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Keeping Weapons Out of Pride


 

The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) has asked the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) not to march in uniform during the 2018 Pride Parade. The controversy that has erupted, as it has in cities across Canada, is proof that Pride remains an important political movement in our society, and for the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer) community in particular.

To be clear, no person, or group, is being banned here; it is the tools and other symbols of oppression that the VPS has said are not welcome. Let us not forget that Pride commemorates Stonewall rebellion; the retaliation of the queer community against police violence and oppression. So, this request is completely in line with queer history. What is surprising is that our LGBTIQ culture has become so entrenched in neo-liberal ideology, that the support for police weaponry and regalia is outstripping support for some of the most marginalized members of the queer community.

A few years ago, the primary concern was that corporate involvement was dominating Pride. Now, with basically no meaningful change on the corporate take-over of the movement, the focus has shifted to highlight the prevalence of racialized police violence, systemic institutionalized racism, transphobia and the historic and ongoing oppression of trans and queer people of colour (QTPOC) by state operatives. Incredibly important and legitimate problems. Yet many folks are upset with the VPS for taking meaningful steps to combat those concerns. Well, many upset (mostly white) middle-class sheeple need to step back and check their privilege. Why support the inclusion of weapons at Pride, rather than respecting the very real concerns of some of the most vulnerable members of the community?  Who really needs support here, marginalized QTPOC in our community, or members of the police force who don’t feel complete without packing heat? Pride is about giving space to sexual minorities, not a platform for the forces of the dominant heterosexist majority to parade their power as spectacle. It’s entirely reasonable to welcome the VPD’s support and participation as individuals, without their weapons of mass oppression.

Furthermore, as an advocate for peace, I wholly applaud the decision to ban weaponry from the parade. I’m troubled by the increasing militarization of our police forces in Canada, despite the statistical drop in crime rates. The frequency of massive police presence at public events and the violent crack downs on public dissent like those waged at the G20, are indications of real threats to our democracy. Globally acts of war and terror have escalated in ways not seen in decades. We are living in very violent and frightening times. So even if the ban on arms is not permanent – just not right now seems like a very reasonable decision, especially in light of the requests coming from directly within the LGBTIQ community, and the lengthy consultation done by the VPS.

The problem we have in our society is one of perception. On an individual level, does a person in uniform intuitively symbolize safety and security, or violence and oppression? The answer to this question will likely differ greatly if you are an Indigenous Canadian, a Somalian refugee, or a wealthy white male raised in lower-mainland. As the latter, I have had excellent experiences with the VPD. For two consecutive years, I volunteered as a parade day liaison between the VPD and the VPS; a VPD officer and I patrolled the route, me on foot and him in a cruiser, to ensure the road was clear and safe before the parade began. The anticipation and enthusiasm of the crowd was palpable. They cheered loudly, and on numerous occasions screamed “thank –you” to the officer. People ran up and shook his hand, and gushed appreciation towards him. At first I was surprised that his presence caused such unbridled emotion in people, but I understand why. He was the established authority securing safe space for the LGBTIQ community to celebrate. In many parts of the world this is unthinkable. But this is Vancouver, I’ve always lived here, I expect no less.

I fully acknowledge that the police force in Vancouver has done a better job than most in North America at working with and serving the needs of the LGBTIQ community. I also think the VPD is being unfairly demonized in a parade fraught with participants with questionable records on LGBTIQ rights, like churches and the Conservative Party of Canada. But as civil servants, the VPD should be held to a higher standard than other organizations, and lead by example with compassion and understanding. Asking them to leave their weapons behind on Pride day is not unreasonable, or unjustified. 

This debate is not about individual officers, situations, or revellers overwhelmed with appreciation. Nobody has been banned from the parade. It’s about taking steps to end systemic racism and transphobia; recognizing the forces and instruments of oppression that created and perpetuate them, and finding peaceful ways to effectively dismantle or limit the power of those harmful forces. It’s also about protecting the well-being and creating a safe space for the more marginalized minorities in our community, many of them QTPOC.

