While debates about Black Lives Matter and police involvement in the Vancouver Pride parade have been ongoing in the city and online, the Vancouver Pride Society held a meeting with members of Black Lives Matter Vancouver on February 21.
Some of the backlash that BLM Vancouver has been experiencing shocked VPS members.
By phone, VPS operations executive director Kieran Burgess said that BLM Vancouver members brought along samples of hate mail and death threats, as well as personal stories of experiences in Vancouver, such as confrontations on the street.
"That was really shocking and disappointing for us to hear and we need to do more, I think, as a society to really fight that anti-blackness and racism," Burgess said.
He wanted to emphasize that the VPS condemns any hatred or attacks and that discrimination is unacceptable.
"We don't want any anti-blackness or racism to come into this discussion," he said. "We want to call for respectful dialogue here."
Burgess said that the VPS analyzed the city's entry, which also includes police, fire, ambulance, library, and city staff, and discovered that 45 percent of their entry was comprised of police. The VPS has spoken to the City of Vancouver to ask them to reduce their entry to one vehicle per department and to ensure there is equal representation among all departments, which the city agreed to.
The VPS has also asked the VPD to not march in uniforms or be armed, and to commit to dialogue and listening circles with local LGBT communities.
Burgess said that preoccupation about police being in uniforms is counterproductive.
"I understand there are strong emotional attachments to uniforms," he said, "but I think ultimately recognizing a group that is less than one percent and has been systemically oppressed not just here but across North America has a lot more value to it, and [in] talking with VPD and RCMP directly...they understand those concerns and they would feel comfortable discussing their entry and what that looks like, and I think they are the people that matter in that decision."
He acknowledged the opinions expressed through the counterpetition launched on February 12 by longtime LGBT activists that sought to ensure the police remained in the parade but at the same time, he clarified where their priorities lie.
"We do hear those voices that are on the other side of the counterpetition and we understand there is that feeling in the community but part of this is also doing the right thing, not just the popular thing," he said. "One of the mistakes I think we've made is not addressing while there are two petitions, it is not about numbers in a situation like this, especially when it's a human-rights issue and we need to recognize that Black Lives Matter are vulnerable voices and perhaps we need to give more weight to their voices and make sure that those voices are getting a platform."
He also praised the great work that the counterpetition organizers have done for the community in the past. At the same time, he pointed out that there are new struggles that are taking place to find space for.
"They've really fought for a long time to get to the place where they feel safe and supported by the police but I think it's important for them to recognize there's a whole group that is in their community—let's not forget the majority of Black Lives Matter are queer folks—there's a portion of their community that does not feel safe and still has a fight to fight and I think they need to recognize that while they feel their fight is over, there are still people who are screaming for their help in this community and those voices shouldn't be ignored."
Although BLM Vancouver was trying to raise awareness about their concerns, the trigger point for much opposition has focused on their approach—requesting the police to change their participation in the parade—rather than their main issues—the systemic discrimination against and oppression of black people and people of colour.
Burgess agreed that police participation has become the primary focal point of discussion, which has served as a distraction from the issues that BLM Vancouver has been trying to raise.
He said that the VPS realizes that although they strive to be as inclusive as possible, it's impossible to find a solution that will please everyone.
"Our events aim to be as accessible for all people as possible and we need to recognize that some people won't feel comfortable with the decision we make around this issue, and that's okay."
As an example, he pointed out many people won't attend the parade because they have corporate partnerships. However, he explained that they provide financial donations, insurance, and other forms of support to community partners who create other safe spaces, such as the Vancouver Dyke March, Vancouver Trans March, Aging With Pride, Queer Prom, and more.
With regard to concerns about relationships between the VPD and LGBT communities, the VPD stated from the outset that whatever happens will not affect their dedication to LGBT communities.
"One of the commitments that we had from the VPD…is that whether the police are in the parade or not, and no matter how they participate, they will always be there to serve the community that we represent and they will always continue the work of change that they are doing regardless of their participation in our event."
The VPS will follow up with BLM Vancouver in the future, and hold meetings with both VPD and BLM Vancouver present.
Burgess stated that he has a positive outlook on finding a workable solution and to inspire others to overcome differences by working through issues together.
"Our hope as a society is to work with the VPD and BLM to be an example for North America and how these organizations can work together to find a way to participate in Pride that is amenable to both of them so I think it's really exciting for us that we are taking this as a different approach."