Since the 1970s — or the 1980s, depending on who you ask — Vancouver has held its annual Pride parade in the community surrounding Davie Street, a neighbourhood so proudly queer that it’s affectionately referred to as Vancouver’s ‘gaybourhood.’ The event is meant to signify the ongoing fight for rights and visibility for members of the LGBTQ community.
Pride has steadily encompassed more and more diverse groups in Vancouver, including people of colour, those with disabilities, and Indigenous peoples. While the parade still primarily focuses on non-heterosexual folks, Pride today is less exclusionary, striving to make space for those of different backgrounds.
Since 2002, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has marched alongside activists and community members. Many have expressed support of this inclusion, arguing that the police have maintained a positive relationship with the event’s organizers throughout the parade’s near 40-year history.
This made the petition by the city’s Black Lives Matter chapter, asking for the police to end their presence at the parade, especially controversial. It follows Pride Toronto’s decision earlier this year to remove police floats from their event in solidarity with the city’s own Black Lives Matter group. Unlike that decision, Vancouver’s efforts have been met with significant backlash.
Has the VPD really maintained a positive relationship with Vancouver’s LGBTQ population? Just two years ago, the BC Human Rights Tribunal called out police for mistreating a trans woman, including failing to use preferred pronouns and refusing her medical aid post-transition. The court found that the VPD had “engaged in systemic discrimination of trans people concerning their identification.”
As noted by Catherine Mateo, president of Vancouver’s Dyke March, a 2008 report from a Vancouver LGBTQ group suggested that the department implement better strategies for interacting with the community, particularly trans and two-spirited people.
The VPD also infamously displaced sex workers from the Davie Street community in the 1980s, which activist and social worker Jamie Lee Henderson says led to increased violence towards sex workers from police and others. All of this happened well after the first Pride parade was held.
Let’s not forget that Pride itself was founded on an anti-police protest. It’s held around June in honour of the Stonewall Riots, which were a response to a violent police raid of the popular Stonewall Inn, a Manhattan gay bar.
Of course, there’s plenty of pushback against the petition, including a counter-petition that has gained more than double the amount of signatures, advocating for police to remain in the parade.
“While the objections that Black Lives Matter makes [against the VPD] reflect historic and ongoing injustices against the black communities in major American and Eastern Canadian cities,” reads the petition, “they do not reflect relationships between Vancouver’s LGBTQ communities with local law enforcement.”
But handing off the problem to the US and eastern Canada does little to address the issues in our own hometown. Is it so much to ask that we trust people when they say they feel unsafe?
After all, Black Lives Matter also represents many members of the LGBTQ community, specifically those who suffer further discrimination due to their race. Those of us who are white and cisgender need to accept that our privilege isn’t shared by everyone in the community. Our interactions with police differ from those of others, and unless we look critically at the inequalities entrenched into our society, they always will.
If Pride is really about ensuring a safe and radical space for all those who face discrimination because of their identity, then police can take off their uniforms and march with us on their own behalf. Including them isn’t diversity — it’s ignorance.