The VPD has to earn the trust of our communities, one individual at a time. It’s unfortunate that it is being singled out based on the poor record of police forces in other cities, and countries. But there is certainly still work to be done here too, so let’s be sympathetic to those people who have long histories of very real, and very violent experiences, with armed officers. Let’s also take into account that many of QTPOC have come to Vancouver from places where the police forces are not reliable. The triggering instincts felt by victims of police violence are valid, and any gestures that can be made by the VPD, and wider society, to mitigate those unwarranted fears, are wholly worthwhile. Pride has thrived on changing unjustified perceptions of the LGBTIQ community. Similarly, the VPD will improve their perceived trustworthiness, more broadly and quickly, without the visible threats of violence taunting targets of systemic oppression. And there’s no better place to start that process, than at Pride. The request for them to participate out of uniform actually provides a great opportunity for them to have fun and be creative with what they do wear, reducing some of the stigma associated with armed and uniformed personnel. This is an opportunity for the VPD to show that they are listening, to once again lead change by acknowledging the very real global history of conflict of violence inflicted against LGBTIQ people, and the lasting trauma it has caused.

There is no doubt that this year, given this debate, the VPD contingent will generate massive cheers and overwhelming support no matter what they wear when they march. Because the VPD doesn’t actually need further LGBTIQ support in Vancouver; the QTPOC community does. Racism is a real problem in Canada. The fury of this debate has proven that. Limiting symbols of state power will help dismantle the structures of oppression that facilitate the systemic racism, homophobia and transphobia that exist in our society. That is exactly what I think the VPS should be doing.

Lastly, Pride is not about inclusion. That concept is just watered down, feel good, neo-liberal branding. Racists, misogynists and climate-change deniers, to name but a few, should not be included in the Pride parade. Pride is about combatting the oppression of sexual diversity and gender difference by celebrating it publicly – and peacefully. No weapons required.

Pride the Perfectly Swedish Way

Some reflections on the Big Gay Nordic Tour are being published by DailyXtra. Here is how Stockholm Pride rocked my world … ever so gently.

Stockholm Pride: the Swedish way to be gay

How gay-friendly can Sweden be when you’re expected to fit in, not stand out?

 

The Swedish word lagom translates to adequate, or the right amount is best. It is often used favourably to suggest something is just enough without being too much.

It is also commonly used to describe the dominant standard of social behavior in Swedish culture. Fitting in is favoured over standing out. Lagom is the Swedish way. Read the whole shebang at DailyXtra.com.

 

A Big Gay Thank – You.

After four different european screenings and three amazing Nordic Pride marches, the Big Gay 2015 Pride Tour has come to an end. I was home for a heartbeat and then off to Toronto for Visible Evidence, an international documentary conference that fuelled my academic and activist engines even more. It has been an incredibly rewarding summer creating many great memories, friendships and people to thank.

I’m going to trace my steps backwards, and begin by giving a big shout out to Ambassador Stewart Wheeler and the Canadian Embassy in Iceland for spearheading this Pride Mission. Iceland is a magical place, and Reykjavik Pride was a truly heartwarming experience, even in the rain. The Icelandic people are so friendly and kind, and proud to share their magical little corner of the earth with the rest of the world. Special thanks to Pride President Eva María Thorarinsdottir Lange,  board member Ásta Kristín Benediktsdóttir, and all the folks at Pink Iceland who took such good care of me.

What impressed and inspired me the most about Reykjavik Pride was the fact they’ve managed to capture and preserve the spirit of a grass roots social movement and create a city wide celebration that the whole community supports and participates in. The screening of Beyond Gay filled the hall, and the panel afterwards spark an excellent discussion about, among other things, when Pride works well, and when other methods of community organizing are better suited for advancing social justice for LGBT people.

One of the highlights of Reykjavik Pride, and what seemed to grab the media’s attention was the rainbow painted street. It was a great photo op for the organizers and the Mayor to launch the festivities, but it was also planned so that members of the community could help out with the painting. It was wonderful to see kids, parents, queers, friends, volunteers, everyone really, taking part in the incredible transformation of the block. Great community engagement and spirit.  Along the sides of the street was a photo exhibit of past Pride events in Reykjavik, so the street was filled with memory, history, colour and energy for the whole week.

Many locals told me that the opening ceremonies was their favourite event. It took place in the incredible Harpa – the new waterfront concert hall. Wow what a venue, and what a show they put on. As I learned in Sweden, you should never underestimate the popularity and power of the Eurovsion song contest. Artist after artist belted out songs that put everyone in the spirit of Pride, that wrapped up with a rousing Icelandic rendition of I Am What I Am, that had the entire audience on their feet dancing and singing. So much talent in this little country.

