Amid LGBT progress, the Vancouver Pride parade remains a touchstone for debate and controversy

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      From individuals and organizations to political parties and corporations, there’s no shortage of those wanting to be in the Vancouver Pride parade—a far cry from the event’s nascent years four decades ago. And much attention has been focused on recent decisions about exclusions from the parade.

      For instance, outcry arose when Black Lives Matter (BLM) Vancouver, in solidarity with other BLM chapters in North America, first requested limitations on the Vancouver Police Department’s participation in 2016 to draw attention to ongoing issues about policing and racism.

      Similarly, arguments developed after both UBC and the Vancouver Public Library were barred from this year’s parade, which takes place on Sunday (August 4), because these institutions permitted speakers whom the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) deems transphobic to hold events at their venues.

      Debates about controversial participants aren’t anything new. Numerous examples from the past exist, including Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (due to the term Israeli apartheid) in 2010 and Foreskin Pride (due to full frontal nudity) in 2013.

      In 2015, the B.C. Liberal party opted not to march in that year’s parade because the political entity wouldn’t sign the mandatory Trans Equality Now pledge to support legislation protecting transgender people from discrimination; the B.C. Liberals argued that the B.C. Human Rights Code covered transgender people.

      Even the Georgia Straight got kicked out back in 2007 after a cover story called Pride Incorporated, which examined corporate sponsorship of Vancouver Pride. After much flip-flopping, a final approval of the Straight's participation came too late for staff to prepare for the parade.

      That all said, among the numerous things that have changed over time are audiences and media attention.

      At one point in its history, some participants opted to march with paper bags over their heads to hide their identities in order to avoid discrimination; straight people wouldn’t associate themselves with the event; and news coverage remained limited.

      But what was once a community event has partied its way to exponential growth to become an annual citywide focal point. Accordingly, debates that formerly existed mainly within LGBT communities and media have now become amplified and integrated into the mainstream, involving numerous onlookers and critics who may have a different understanding of and relationship to the politics involved.

      What’s also important to keep in mind is that the LGBT community isn’t just one community. As the acronym itself indicates, it encompasses numerous identities, groups, and communities, each with their own concerns, challenges, and priorities. The lack of consensus as to which variation of “LGBT” to use and the numerous Jumble-style variations that continue to emerge illustrate the extent of the diversity.

      Such complexity also points to a question about inclusivity: how do you define and maintain a sociopolitical movement and community that aims to include everyone while accommodating various (even antithetical) needs or objectives?

      It’s an issue that’s relevant to organizations and even nations like Canada due to heightened awareness of and interest in inclusion issues.

      As a microcosm of society, the issues the Pride parade is facing are far from clearcut. Such is the nature of breaking new ground: mistakes and disputes, criticism and confusion all come with the territory.

      What will be essential are perseverance and innovative thinking while working toward solutions instead of fault-finding or blame. What could devolve into a tug-of-war power struggle between parties can instead become a model for how to forge new ways to accommodate intersectionality, simultaneity, multiplicity, and adaptability.

      At time, the ideal symbolized by the rainbow flag—the various colours shining together in harmony—may never be fully actualized to everyone's satisfaction, but what may be important to recognize is that perhaps that’s what Pride is: not an end product but a process that will remain forever in motion.

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