Pride is political

July 5, 2017

A colleague of mine eloquently says, “if we aren’t uncomfortable, we are not learning.” Learning is a lifelong practice.

As a white genderqueer settler, I see the work being engaged with by Black Lives Matter Vancouver (BLMV) as a much needed call to action, one that is calling attention to the systemic and everyday anti-Blackness and racism that is present in our society, and in Vancouver specifically.  

When I think of the labour that Black Lives Matter members have put into the current discourse surrounding police in Pride, I can only start by saying thank you. Thank you for making us confront the lived realities of Black queer and trans individuals in Vancouver, across Canada, and in North America. You do this labour everyday and have since, well, forever. You have been and continue to pave the way with your energy, health, wellbeing, and safety. This has been the case since the beginning of Pride when queer and trans People of Colour played the foundational role in the series of riots that became known as the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Key protesters were trans women of colour and included Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. The riots were a reaction to frequent, violent raids by police on the Stonewall Inn, a LGBTQ bar.

For decades, members of the LGBTQ community in Vancouver have worked hard to build relationships with police. The work that was put into having police march in the Parade was, in its time, seen as a success. There is a history here that needs to be recognized, for it was a strategy used to build relationships and trust between police and the LGBTQ community of this city. For some, these tactics worked as some changes have been achieved. For others, this tactic has not forwarded protections or visibility. This is one of the things that Black Lives Matter Vancouver is bringing to the surface for examination.

We cannot refute that people’s lives are impacted by everyday anti-Blackness and racism. We cannot refute the fact that people are facing violence and racial profiling by police and within and by our social systems. And, as is quite often the case, our organizing tactics need to change.

Black Lives Matter Vancouver is asking for one thing in this instance: that uniformed police be removed from the Parade. Why? Because Pride is about liberation. It’s about prioritizing and creating an opportunity for those who are most marginalized in our queer and trans communities to participate. Pride is and should continue to be political.

Stories have surfaced with the intention of highlighting how powerful it is when people who work in and represent certain institutions do not wear their uniforms while engaging specific members of our communities. The most recent was shared by the Reverend Evan Noodin Smith. In their article they wrote about how they took suggestions offered by an Indigenous Elder which prompted them to take their clergy collar off while working within Indigenous communities. In Halifax, the regional police force decided to withdraw from participating in the Pride Parade this year because of the divisiveness their participation was creating in LGBTQ/2S communities. These are examples of what allyship and reparation can look like.

This is what putting community first can look like.  

Pride has become the yearly marker that helps us remember and celebrate the decades of work, activism, and activists that came before us.  And our work is not done.

Pride should be about showing up for each other through the tough conversations. True Pride is taking the time to reflect on the gains we have achieved and build and re-build coalitions in order to continue much needed social changes — especially for those of us at the margins.

Black Lives Matter Vancouver and Black Lives Matter chapters across North America have reminded us that Pride is still a needed protest. We still have work to do to ensure that we have equal rights and equal protections for every member of our queer, trans and Two-Spirit communities both through the law and in our everyday lives. Those remedies will look different depending on who we are and how we fit or do not fit into this world.

A favourite quote of mine penned by Doris Lessing states: “this is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.” We have ongoing opportunities to understand something we’ve understood all of our lives in new ways. Black Lives Matter Vancouver has given us this opportunity; it’s past time we all listened.