The parade day was a bit rainy and wet, but that didn’t keep away the crowds. The parade and concert in the park afterwards is actually the biggest civic event in Reykjavik all year long. Over 100,000 strong. It was encouraging to see this how supportive and involved the wider community is. And what was even more impressive was that they are able to produce all these events, and get the community involved without relying on sponsorship dollars. There are no corporate logos permitted in the parade, and there was a real effort to include communities that are often still marginalized at Pride, Bisexuals, Pansexuals, Trans and Intersex people. Watch for another post in the coming weeks specifically about the magic of Reykjavik Pride.

Before arriving in Iceland, I had spent a month in Sweden. Big thanks to my friends Andrea and Tobias in Malmoe for hosting me, and showing me around. I love Sweden now. I really feel like Canada needs to take a good look at how things work over there, and get on the program. If a population base one third the size of ours can provide the services and standard of living I experienced, its clear our tax dollars aren’t working for us as well as they could be. Free university education for everyone. A standard month long summer vacation. Think about it.

Stockholm Pride was fantastic, and what I appreciated most was their Pride House. This is also where the film screened. Special thanks to Counsellor Patrick Hebert at the Canadian Embassy there for making the arrangements for it, and to my Iranian-Candian tour-guide and activist Nadia Zahebi for showing me around. It was exciting to see that along with everything else happening that week, every day you could go to the Pride House for discussions, arts events, workshops and all the good stuff of activism and education that keeps Pride relevant and social justice for everyone moving forward. Like in Iceland, Pride events in Sweden get financial support from their government through the National organization for LGBTI rights, RFSL.

I had the great opportunity to march with RFSL in the parade; they organize a group Marching for Those Who Can’t that draws attention to the needs of queer asylum seekers. It was powerful to be a part of something that really matters, if only in a small way. I’ve been to a lot of Prides now, and I have to say that for a big one, one that has to meet the needs of a large diverse community with many different needs, and where there’s definitely a desire to party and celebrate, Stockholm Pride absolutely delivers (insert Eruovision star studded concerts and amazing festival grounds here), without losing sight of the important stuff like trans rights and international LGBTI issues. It was impressive to see Pride really working like it did in Stockholm.

You’ll see more posts about the Big Gay Nordic tour soon, and if you missed it check out my previous post about Helsinki Pride, which started everything off so powerfully.

With Pride,

Bob

 

 

Next Stop Stockholm Sweden

The Big Gay European Adventure Continues in Stockholm Sweden. 

Stockholm Pride will be begin July 27th and wrap up on August 1st with the parade and festival. This is the largest Pride festival in the region and I’m excited to see how it unfolds in this very socially progressive country. I am already in Sweden, in Malmo, staying with friends and I’m getting some very interesting insight into the country. Over and over again I’m told that the LGBTQ community is completely accepted and integrated into Swedish society, and that being gay is really a non-issue here, to the point that one person, a Canadian living here, described the LGBTQ community as almost invisible.Here in Malmo there isn’t a gay village, or any clubs, bars or restaurants that cater specifically to the LGBTQ community. I wore my Beyond Gay t-shirt around town the other day, which can usually raise a few eyebrows and second looks in Vancouver; here I got nothing. I’m experiencing something wonderfully relaxing, but I’m still a little skeptical. It’s actually unnervingly accepting, but I’m pretty sure I could get used to it.

Beyond Gay screens on July 29th at 1:00 PM at cinema Klarabiografen (details here) and afterwards we’ll have a panel discussion with the a journalist from SOGI News and the Executive Director of RFSL the Swedish Federation for LGBT rights, which is sponsoring the screening along with the Canadian Embassy. On Thursday at 12:30 PM, the embassy is also hosting a screening of Out of Iran: Iran’s Unwanted Sons and Daughters by Canadian – Iranian filmmaker Farid Haerinejad, and I’ll be participating in the panel that takes place afterwards. This screening is being held in The Canadian Embassy, by invitation only, but if you’re in Stockholm and interested in attending, email me at biggaymovie@gmail.com and we can get you on the guest list. Once again I am so impressed with all the efforts the Canadian embassy in Stockholm is making to ensure that Pride here addresses social justice and LGBTQ rights around the globe. On Saturday we’ll march for those who can’t, and celebrate how far we’ve come. I’ll tell you all about it after I get some sleep.

With Pride,

Bob.