FAQ – UBC & VPL at Pride 2019
May 26, 2020
Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) has rescinded the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Vancouver Public Library’s (VPL) 2019 Pride Parade entries because they hosted events featuring discriminatory speakers. Both claimed the events could not be cancelled because of internal room booking policies. We have done our best to answer your questions regarding this decision here. You can read our statements on UBC and VPL for further information.
- Why did VPS rescind UBC and VPL’s 2019 Pride Parade entries?
In 2019, UBC and VPL both permitted speakers who are known to be transphobic/promote anti-trans rhetoric to book space within their institutions. In both cases, community members brought their concerns to decision makers prior to the events. These concerns were not adequately addressed prior to or after the events. Vancouver Pride Society spoke to both institutions. UBC and VPL claimed that their room booking policies made cancelling the events impossible. Both institutions control their own booking policies. Until these policies are updated and steps are taken to address the harm done to trans communities, these organizations will not be able to participate in the Pride Parade. VPS is hopeful that UBC and VPL will commit not to host similar events in the future, to update their policies, and rejoin the Pride Parade in 2020.
- What about LGBTQAI2S+ students, faculty, and employees who were excited to march in the parade?
VPS is aware that the decision to revoke the ability for these institutions to participate in the 2019 Pride Parade may negatively impact LGBTQAI2S+ students, employees, and faculty. VPS is addressing this in two ways.
VPS is providing a free space in the 2019 Pride Parade for LGBTQAI2S+ UBC students, employees and faculty who wish to march. Members of the UBC community who wish to march can sign-up at Equity UBC
Individual LGBTQAI2S+ and allied employees of the Vancouver Public Library may march with the City of Vancouver or with their union, CUPE 391.
This strategy permits individuals to participate while removing the symbols of the institution.
Q. Can UBC and VPL march in 2020?
We encourage UBC and VPL to update their room booking policies based on consultation with marginalized communities and LGBTQAI2S+ organizations. We look forward to meeting with representatives from UBC and VPL to discuss their revised policies. We welcome UBC and VPL to apply for reassessment in 2020 once steps have been taken to address the damage done.
Q. What about freedom of speech?
“Freedom of Speech” is an American concept. In Canada, we have “Freedom of Expression.” Freedom of expression is protected as one of our fundamental freedoms in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Charter rights are subject to reasonable limits, one of which is the restriction of hate speech, and the protection of human rights. As a result, expression rights in Canada are not unlimited. They are balanced, for example, by the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
Freedom of speech/expression does not mean that people will be arrested for what they say. Speech rights don’t work like that. They are not total. They also don’t mean that anyone is entitled to be given a platform to express themselves, nor are they free from any social consequences of what they say. Anyone hearing them can contribute to the discussion, and it is ok – in fact it is a central cornerstone of our democracy- to ask for clarification and accountability.
The ability to express ourselves freely is fundamental to a functional democracy. So too is the ability to criticize, push back, protest, and shut down discrimination, hate and bigotry. People have the freedom to express themselves up to the point that the expression becomes harmful. There is no blanket entitlement to express discriminatory speech or ideals.
Q. Police were present to monitor those events but no one was arrested, doesn’t that mean the speech was okay?
There are several problems with relying on the police to monitor discriminatory speech.
The police are there because there is an expectation that they will protect the speaker from threats, not so that they might intervene in the case of discriminatory speech. We also know that hate speech under the Criminal Code is very seldom invoked and rarely prosecuted. The criminal prohibition alone is not an effective or constructive way to address discriminatory expression which causes harm to our community.
We have heard over the past several years that BIPOC LGBT folks don’t feel safe with police near them at our events. We stand in solidarity with them, and do not support the role of police as watchdogs.
We feel strongly that calling for community accountability is a more constructive tactic, and this is what we expect from UBC and VPL.
Q. Why are you making Pride so political? Pride shouldn’t be about politics.
Pride is inherently political.
Pride parades originated as a protest by trans sex workers of colour against police harassment.
Since then, while they have taken on a celebratory tone, they continue to be about protecting the fundamental rights of LGBTQAI2S+ people. While everyone is welcome to attend pride parades like ours, they are for people who don’t get to celebrate themselves every day because they are subject to routine and ongoing harassment in their daily lives.
Q. Isn’t Pride about inclusion/everyone participating?
Pride has never been about uncritically including every individual or group – it has been about uplifting, celebrating, and protecting the rights of LGBTQAI2S+ people. If an individual or institution has engaged in behaviour that is detrimental and discriminatory towards marginalized people, they are no longer welcome.
No group, organization, institution or individual is entitled to a Pride Parade entry.
Q. Why didn’t you speak to UBC/VPL before removing them from the 2019 Pride Parade?
We did. Vancouver Pride Society believes in supporting organizations in making positive institutional changes. Every Pride Parade applicant must submit materials which outlines their values and policies. Each year, multiple organizations are declined because they do not score high enough on our parade matrix. We provide support, suggestions, and referrals to organizations that can help them update their policies and practices in order to qualify. Our goal is not to bar organizations from participating, but to help them do the work required to support LGBTQAI2S+ communities.
In this spirit, we spoke to representatives from both UBC and VPL ahead of our decision. We were willing to work with them this year if they were willing to commit not to host similar hurtful events, and to change their room rental policies. They understood the stakes of their decisions. We were heartened to hear that UBC is sending their room rental policy for review in September and look forward to seeing what changes will be made.
Q. Why are you censoring/denying freedom of speech to UBC/VPL?
We are not censoring UBC or VPL. They remain free to make any statement they wish, as well as retain or change their policies. We are exercising our own freedom to decide which organizations participate at our events. Their ability to speak has not been hampered, they have simply lost the opportunity to participate in this year’s Pride Parade.
Q. The Vancouver Public Library said that Vancouver Pride Society is asking the Library to “go beyond the law” and that the “limits of freedom of expression must be decided by the legal system, not the library.”
Quite aside from the legal structure that we believe clearly supports our conclusion that the events hosted by UBC and VPL were discriminatory, it is common for social justice organizations working in an anti-oppression framework to “call in” allied individuals and organizations when we disagree with their conduct. This is especially so when those organizations publicly state that they share our values of equity and inclusion, and seek to participate in our events.
Our community is asking for accountability from UBC and VPL not to host speakers who undermine the dignity of our members, and so is the Vancouver Pride Society. If either organization takes substantial steps to do better, they would be welcome to march with us next year. Until they do, it would disingenuous to have them at our event.
Q. If you are taking this stance, why haven’t you banned __________?
To participate in the Pride Parade, each parade applicant must answer a series of questions which help VPS assess their official policies and support of LGBTQAI2S+ employees and community members. All applications are reviewed and graded against a matrix by VPS’s Parade Working Group, made up of community members.
The matrix includes a category examining any recent homophobic or transphobic events and the institutional response. All applicants, including sponsors, must receive a matrix score higher than 20 to participate in the Pride Parade.
If you have any specific concerns about an organization we work with, please e-mail us the incident at email@example.com so we can look into it. Our sponsors are required to fill out the same paperwork and are graded against the same matrix as our standard parade participants. If we receive information we did not have before, the organization will be rescored.
Please contact us if you have any further concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org