LGBT refugee organization withdraws from Vancouver Pride parade due to police participation

While uniformed police won't be allowed in Calgary's Pride parade, police will be participating for the first time in uniform at Belfast's event

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      A local organization dedicating to helping LGBT refugees is pulling out of the Vancouver Pride parade to protest police participation.

      Rainbow Refugee has marched in the parade for 10 years.

      In an open letter to the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS), Rainbow Refugee board chair Sharalyn Jordan explained that many of its members come from countries where they faced homophobic, transphobic, and HIV–related persecution and discrimination.

      While some members felt that developing a relationship with the police to have them marching in Pride is an accomplishment, other members had a pervasive fear and distrust of police.

      A point of concern raised in the letter is the relationship with the Canadian Border Services Agency.

      "There are clear patterns of racism in who is detained," Jordan stated. "Refugees are detained in provincial jails for no crime other than trying to get to safety. Racialized refuges have been the victims of police assaults and police shootings."

      After discussing the issue with its members, the organization has decided not to march in the parade this year.

      "As much as Rainbow Refugee wishes to celebrate and demonstrate for the rights and pride many of us enjoy in Vancouver, we support the members of Rainbow Refugee, and other communities, who do not yet receive equal protection, safety and respect from Canadian law enforcement," Jordan stated.

      Rainbow Refugee

      Rainbow Refugee and Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad will be highlighted at a panel discussion presented by the Vancouver Pride Society and Canadian International Council's Vancouver branch.

      Welcome to Vancouver: A Discussion on LGBTQ2+ Refugees on Thursday (August 3) will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. at 500 Granville Street.

      Police participation in the parade has been a controversial issue since last year's event when Black Lives Matter Vancouver, following the lead of Black Lives Matter Toronto, requested that uniformed, armed police officers to not participate in the parade.

      After holding community consultations, the VPS decided in May to permit 20 percent of the VPD's contingent to march in uniforms while the rest will march unarmed and without uniforms.

      Black Lives Matter Vancouver held a march to protest police participation in the Vancouver Pride parade from Yaletown to the West End on June 25.

      Black Lives Matter Vancouver held a protest march on June 25.
      Craig Takeuchi

      Uniformed police did not participate in the Toronto and Halifax Pride parades.

      On July 26, Calgary Pride announced that police were welcome to participate in the parade if they did not march in uniforms, firearms, vehicles, floats, or other institutional representation. Prior to future Pride participation, the Calgary Police Service (CPS) will conduct formal diversity and inclusion training.

      “We are obviously disappointed with the decision that police will not be allowed to march in uniform, but we are not going to allow it to undo decades of progress between law enforcement and the LGBTQ* community in Calgary,” Chief Constable Roger Chaffin stated in a July 26 news release. “We have a far better relationship with the LGBTQ* community now than we did even ten years ago and we want to keep that forward momentum.”

      Uniformed Calgary police officers will still be present along the parade route to protect public safety.

      In contrast, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) will join the Belfast Pride parade on August 5 for the first time in uniforms. Although they have participated in the parade in the past, they previously participated without uniforms.

      According to the BBC, the PSNI not only want to support LGBT communities but want to encourage the reporting of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes.

      The Vancouver Pride parade will be held on Sunday (August 6).

      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.