Vancouver LGBT pioneers launch petition to counter Black Lives Matter's bid to remove police from Pride parade

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      A group of longtime Vancouver LGBT activists and community pioneers have launched a petition to counter Black Lives Matter Vancouver’s request to have the police removed from the Pride parade. These activists are concerned that the voices of older generations who helped found the communities and worked hard to develop relationships with the police are being ignored, in addition to others. 

      The counter-petition was launched on February 12. 

      The organizers of the petition are Velvet Steele, a Vancouver trans and sex worker rights advocate who was a member of the Trans/Police Liaison committee in the early 1990s; Gordon Hardy, a co-founder of the Vancouver Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s; Sandy-Leo Laframboise, a trans queer activist and Métis Two Spirit elder; and Kevin Dale McKeown, Vancouver's first out gay journalist and an LGBT columnist for the Georgia Straight in 1970s. 

      The petition cites the history of the relationship between the Vancouver Police Department and local LGBT communities.

      “Vancouver’s LGBTQ community has a long history of positive engagement with the Vancouver Police Department, from the first Gay and Lesbian/Police Liaison Committee in 1977, through the 1980s with the work of community leaders like Jim Deva, Jim Trenholme, and Malcolm Crane, and continuing today as the LGBT/Police Liaison Committee. We've been doing this work for 40 years now.”

      The petition organizers also note that the VPD and RCMP have participated in the parade since 2002, which “signifies the progress we have made in our struggle for LGBTQ equality”.

      Just as the Vancouver Pride Society operations executive director Kieran Burgess told the Georgia Straight that their approach would differ from Pride Toronto’s to reflect the different history and population composition of Vancouver, the counter-petition organizers expressed a similar sentiment.

      “While the objections that Black Lives Matter Vancouver makes against the presence of the Vancouver Police Department in the Vancouver Pride Parade 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.” 

      The counter-petition is a reaction to BLM Vancouver’s petition launched on February 7 to request, for a second time, that the Vancouver Pride Society have the VPD withdraw all of its uniformed, armed officers from the parade. 

      Trans and sex worker activist Velvet Steele

      By phone, Steele told the Georgia Straight that the counter-petition was launched in reaction to the Toronto police announcement that they would not be participating in Toronto’s Pride parade, which raised concerns that the same thing could happen here.

      Steele concurs that Vancouver is different from other Canadian and U.S. cities. Although BLM Vancouver spokeperson Daniella Barreto told the Georgia Straight that her group perceives the VPD as representative of police institutions elsewhere, Steele disagrees with such a perception.

      “As Canadians, we can’t compare ourselves to the States or make ourselves similar to that,” she said. “We have a very rich and diverse Asian community here in Vancouver and I think we need to be celebrating all different cultures and backgrounds and ethnicities and things like that, and the fact that we are living together so cohesively and so well and loving each other and enjoying the differences and the variations and everything else, that to me is exciting.”

      She also expressed concerns about how the older generations who helped develop the local LGBT communities, including indigenous and Asian Canadian individuals, are being “systematically ignored and pushed out of the whole situation”.

      Two-spirit trans activist Sandy-Leo Laframboise

      Steele herself experienced discrimination from the police in both Toronto and Vancouver. In the 1990s, she said, Toronto police displayed a lack of response to physical assaults she experienced, including being stabbed or having her fingers broken, and made comments about her lifestyle, clothing, BDSM paraphernalia, and appearance. She also witnessed police discrimination against trans friends and acquaintances.

      When she began to meet LGBT police officers and began to learn about their challenges, she became more involved in helping to educate them.

      “It just strengthened my resolve to keep on working forward to educate them and sensitize them.”

      Steele has worked with the Vancouver police in various capacities, ranging from appearing in the VPD’s Walk With Me video to working closely with the VPD’s LGBT liaison officer and more. 

      Trans activist Velvet Steele participated in the 2016 Vancouver Police Department's Walk With Me video about transgender issues.

      “It’s holding them to task and keeping them held to task and keeping them at the table, keeping them included in what’s going on,” Steele said. “The lack of inclusion of the negotiations here at the table is not a resolve. It’s not a process to solve anything or to move forward into the future.” 

      She said she now believes VPD is “one of the most progressive police forces in the country that is willing to work for resolve and work towards the future and to be very much a part of our community”.

      That’s why she feels strongly that the police should be a part of the parade.

      “The fact that they have come that far along in terms of acceptance and working hard to be by our side, they should have every opportunity to be there as well,” she said.

      Vancouver's first openly gay journalist Kevin Dale McKeown

      In comparison to how Steele and others worked to resolve relationships with the police, there are two aspects to identify in BLM Vancouver’s request.

      One is BLM Vancouver’s objective, which is to raise awareness about issues of systemic racism, violence, and oppression within or by police institutions against black people.  

      The second aspect is how they have chosen to address these issues, which is their proposed solution—the removal of armed, uniformed police from the parade.

      This approach is different from, for example, expressing concerns of discomfort and asking the VPS and the VPD to come up with a solution, or to propose to work with these groups to educate them and figure out a solution together.  

      Steele said she agrees with the first aspect—that anti-racism and anti-oppression work is important and needs to be addressed—but is opposed to the way in which BLM Vancouver is asking the VPS to agree to their solution.

      “It’s not open-minded,” she said. “It’s demanding. It’s almost acting in a bullying manner.”

      Vancouver Gay Liberation Front co-founder Gordon Hardy

      She said she is also offended if critics tell her she cannot express her opinions because she is privileged simply because she is white. She said she experiences transphobic discrimination on a daily basis, has been denied employment, and has been isolated in hospitals from other patients because she is trans. 

      Unlike how the situation has been addressed in other cities, Steele said she would rather see Vancouver lead by example and set a precedent.

      The counter-petition is available on the website. The petition will be delivered to the VPS.

      The petition will close on February 20, the day before the VPS is scheduled to meet with BLM Vancouver members on February 21. This year's Vancouver Pride parade will be held on August 6.

      When the Georgia Straight asked the Vancouver Police Department for an interview about their involvement in Pride, VPD spokeperson Sgt. Randy Fincham issued the following statement on February 10: "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." 

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on FacebookYou can also follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at @StraightLGBT or on Facebook.