Open Letter to the Vancouver Pride Society and the Vancouver Police Department from Black Lives Matter Vancouver

We would first like to acknowledge that we are writing this and doing our organizing work on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations.

OPEN LETTER TO THE VANCOUVER PRIDE SOCIETY AND THE VANCOUVER POLICE DEPARTMENT

Black Lives Matter Vancouver and the Black community have spent the last weeks grieving, healing and validating our humanity. Again.

We began this letter after the events in Orlando. We were saddened and frustrated to see the ways in which the LGBTQ+ communities of Vancouver erased the very obvious racialized nature of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida. That event overwhelmingly affected Black, Latinx and Muslim families. The organizing in Vancouver focused mainly on “the queer lives lost” while many of us felt the visceral impact of intersectionality: being queer, of colour, and constantly isolated and endangered because of the two.

We now continue this letter given the indirect address from the Vancouver Pride Society regarding their parade and Black Lives Matter (BLM), in an open statement released on July 12th, 2016. We are keen to engage in respectful dialogue. We invite crucial, concrete action to be implemented by The Vancouver Pride Society in intentionally including Indigenous folks, people of colour (PoCs) and Black folks this year and beyond.

To be abundantly clear, Black Lives Matter is about focus, not exclusion.
A Pride flag does not shield us from racism, discrimination and violence. In fact, as researchers and activists are well aware, being queer makes PoCs more vulnerable to interpersonal, institutional and structural violence. Because there are relatively few queer Indigenous and PoC folks (particularly those who identify or are read as Black) represented in Vancouver, it is imperative that Pride makes space to actively include these groups. There is a difference between “diversity” and “inclusion”. Tokenistic representation is different from intentional, self-motivated participation in an organization and an organization’s events. We encourage the Vancouver Pride Society to take action in pursuing the latter.

At our vigil on Sunday we successfully negotiated a basic police presence from the Vancouver Police Department. We acknowledge that in certain contexts police presence to perform a job of civil service may deter acts of homophobia and violence, especially at designated queer events such as Pride. However, we cannot divorce the policing institution from its historical and continued violence against Indigenous and PoC communities, racial profiling, or inaction around our missing Indigenous women. We stand with BLM-Toronto and many other BLM chapters in their discontent with police being involved in the parade itself.

BLM-Vancouver had not directly heard from the Vancouver Pride Society before the statement was released publicly online despite the Society’s stated intentions of inclusion and a desire to reach out to us.

We will not be taking part in the Pride parade, by participation or protest, and have instead chosen to focus our energy elsewhere. The Dyke March responded positively to the recent events in Toronto and, with compassion and dignity, have invited BLM-Vancouver to lead as Grand Marshall this year as part of their contribution to Pride. We have responded to that positive message of solidarity and humanity and are pleased to be involved with several other QTBIPoC-centred events as well. We do this not only because we feel that Pride no longer represents community action, resistance and revolution but also as an act of solidarity with BLM chapters across North America to whom Pride parades have been made inaccessible. We wholeheartedly support the actions of other BLM chapters such as BLM Toronto and BLM San Francisco and although we may not face the same immediate threats of police brutality, we refuse to participate in the whitewashing, armament and exclusivity of any Pride Parade unless concrete and explicit commitments to the contrary are made.

The Pride Parade stems from the Stonewall Riots of 1969, led by trans and queer PoCs against police raids on the establishment. Police raids on bathhouses were commonplace in Toronto until 1981 and the ensuing riots were the roots of Toronto’s own Parade. Only this year was an apology issued from Toronto police, and even then it was at the request of the gay community.

Therefore, we understand and support BLM-Toronto’s reluctance towards having the police force, as it exists as an institution, involved as a prominent fixture in the parade. Having the Vancouver Police Department on the ground to perform a civil service is understandable. Having the institution participate on a float in the organized festivities of the actual parade is inappropriate and insulting to those who came before us to make Pride celebrations possible, some of who even died for the cause. Embracing the institution in an event that originates from protest against its actions makes us justifiably uncomfortable.

We have heard rumours that there will be a military vehicle included as part of the Vancouver Police Department’s  float in the parade. The growing militarization of police forces across North America, with a recent example from Winnipeg, is disturbing when the most marginalized populations already experiencing police violence may potentially face literal warfare upon their bodies. This would be unacceptable to promote in the context of Pride history and would introduce a level of military-grade fear to Indigenous, PoC and Black folks who already grapple with the institutional violence police forces have come to represent. We feel a constant fear as Black people who continue to receive messages in the form of executions by police in the United States by gunfire, to the shrapnel of daily racism we experience, even in Vancouver, that our lives do not matter. Therefore, all lives cannot matter until Black Lives Matter.

The Vancouver Pride Society has committed to meaningful dialogue and to including the Vancouver Police Department in this dialogue as it relates to the community. We look forward to discussing concrete expressions of what this means (please see attached Appendix) and the Vancouver Pride Society’s forthcoming action to increase the participation and safety of queer Indigenous, POC and Black folks at Pride and throughout the year.

Following our successful interactions at the BLM vigil on July 10, we invite the Vancouver Police Department to voluntarily withdraw from marching in the Parade itself as a show of solidarity and understanding as to why participation in this particular manner perpetuates an unsafe atmosphere for the very same Indigenous, POC and Black communities the Vancouver Pride Society has committed to intentionally include.

