While much attention and debate has been focused on whether or not police would be allowed to participate in this year's Vancouver Pride parade, the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) has conducted community consultations to solicit feedback about numerous other issues in addition to that particular one.
The results were compiled into a report released today (May 11).
Since last summer, the VPS collected comments from 320 people via phone calls, emails, anonymous online surveys, monitored social-media discussions, consultation sessions, and one-on-one meetings.
VPS co-executive director Andrea Arnot told the Georgia Straight by phone that she understands the importance of asking community for feedback to find out what is needed, rather than what simply deciding what needs to be done.
"For myself coming in last year as co-executive director, I knew there were critiques of Pride that have been out there that I would want to work on but I definitely wanted to engage in consultations," she said.
She added that the process does not end with this year but will continue on even after Pride 2017 ends.
"We feel like creating institutional and systemic change is an ongoing process, it's an ongoing conversation, not just with police but with all of our institutions in Canada, like our judicial system, our healthcare system, our education system, all of those have oppression built into them and everyone needs to continually work on that issue," she said.
Here is a summary of some of the main points in the report.
Opinions about corporate involvement in the parade ranged from those who regarded support from businesses as a sign of progress to those who have no desire for acceptance from mainstream organizations.
While in the past, each parade entry application has been discussed, this year the VPS Parade Working Group will use a scoring system for the 2017 parade in which each application is evaluated for:
• what LGBT initiatives the organization has created or supported
• if the organization has gender and sexual orientation policies about diversity, inclusion, and antidiscrimination
• what the organization's values are and how they align with VPS values
Also, an extra 20 spaces will be reserved in this year's parade solely for queer organizations and community groups until the entry deadline in June.
Funds raised from the VPS' Unicorn Ball have been devoted to assisting marginalized groups to participate in Pride events.
Politics versus partying
Community members expressed concerns on a preoccupation with parties at the expense of recognizing queer history.
This year, the VPS is creating a Living Library, in which attendees will be able to speak with community storytellers and ask questions. Their stories will also be recorded on film to be made accessible online.
In addition to previous alcohol-free events, five new non-alcohol events have been added this year: Pride Movie in the Park, LGBTQ Immigration Panel, Pride Premiere at Robson Square, City of North Vancouver Afternoon All-Ages Dance, and the Powell Street Festival's "Japanese Third Gender" Event.
The VPS is also teaming up with Karmik to provide onsite harm-reduction education and support at large party events. The West End Business Improvement Association and Last Door Recovery will provide chill spaces with live performers at large events.
The society is also working with parade MCs to create space to recognize international LGBT people who have died.
Trans-, femme-, and bisexual-inclusion
Some people expressed concerns about the lack of recognition and representation of trans people and issues, such as the lack of trans flags, booths, events, or performers. Others had experienced inappropriate interactions with volunteers, such as being misgendered. However, many people were supportive of the TEN pledge, which required participants to sign a commitment to trans rights.
In response, the VPS will purchase more trans flags, offer trans-dedicated spaces, continue the TEN pledge, and continue to provide gender-related training.
A VPS bursary will fund a Bi-Cabaret to be held in East Vancouver during Pride month featuring bisexual performers. Bisexual performers will also be invited to VPS stages. More discussions will be held after Pride about these issues for Pride 2018.
Community members also raised issues about Pride centering on cisgender gay white men.
In addition to some of the previously mentioned initiatives, Pride Sports Day will be expanded this year to include more family participation, the VPS is inviting diverse community members to adjudicate the StandOut Awards, and an even more diverse range of performers will be invited this year.
People of colour and indigenous people
While some community members were concerned about the lack of spaces for people of colour and indigenous people, others brought up issues about pinkwashing and Jewish issues.
Concerns about the parade being previously moved to the same date as the Japanese Canadian community's Powell Street Festival is being addressed by the previously mentioned Japanese Third Gender Event as well as shared performer resources between the events to encourage more crossover.
Also, the aforementioned Unicorn Ball funds created a bursary program for vulnerable or marginalized groups to participate.
The community consultation process itself enabled the VPS to build relationships with and invite diverse community members to participate in Pride events.
The Pride Knowledge Exchange Program is a pilot project that will help community members to attend conferences, organize events, and more. One example is how a program participant has started up a drop-in beading circle with the indigenous burlesque collective Virago Nation.
Concerns about police involvement in Pride raised by people of colour are also being addressed.
People with disabilities
Challenges ranging from transportation and seating to sign-language interpretation were raised by community members.
As a result, the VPS is moving and restructuring the main parade accessibility viewing areas with new smaller viewing areas on Robson and Denman streets, providing improved space for ASL interpreters and better parking and drop-off areas, increasing accessible toilets, and more.
Despite all the concerns and criticism about the event, many participants also expressed gratitude for various aspects of Pride, such as the diversity of events, its multiday program, VocalEye services for blind people, and more.
In the report's conclusion, the VPS stated that they will continue to accept feedback and work to improve Vancouver Pride.
To read the full report, visit the VPS website.