Tami Starlight says she’s tired of the transgender community’s “lack of meaningful involvement” in the Vancouver Pride Parade and Festival.
The Downtown Eastside resident is one of several transgender-rights activists organizing the Trans Celebration and Liberation March, set to take place on July 29, two days before this year’s Pride parade.
Starlight, the executive director of the Vancouver Transgender Day of Remembrance Society, told the Georgia Straight the trans march is being planned outside of Pride, in part, to make a statement about what they feel is the transgender community’s exclusion from the annual event.
“There’s lots of tokenism—having a few drag queens and having an organization march—but what is our involvement?” she said by phone.
According to Starlight, transgender rights “don’t exist” in British Columbia and Canada. Despite this situation, she charged, transgender people are “pretty much ignored” by the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS), which puts on the Pride parade. She argues the parade has become too corporate, apolitical, and characterized by a “lackadaisical” attitude to LGBT rights.
“The Pride march didn’t begin because we were all so tickled pink at how great our society was, right?” Starlight said. “It’s as much a celebration as it is a protest, and that’s the history of it since day one. Now we’ve become quite ridiculous.”
Scott Blythe, general manager of the VPS, confirmed that Pride has been lacking in transgender-focused events in the past. He told the Straight the VPS “reached out” this year to the transgender community to see how the society could better support its efforts.
These discussions resulted in plans to hold a trans barbecue during Pride Week. On July 27, the event will take place on the VPS office’s terrace.
“We wanted to provide some sort of framework and some support for the trans community, to say, ”˜We want to show that visibility’—on their terms, not on our terms,” Blythe said by phone.
Regarding the “commercialization” of Pride, Blythe explained that the parade is expensive to put on so the society forms partnerships with businesses and organizations supportive of the LGBT communities.
The VPS is “very inclusive” of transgender people, according to Raigen D’Angelo.
A former Trans Alliance Society chair who sits on the VPS board of directors, D’Angelo noted that the Pride society revised its constitution a few years ago, adding “celebrating the transgender community” to its mandate. She said the VPS has given grants to the Transgender Day of Remembrance and the TAS in the past.
D’Angelo maintained that the VPS did not have enough time to properly arrange a trans march this summer. But she told the Straight the society plans to put on a trans march as part of next year’s Pride.
“The whole purpose that I have on the board is to ensure that trans issues are taking place and that we are a very inclusive organization,” D’Angelo said by phone. “I’m sorry that they decided to go in the direction of speaking poorly of Pride.”
Marie Little, current chair of the TAS, told the Straight her group plans to march in the Pride parade and staff a booth at the festival on Sunset Beach on July 31. She’s hopeful the VPS’s “first effort”—the trans barbecue—will lead to more such events in the future.
“Yes, I have the same concern, but possibly less so,” Little said by phone of Starlight’s criticisms. “I think that the Pride society is starting to become aware of the trans community and our concerns.”
On July 29, Starlight will MC the trans march, which will begin at 5 p.m. at Nelson Park in the West End. The event will kick off with a rally and speeches.
According to Starlight, this year’s march is an “extrapolation” of the 2010 Trans Pride March, which also wasn’t affiliated with Pride.
“We’re protesting gender policing, trans erasure, and oppression, and we’re celebrating gender expression and diversity,” Starlight said.
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