A new petition aims to keep the Vancouver Police marching in this year’s Pride Parade, after Black Lives Matter called for the VPD to be removed from the march last week.
At the time of writing, the new petition, backed by Kevin Dale McKeown, Sandy Leo-Laframboise, Velvet Steele, and Gordon Hardy, had collected more than 1,400 signatures.
It counters arguments by Black Lives Matter Vancouver that the police’s participation is insulting to those who fought for Pride in the past, or suffer police oppression today.
On the contrary, organizers of the new Change.org petition say the Pride Parade celebrates diversity and inclusion in the LGBTQ community and among all the people of Vancouver.
“The visible involvement of the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP in the parade, which dates back to 2002, signifies the progress we have made in our struggle for LGBTQ equality,” write the organizers on the petition page.
Vancouver’s LGBTQ community has a long history of positive engagement with the Vancouver Police Department, argue the organizers.
“While the objections that Black Lives Matter Vancouver makes … reflect historic and ongoing injustices against the black communities in major American and Eastern Canadian cities, they do not reflect relationships between Vancouver’s LGBTQ communities with local law enforcement,” they say.
The VPD formed the first Gay and Lesbian/Police Liaison Committee in 1977, say the organizers, and over the past 40 years it has worked with many LGBT community leaders.
“We strongly urge the Vancouver Pride Society to remain true to its mandate for diversity and inclusion by continuing to welcome our community police to fully participate in the annual Pride Parade,” write the organizers.
Steele, who is working to sensitize police to the issues affecting the trans community, told Daily Hive she got on board with the petition because she believes in a brighter future.
“I believe having the police in the parade is important,” said Steele. “I believe they need to be working with us and vice versa. By keeping an open door, we foster that change.”
Steele says the petition was launched to raise awareness of the situation regarding the police’s presence at the parade, give a voice to everyone, and “let the people decide.”
“I believe the concerns of Black Lives Matter are valid and of concern,” said Steele. “However, they are not all shared amongst many people.”
“Open dialogue needs to happen, flexibility in their demands needs to happen, for effective change and organic change.”
Black Lives Matter issued their own petition last week calling for the VPD to be removed from the Pride Parade from this year onwards. So far, it has just over 690 signatures.
The group says including the police is “inappropriate and insulting” to the people who fought and died for Pride, which originated from the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969.
The violent riots saw huge numbers of the LGBTQ community fight back after police raided the Stonewall Inn, and started trying to arrest its gay and trans clientele.
“Embracing the institution in an event that originates from protest against its actions makes us justifiably uncomfortable,” writes Black Lives Matter on their petition page.
“If some members of the queer community do not feel comfortable at Pride events supposedly for all members of the queer community, we must be the priority – not an institution.”
The group goes on to say that operations against the LGBTQ community happened in the 1980s and still happen today in Canada, including in Vancouver.
“Systemic oppression isn’t over. The policing institution is an instrument of state violence and oppression,” says the group. “Dressing up in rainbows and feather boas does not change that fact.”
Black Lives Matter argues the police have a lot more work to do to earn their spot in the parade, if they really support queer and trans people of colour.
“There are so many other ways they can show meaningful initiative to work to protect the most marginalized groups,” writes the group.
“We want all queer and trans people to feel safe and included. Pride is a protest.”
The dispute over whether to include the police in the Pride Parade originated last year, when Black Lives Matter asked the VPD to voluntarily withdraw from the parade.
The Vancouver Police did participate in the end, but agreed to remove an armoured response vehicle that had originally been included in their plans.
Reached for comment on Tuesday by Daily Hive, Vancouver Police said only that they will be marching in the city’s Pride Parade again this year, unless requested otherwise.
In an email statement, Staff Sgt. Randy Fincham said volunteers and civilian and sworn staff of the VPD were looking forward to taking part.
“The VPD is looking forward to working with our community partners with Black Lives Matter and the Vancouver Pride Society, and unless requested otherwise, have our volunteers and civilian and sworn staff walk with Pride for our 21st year in the 2017 Vancouver Pride Parade, to show support for the entire LGBTQ2+ community,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Pride Society told Daily Hive it has no plans to ban the Vancouver Police from the Pride Parade this year.
“Our approach to police participation is to work within systems by drawing them into dialogue,” said Kieran Burgess, operations executive director. “We will however continue to work with them on what that participation looks like.”
Burgess said that since the discussions around police involvement last year, when Black Lives Matter asked the police to withdraw from the parade, changes have been made.
“We undertook a process of community consultation to gather community input on how the society can better service the community,” said Burgess.
“The Vancouver Pride Society has been trying to meet with Black Lives Matter since August last year but we haven’t been able to align our schedules.”
Burgess said Black Lives Matter is scheduled to attend the next board meeting of the Vancouver Pride Society on February 21.
Daily Hive reached out to Black Lives Matter Vancouver, but have yet to hear back.
Black Lives Matter drew attention last year when it turned its participation in the Toronto Pride Parade into a protest, staging a sit-in and shutting down the parade for 30 minutes.
The Toronto parade continued only after Pride Toronto signed a document agreeing with the group’s demands, which included banning the police from taking part in future parades.
Last week, Toronto Police confirmed they will not participate in the 2017 parade after Pride Toronto voted to follow through on its promise to Black Lives Matter and ban police floats.
Toronto Mayor John Tory expressed his opposition to the decision, saying he was “disappointed and frustrated” by the outcome.
“No one should feel excluded from Pride and no group should have to decide it is better if they just don’t take part,” said Tory. “Our police officers should be commended for the bridges that have been built and that they are continuing to build.”