News / Vancouver

Duelling petitions launched over Vancouver police in Pride Parade

Controversy sparked by Black Lives Matter over VPD’s participation in Pride Parade resurfaces — the latest petition wants cops welcomed.

A Vancouver police officer enjoys Vancouver Pride Parade festivities, but controversy has again arisen over whether the force's presence makes more marginalized groups feel unsafe there — or whether it's a sign of the LGBTQ community's progress.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

A Vancouver police officer enjoys Vancouver Pride Parade festivities, but controversy has again arisen over whether the force's presence makes more marginalized groups feel unsafe there — or whether it's a sign of the LGBTQ community's progress.

A new online petition is calling for Vancouver Pride Society to include the city’s police department and RCMP in its annual celebration of LGBTQ communities.

The push comes on the heels of another petition pushing the society in the opposition direction, calling police “an instrument of state violence and oppression” which the Pride movement was formed to protest against in 1969.

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“Vancouver’s LGBTQ community has a long history of positive engagement with the Vancouver Police Department,” argued the Feb. 12 petition, launched by several LGBTQ community stalwarts and veterans, which garnered 1,258 signatories as of Tuesday midday.

One of that petition’s creators was transgender activist Velvet Steele, who told Metro she believes Pride can remain both a celebration and a protest — as long as there’s respect between opposing viewpoints.

“It’s important to keep everybody included in the negotiating process,” she said in a phone interview, “not to close the door in people’s faces.

“I’ve been the victim of violence over the years, but I’m working with the VPD to make them more sensitive to the issues of the queer community.”

Controversy last summer over whether Vancouver Pride Parade should include police floats and vehicles has re-ignited in the cold of winter, with the annual festival’s planners set to consider demands from Black Lives Matter Vancouver later this month.

“Pride parade will not be a safe space for many Black people and people of colour until (police) are removed from the parade,” stated BLM’s Feb. 7 petition, which had 679 signatures Tuesday midday. “Pride began when trans women of colour fought back against police raids at Stonewall in 1969 … The police can of course be present to do their jobs and show support but being in the parade is not appropriate.”

Steele acknowledged the history of Pride as a protest against police, but said much has changed and “we’re no longer chained to the past,” and that constructively engaging with concerns like Black Lives Matter’s was a better approach.

“Yes, when pride started it was a protest,” she said. “But how many people participate in the parade who don’t get along with each other? That’s a question we need to ask ourselves.”

Metro was unable to reach Black Lives Matter Vancouver organizers before deadline.

Vancouver police spokesman Sgt. Randy Fincham said the force will “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 in an email.

Black Lives Matter Vancouver’s petition included a section of “frequently asked questions” including one that emerged from several critics on the anti-racism group’s Facebook wall: “What about gay police officers?”

Police who wish to join Pride, they countered, “can take their uniforms off and have fun as human beings.

“Gay lawyers, doctors, and plumbers don’t need to participate as a team in their work clothes. The same goes for police,” the petition stated. “Having the Vancouver Police Department on the ground to perform a civil service is understandable however having the institution participate on a float in the organized festivities of the actual parade is inappropriate and insulting.”

With BLM expected to meet Pride Society directors on Feb. 21, another of the pro-police petition’s creators said LGBTQ community veterans felt they needed to counter a “one-sided conversation” and show support for the VPD’s outreach and inclusion efforts.

Kevin Dale McKeown, Vancouver’s first out gay journalist who was the Georgia Straight’s gay columnist in the 1970s, said he “can’t speak to the relationship between the black community in Vancouver and the police,” but said that while he acknowledged “this is a big and serious issue that’s not just historic but ongoing,” booting one group out over another was not the way to address it.

“Our hope is that the Pride Society will, after due consideration, decide our relationship with the VPD and the RCMP is such that we do welcome them in our parade,” he said. “I hope that the Pride directors are able to find a positive way to engage.”

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