In February, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Vancouver chapter petitioned to have the police removed from the Vancouver Pride Parade. Their rationale is that doing so would be a “‘symbolic gesture’ and actual sign of support for [people of colour] and Black communities, and an attempt to bridge the divide that the effects of institutionalized racism impose.”
A counter-petition was launched to keep the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) in the parade (garnering twice as many signatures by the end of February), elaborating on the 40-plus years of collaboration between the VPD and the community. While BLM’s concerns are fair given the tense relationship between police and people of colour (PoC) around the world, I find myself agreeing that the VPD should not be banned from the parade.
There’s been widespread backlash to the BLM petition from LGBTQ+ activists. Velvet Steele, a prominent trans and sex worker rights advocate, stated that “we’re calling for inclusion” in response to complaints about police appearing in uniforms.
BLM has asserted that the police are “fundamental to the perpetuation of structural violence against Black and brown bodies in North America” and that their inclusion in Pride is “insulting to those who came before us to make Pride celebrations possible, some of who[m] even died for the cause.”
But this logic doesn’t account for differences between the VPD and the callous southern US police departments where police violence seems to be centred. It disregards the 40-year-old collaboration of the VPD and the LGBTQ+ community, from the first Gay and Lesbian / Police Liaison Committee in ‘77 to working with community leaders like Jim Deva and Malcolm Crane.
The cases in Vancouver, like the 2015 mistreatment of an imprisoned trans woman who was refused medical care and frequently misgendered, and the displacement of sex workers from the West End by the VPD in the ‘80s, are terrible moments in history for sure. Yet despite the obvious involvement of Vancouver police, the VPD as an institution is not itself wholly responsible.
The former case was one where a handful of officers acted unprofessionally and heinously; they were representing the VPD, and that institution should be held accountable, but I would hope that based on the previously noted positive history the Vancouver police has with the LGBTQ+ community, this was overall a misrepresentation of the VPD’s general stance rather than a signal of a trend. In the latter, the department was following an order from the Supreme Court, as they are obligated to do — yet we gloss over the political class’ role in these injustices and primarily blame the police.
The VPD’s record with the LGBTQ+ community, while not great, is not as pathetic as some would argue. If its leaders have decided to continue collaboration with the VPD, then that should be respected.
While there’s definitely overlap between Vancouver’s PoC and LGBTQ+ populace, BLM’s leadership is, in a sense, imposing their agenda on an event that isn’t theirs to control. Does the agenda of BLM, in its form as a political movement, mesh with that of Pride?
Unfortunately, evidence indicates otherwise. Last year’s Toronto Pride Parade came to a standstill after BLM activists refused to budge until their demands for removal of all-police floats and booths were met. In doing that, they trampled on another community’s interests — a community with which they had no quarrel — for the sake of making a statement.
Over the years, Pride has expanded its reach and inclusiveness, which is evidenced by the participation of racial and ethnic minority communities in the parade, which is wonderful. But one must be careful in not blurring the original vision and purpose of Pride. The decision of whether or not to allow our officers at Pride is one that should be left in the hands of Pride’s organizers and those most directly involved.