn’t mean others aren’t. We have to listen to those voices, just as many voices of privilege should have listened to us in generations past.”

“We have had quite a few angry phone calls and emails with people disagreeing with our decision and saying that we are incompetent and don’t understand what the whole community is about, or what inclusivity means,” VPS executive director Andrea Arnot tells Xtra by phone.

Andrea Arnot listens to members at the VPS' annual general meeting in November 2017. Credit: Moe Yang/Xtra

“I personally have had in-person encounters with people coming up to me on the street, at events and even in the grocery store to let me know their displeasure with the decision,” she says.

A lot of people in the LGBT community clearly have a sense of safety now and can feel secure in their daily lives, Arnot says, but not everyone in our community shares that sense of security.

“I have been asking people to have empathy for people who do not have positive experiences with police,” she says.

“Back in the day, we were asking the mainstream society to have empathy for queer people at all — and now we are asking the mainstream queer community to have empathy for the more vulnerable,” Arnot says.

In its Facebook post, the VPS agrees that progress has been made with the Vancouver Police Department over the years. “But for us, it’s just not enough,” Pride says. “And to make matters worse, some of that work has been undone by dishonesty and bad faith.”

“We’re going to spend time working to make sure everyone feels safe at Pride. Even if it’s smaller, it will feel more like what Pride is supposed to be if the most marginalized members of our communities are heard,” the VPS writes.

Many community members and organizations applaud the Pride Society’s decision and urged them to take this path.

More than 30 groups and individuals signed a letter to Pride in February 2017 to show Black Lives Matter doesn’t stand alone in its call to remove police and prioritize the participation of more marginalized community members.

BLM echoes “a longstanding call, locally and across North America, when they say the inclusion of police as an institution, and increasing police militarization in the Pride parade, disproportionately impacts some of the most marginalized members of our communities,” the letter says, “particularly Black queer and trans peoples who face daily institutional and societal anti-Black racism, including by police.”

The letter’s 33 signatories include Out on Screen, which produces Vancouver’s annual queer film festival, Trikone, which supports South Asian LGBT people, Love Intersections, YouthCo, Salaam Vancouver, which supports queer Muslim people, Our City of Colours, and Little Sister’s longtime manager, now retired, Janine Fuller.

“I think there are a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable around the police and it’s difficult for many different people, so I think it makes them not want to participate,” Fuller tells Xtra by phone.

“I would have to include myself in that; I didn’t participate this year because of police,” she says. “I grew up in Toronto and I know the history of police not being the best. And that history continues.”

“I think as white people, we have to be knowledgeable and really understand the point of people of colour in what this is about — and know that when people say these issues are happening, they truly are.”

Fuller says she is “very proud” of the Pride Society for taking this stand.

Janine Fuller on her balcony in August 2016. Credit: Layla Cameron/Xtra

Andy Holmes, a sociology student at the University of British Columbia who’s been researching the question of police in Vancouver’s Pride parade, calls the VPS’ decision “prudent.”

“We have to recognize and uphold with respect the hard work that many LGBT activists have done to gain police acceptance,” he writes in an email to Xtra. “We also have to recognize that intersectionality matters.”

“Groups including Black Lives Matter have brought to the forefront a clear statement that not all people within the LGBTQ2+ community experience the same relationship with police that other members of the LGBTQ2+ community might have achieved,” he says.

“The decision to not include police in uniform is a moment for us as a community to pause and recognize tough questions about inclusivity we must address in the future,” he continues.

As a community, he adds, “we now have the responsibility to continue to develop amicable working relationships with police.”

But some community members say they’re “disappointed and angry” with Pride’s decision.

Gordon Hardy also launched a petition last February, with the Pride Legacy Group, to keep uniformed police in the Pride parade.

He says the group supported the VPS’ 2017 compromise to allow up to 20 percent of police to march in uniform while the rest marched in branded t-shirts in the parade. But he is not happy with the VPS’ new decision.

“They made a decision to listen to some voices only,” he says. “They didn’t listen to the PLG and the thousands of people who signed our petition. They listened to the voices of some people in the community and gave priority to those voices, but they ignored those voices in the community who supported their [2017 compromise] position.”

The VPS allowed up to 20 percent of police officers to march in uniform in Vancouver’s 2017 parade. Credit: InkedKenny/Xtra

Hardy says the group is considering re-launching or updating its petition soon to keep lobbying for visible police in the parade.

Arnot says a petition won’t replace genuine community inclusivity work.

“They can deliver as many signatures as they like and we will accept them and receive them and listen,” she says.

“That goes back to my core statement: that my job is listening to the most vulnerable voices — and that’s not the majority,” she says.

“I would love it if the PLG would be willing to reach out to some of those marginalized groups and say, ‘Hey, we think VPD is progressive and willing to work with us, how can we build bridges for you?’ That’s what I would love to see happen.”

In its Dec 11 Facebook post, Pride notes that it’s disappointed in the Vancouver Police Department. Conversations with police started out cordially but as the year went on and vocal opposition grew, they became “an exercise in frustration,” the VPS writes.

“They did not appreciate us sharing concerns raised by community members,” Pride says. “The message we kept on hearing from VPD is that they had done the work. The idea there was still work to do was not one they were willing to entertain.”

Arnot says Pride has not heard from the police department since posting its public statement.

“I keep reflecting on it, and if people feel like the VPD is really working on it, and is the progressive institution they hope it is, they should be able to handle this request,” she says.

“We aren’t asking them not to participate at all; we are asking them to participate in a different way,” she continues. “Over the years, they have done various things to support the community, like take training and participate in events and receive feedback, so I am not understanding why this request is so difficult.”

Police did not respond to Xtra’s requests for comment by publication time.