We understand the requirement to have the Vancouver Police Department present to perform a civil service and ensure the safety of the public, however we look forward to this voluntary withdrawal from the parade itself as a symbolic gesture and actual sign of support for Indigenous, PoC and Black communities, and an attempt to bridge the divide that the effects of institutionalized racism impose on our daily lives.

We propose that a representative public service float, including police officers, firefighters, paramedics and others replaces the police-only float. This would still include officers who would like to participate. The float would no longer represent the police force as an institution that has been and remains fundamental to the perpetuation of structural violence against Black and brown bodies in North America.

We welcome further dialogue with the Vancouver Pride Society and sincerely hope that the motives of Black Lives Matter are represented truthfully and with respect by the media and the queer community.

In the spirit of humanity and inclusion,

 

Black Lives Matter- Vancouver

APPENDIX: Critique

 

As the Vancouver Pride Society has invited the gift of criticism, we would like to offer a friendly critique of their Statement on Black Lives Matter published on July 12, 2016 and offer the Executive Board our assistance in meaningful and genuine engagement with the marginalized population we represent.

  1. In the Statement on Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter is mentioned only once in the entirety of the document. When delivering a statement on a subject it is common to address the subject. The single mention was at the end of a paragraph that suggests that including BLM-Vancouver in discussions around inclusivity was spurred by the events in Toronto. It is troubling that the Vancouver Pride Society is prompted to talk to BLM-Vancouver only after a sit-in was staged in protest at another Pride parade.
  2. The Statement says that the Vancouver Pride Society has been talking recently about how to reflect the community more effectively. Talk needs to be followed by action. A reasonable action after the events at Pride in Toronto might have been for the Vancouver Pride Society to contact BLM-Vancouver directly about how we understood the unfolding events and ask whether we had anything to say about Pride in this city. We were not directly contacted prior to the release of the statement. We stumbled upon a web post, ostensibly about BLM-Vancouver, which scarcely addressed us. This is not how we would characterize respectful dialogue.
  3. The Statement asserts that the Vancouver Pride Society will continue to work with and include the police. It then says the Vancouver Pride Society “understand[s] that this may create barriers for some members of our community who feel they cannot access our events”. This is contradictory to their stated Core Value on the Vancouver Pride Society website to “remove barriers to full participation in the activities of the Vancouver Pride Society” and their intention to “make sure everyone feels safe and welcome”. Unless the Vancouver Pride Society provides further explanation as to a) how and about what police will be educated and b) how this will increase inclusion and safety for marginalized groups within the queer community, as well as further their own Core Values, the Vancouver Pride Society’s claims to strive for intentional inclusion may be misinterpreted as disingenuous. We have outlined how to include the police in more appropriate ways in our open letter.
  4. The Statement claims to support the concept of Pride as a protest. We wholeheartedly agree. Protest is typically an emphatic objection to something yet the Statement itself is vague and noncommittal towards BLM’s reasons for being. If this claim to political protest is true we ask the Vancouver Pride Society and the Vancouver Police Department to acknowledge and remedy our discomfort with the institutional representation of the police force as an instrument of structural violence, especially with a military vehicle in the parade, and we invite the Vancouver Police Department to voluntarily withdraw their float in the parade itself as a symbol of understanding and solidarity. This does not exclude police officers from being present or from participating in the parade with other public servants and will also serve to increase safety and inclusion for queer and trans PoCs, black and Indigenous folks as per the Statement and the Core Values listed on the Vancouver Pride Society’s website.
  5. As we have mentioned, the Trans Equality Now Campaign is an excellent step towards furthering human rights. However, for a statement that is ostensibly about BLM, there could have been a connection drawn to the disproportionate mortality of and discrimination against trans Indigenous folks and PoCs at some point during the discussion of their Campaign in the Statement. Prior international human rights abuses (e.g. Russia’s anti-gay laws) have rightly drawn immense shows of solidarity from the Vancouver Pride Society. In 2016 in the United States there have been at least 14 trans women murdered, almost all of whom were PoC and Black trans women. This is how the Trans Equality Now Campaign should explicitly relate to Black Lives Matter and draw the support of the Vancouver Pride Society. This connection was nowhere in the Statement.
  6. The Trans Equality Now website lists sex work, unpredictable treatment by police, and incarceration as a point for equality. Noting that Indigenous folks and PoCs are vastly overrepresented in the Canadian prison system in the context of colonialism and systemic racism, Indigenous and PoC trans sex workers often experience systemic oppression to a greater degree due to intersecting identities. The Vancouver Police Department’s documented lack of response towards trans sex workers’ experiences of violence, many of whom are Indigenous and PoCs, is at odds with the institution’s prominent position in a Pride parade with a focus on trans equality.

 

Given that the Vancouver Pride Society’s Statement on Black Lives Matter missed the mark by a considerable distance for particular marginalized groups within the queer community, we would like to offer digital resources to the Vancouver Pride Society’s Executive Board, staff, and representatives from the Vancouver Police Department that discuss the impacts of institutional violence for PoC and Black queer and trans people in particular. BLM-Vancouver pledges to respond to requests for this type of assistance from organizations that would like resources on anti-oppression and meaningful inclusion of PoCs in exchange for a meaningful contribution to our organization or to Indigenous communities.

 

Written by D. Barreto and core organizers


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