Which Voices Do We Listen To?
May 25, 2020
That question has occupied us for a year and a half, since Black Lives Matter – Vancouver first issued their open letter calling for removal of the Vancouver Police Department from the Vancouver Pride Parade.
Since that call was made, many LGBTQAI2+ and community organizations have shared their thoughts on the matter. The response was overwhelming and clear: almost every single major group in our community was calling for no police uniforms in the parade, and in some cases, no VPD or RCMP presence in the parade at all.
These groups included Qmunity, Out on Screen, Trans Alliance Society, Trans March, Gordon Neighbourhood House/Young Ideas, PeerNet, Rainbow Refugee, Salaam Vancouver, Vancouver Dyke March, YouthCo, Denim Vest, Open Relationships, All Bodies Swim, Gays Against Gentrification, Our City of Colours, Love Intersections, Radical Access Mapping Project, Coalition Against Bigotry, No One Is Illegal, Trikone, REVERB, Global Queer Research Group UBC, RAGA Student Networks Collective and the Volunteers of Catherine White Homan Wellness Centre.
We also had several parade entries representing social justice groups and unions withdraw,because they didn’t want to march in a parade that ignored voices of our most marginalized community members.
This was not just Black Lives Matter Vancouver or “one group,” as many who have reached out to us since our decision on uniforms became public seem to believe. This was a multitude of LGBTQAI2S+ organizations, social justice groups, and our own community partners.
The Vancouver Pride Society has not enjoyed having to “choose” one segment of our community as opposed to another. It’s not something we take lightly, and it’s not something that gives us satisfaction. After all, every single one of us has suffered.
Some of us were kicked out of our homes. Some of us suffered discrimination at the hands of government, service providers, employment – without any avenue to voice our concerns or have them heard. Some of us spent years in the closet. It may have taken years for us to be comfortable sharing our true selves. And when we did, some of us lost many people close to us. Some of us survived years of being targets for those in authority. Battles were fought, and after many years, some of those battles have been won.
With those victories in mind, it’s easy for some us to forget that the battle is not over.
There are many in our community who are still suffering. And sadly, we have been ignoring them.
That is why we embarked on the lengthy consultation process that helped us come to our decision.
So, what happened during the consultations?
Read Consultation Report Here
We heard from many elders in our community. Many of them fought the battles that led to some of the rights and freedoms we enjoy today – marriage equality, adoption rights, decriminalization of our sexual activity, and protections against discrimination. A clear majority of them told us that excluding uniformed police went against everything they believed in. They had worked so hard for police to march in the parade. Why would we undo that?
We also spoke to hundreds of Indigenous Queer and Two-Spirited people, Black members of LGBTQAI2S+ communities, Queer People of Colour, and Trans folks. They told us that they didn’t feel the Vancouver Police Department was doing enough. They felt that the VPD had started to take support from Vancouver’s LGBTQAI2S+ communities for granted. They were upset some of the recommendations from the Aaron Webster Anti-Violence Project in 2008 did not appear to have been implemented. They were upset it took two years for the VPD to implement changes ordered by the BC Human Rights Tribunal in 2015 when it was found to have discriminated against a trans person in their custody. They were angry that members of the trans community were still being treated badly by individual police officers, in many cases – without real repercussion. They shared personal stories of VPD officers not taking their complaints or reports of assault or harassment seriously. They felt the “pink-washing” of VPD didn’t reflect real change to them. Many of them felt unsafe around police, especially in uniform, and they wanted more.
Before this conversation started, we were happy with our relationship with the Vancouver Police. There was open dialogue, and the LGBTQ2S+ liaison was accessible. However, as our consultation process continued, and as activism from the community grew more vocal, it felt like the VPD was no longer willing to act in good faith.
Feeling buoyed by the vocal support of some within in our community, police did what they have done many times in the past – began ignoring the voices of concern from marginalized community groups – including us.
Soon, every single conversation with police became an exercise in frustration. They did not appreciate us sharing concerns raised by community members. 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. The VPD also started changing the goal posts. They became unwilling to participate in listening circles (unless it was on their own terms) and they certainly were not going to help support those listening circles financially. While other police forces were participating in Pride out of uniform, some voluntarily, we asked VPD their thoughts. Not only did they not want to even consider the idea, they worked actively to change the position of other police forces who had previously said they were fine marching out of uniform. There was even concern the VPD’s LGBTQ2S+ liaison was working closely with an anti-BLM group – even helping organize events.
With all of this in mind, a decision had to be made.
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.
We know that decision has caused anger in our communities.
We expected that.
What we didn’t expect was for the Vancouver Police to lie.
We met with representatives from the VPD in September to inform them of our decision and during that meeting we were told they understood our position. We were not met with opposition. In fact, we were told the VPD looked forward to participating in the parade the upcoming year.
What the VPD told the public, via the media, was the exact opposite.
They chose a PR win at any cost – including dishonesty and sacrificing the reputation of a non-profit organization that represents a marginalized community. After all, who is everyone going to believe? Police or some queers?
Read Statement on Police Response here
In the days since news of our decision has become public, our staff members have faced many personal attacks online and in person. Many of the comments we have seen are ugly, violent, racist and anti-black.
It turns out police marching in Pride is an issue so important, it has caused an awakening.
There are now more signatures on a petition to have police march in Pride in uniform than our Trans Equality Now pledge. Think about that. More people care about police in Pride than they do about rights for trans people.
But this was never a popularity contest. Pride has always been political and Pride has always been about human rights.
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.
It’s disappointing that this is the issue that has caused so many in our community to be enraged. As we speak, rallies are being held around Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley to oppose SOGI education in our schools. Trans students and parents of trans youth are being bullied online. People are fighting with government to have their ID cards reflect who they are. And members of our communities are being misgendered every day – including at the hands of police.
If you feel VPD and other police have come a long way for you, that is awesome. We agree, a lot of work has been done.
But for us, it’s just not enough.
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.
Read FAQ on Uniformed Police in Pride Here