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Photo by Justin Quaintance

Pride is for people, not institutions like the police

By Melanie Woods, February 28 2017 —

At its annual general meeting in January, Toronto Pride agreed to demands from Black Lives Matter to ban police floats from the annual event. In recent months, the Vancouver Pride Society has also faced petitions both for and against police participation in its annual parade.

These are just two examples of a wave of discussion sweeping Canada regarding police involvement in Pride.

The case in Toronto is largely due to a documented history of police brutality towards people of colour and other marginalized identities in the city. Whereas in Vancouver, pro-police involvement activists have expressed concerns that banning police from Pride would rewrite decades of relationship-building by the force and the city’s LGBTQ community.

More than 4.000 people and 140 organizations participated in Calgary Pride Parade last September. // Photo by Justin Quaintance

More than 4.000 people and 140 organizations participated in Calgary Pride Parade last September. // Photo by Justin Quaintance

Two weeks ago, 13 Calgary Police services officers filed formal harassment complaints and urged cultural changes within the organization. The conversation about police culture has already started here. Talk of police involvement in Pride will inevitably surface.

Every city’s relationship between the police force and its local marginalized communities is unique. Regardless, police — and business or companies for that matter — should not march in Pride.

There are two reasons groups or individuals march in Pride — either they’re LGBTQ or they want to be allies to the LGBTQ community. Both are good reasons. But there is a big difference between a group or individual marching for support and an institution marching for public relations.

The first “Pride” celebration was Stonewall in 1969, when LGBTQ folks rioted following a police raid of the Stonewall Inn. Pride celebrations sprung up in subsequent years to unapologetically celebrate LGBTQ life and identity. But in the past decade, Pride has become more of an opportunity for large institutions and businesses to boost their image as accepting and diverse. And that includes the police.

I don’t love the fact that the only rainbow flag I own is emblazoned with the Winners logo. I was hit with a moment of confusion at last year’s Pride Parade when a huge Uber float rolled past me, followed by WestJet and the Calgary Flames. And I hate that it’s not just called Calgary Pride, but “ATB Financial presents Calgary Pride.”

Pride is for the LGBTQ community, not public relations and distributing branded rainbow swag. The groups that march in Pride should be community groups and those that directly benefit LGBTQ people. Politicians pushing pro-LGBTQ legislation, local labour unions, gay bars, LGBTQ youth programs, HIV Community Link and the Fairy Tales film festival — those are the groups that should be marching. Those are the groups Pride started for.

Pride is not for police and other institutions or businesses to espouse an inclusive agenda especially when the facts prove otherwise.

According to the CBC, Calgary Police Services killed more people in 2016 than any other municipal force in the country. The recent issues with the Calgary Police Services aren’t explicitly about LGBTQ issues, but they are evidence of a negative and hostile culture. Covering that up with rainbows and smiles for a parade one day a year won’t fix that — similarly, ignoring police brutality in Toronto won’t make it go away.

I want police present at Pride. Any large-scale event requires police presence in terms of security and crowd control. This is especially the case when the group celebrating is susceptible to hate crimes or abuse. As an LGBTQ person marching, I’m happy to see police there because it makes me feel safer if some nut-job shows up screaming at me that I’m going to burn in hell.

But securing the event and marching in it are two very different things.

Everyone attending or marching in Pride deserves to feel safe, accepted and welcome. That’s the point of Pride. In light of Black Lives Matter protests across the country and the harassment complaints here in Calgary, a formal police presence marching in the parade doesn’t contribute to that.

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