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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.

Iceland Flashback

As you may remember, this summer Beyond Gay went on an amazing tour in the Nordic Region. Helsinki, Stockholm and Reykjavik all screened the film during their Pride festivals, and I was able to participate at them all. The last stop, Reykjavik Iceland, was one of the most magical Pride experiences I have had in many years. An extra word of thanks to Canada’s ambassador in Iceland, Stewart Wheeler who spearheaded the tour, and joined me on the panel after the screening with other members of  Reykjavik’s queer community. What an incredible group of people I met there. This didn’t feel like a Pride that was “getting back to its roots,”  because I don’t think they’ve ever left them behind. Reykjavik Pride is just one aspect of a community very connected to social justice in general. And to one another.

I was sharing some of my stories with DailyExtra while on the road, and here is what transpired in Iceland.

With Pride,

Bob

Close-knit community key to gay-friendly Iceland

Harder to object to gay rights when everyone is connected, say Icelanders

Iceland is an exciting place … (read the whole story)

Innovation Infusion at VIU

Coming up on October 22nd Beyond Gay will be screened at Vancouver Island University, as part of the Innovation Infusion at the World Leisure Centre of Excellence. I was really pleased to learn that the film is being used  in their Department of Tourism and Recreation Management. After the film I’ll be presenting some of my research from SFU on Pride, queer cinema and infusing activism with the power of joy. All the details about when and where are on the poster below. It’s Free! Come Out!

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.