The organizers of Vancouver’s Pride Parade face criticism from some corners for being too political, and from others for not being political enough.This highlights the tricky line to walk for an event seeking to be both party and protest.Vancouver Pride Week, which every year involves hundreds of thousands of participants and celebrates the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, kicked off Monday with a launch event outside city hall. This year marks major milestones in the history of gay rights, and it also comes as the Vancouver Pride Society is drawing some criticism — and some praise — for taking political stances.
Joan-E and Vancouver City mayor Kennedy Stewart hold hands during the proclamation of Pride Week held at City Hall Monday.
Arlen Redekop /
Earlier this month, the Pride Society first barred the University of British Columbia from participating in this Sunday’s parade, and then soon after, cancelled the Vancouver Public Library‘s participation. In both cases, the Pride organizers said the decision was motivated by the respective institutions providing platforms for events spreading messages the society deemed transphobic. UBC students and employees, as well as VPL workers, are still invited to march, but not under the banners of their respective institutions.The motto for this year’s Vancouver Pride is “50 years and still fighting,” and Pride Society co-chairs Charmaine De Silva and Michelle Fortin both emphasized that theme at Monday’s launch event.This year marks the 50th anniversary of two major events in the history of gay rights in North America: Canada decriminalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults in 1969, and that year’s Stonewall riots, where members of New York’s queer community clashed with police, an event now viewed as the beginning of the modern gay pride movement.De Silva said that while the progress of the last 50 years — and the pioneers who fought for it — should be celebrated, many community members, including transgender and people of colour, “are still left behind and left out.”That’s why, she said, “we felt it was important to recognize that after 50 years of legislation and activism, it is still a fight.”Related
This year’s controversy followed the decision before last year’s Pride Parade to bar Vancouver police officers from marching in uniform. That policy, which remains in place, followed similar shifts in some other cities’ pride parades due to concerns among some members of the queer community around a visible police presence. VPD officers are still invited to participate out of uniform.But for a movement borne out of riots and protest and fighting, some say pride has become too corporate and mainstream. The Vancouver Pride Society is supported by several big-money sponsors, including TD Bank, Air Canada, Microsoft and Walmart.Vancouver Pride also enjoys public support, including a federal government commitment announced this year of $1 million in funding over the next two years. The City of Vancouver also supports Pride in several ways, including an $8,500 community arts grant this year, Monday’s proclamation and launch event at city hall, and transit shelter ads. Vancouver’s combined cash and in-kind support for Pride in 2019 totalled almost $130,000, according to numbers provided by the city Monday.
Vancouver City mayor Kennedy Stewart announces the proclamation of Pride Week at City Hall on Monday.
Arlen Redekop /
David Cavey, the federal Conservative candidate for Vancouver Centre in this year’s election, cited the public money Pride receives in a statement Monday. Announcing he had decided not to march as planned in this year’s parade, Cavey said Pride barring UBC and the library was “shameful behaviour.”Cavey, who’s running in the riding that includes the Pride Parade route through Vancouver’s West End, said the Pride Society “should not be playing politics with the taxpayers’ money.”But, as Pride Society executive director Andrea Arnot pointed out: “Pride is political.”“We are not partisan, but we are political,” she said. “And the fact we’ve seen an increase in incidence of homophobia and transphobia in Canada and Vancouver in the last year, it means we need to be more political than ever.”Everyone is welcome to come and watch the parade, but the Pride Society has the right to choose who it partners with and who marches, Arnot said.After the Pride Society barred the participation of UBC and the VPL this year — and after the 2017 policy change about uniformed police — Arnot has heard some people argue the Pride Parade is supposed to be for everyone. But that’s not quite correct, she said.“It’s not about: ‘The Pride Parade is for everyone.’ The Pride Parade is for queer, trans, and two-spirit people to be accepted in the rest of society,” she said. “So we don’t have to invite people to our parade who are transphobic or homophobic.”
Vancouver City mayor Kennedy Stewart announced the proclamation of Pride Week at City Hall in Vancouver on Monday.
Arlen Redekop /
Cavey’s opponent in Vancouver-Centre, eight-term incumbent Liberal MP Hedy Fry, said Monday that without wading into the decision about the specific speakers some deemed objectionable this year at UBC and the library, the Pride Society can choose who they allow to march in their parade every year.“They have every right to decide who will walk in the street and be proud with them,” said Fry, adding she plans to march Sunday in her 26th Pride Parade.Representatives of UBC and the Vancouver Public Library both cited their commitment to freedom of expression in their hosting events with controversial speakers, and the speakers themselves denied that their views were transphobic. The Pride Society disagreed.“We recognize that universities and libraries are houses of public debate, and that hosting controversial speakers is going to happen,” Arnot said. “But when it crosses the line from freedom of expression to actual hateful speech, then that’s what the problem is for us.”Similar debates are playing out in other cities about the commercialization of pride. In New York, home of the 1969 Stonewall riots, a new anti-corporate event has been launched to rival the NYC Pride Parade, which draws millions of people and is believed to be the world’s largest pride parade. This year’s smaller parade in New York is being organized by a group called Reclaim Pride, who, in their words, oppose “the exploitation of our communities for profit and against corporate and state pinkwashing, as displayed in Pride celebrations worldwide, including the NYC Pride Parade.”In Vancouver, last Saturday’s third annual March on Pride and this Saturday’s 16th annual Vancouver Dyke March are both smaller, grassroots events, free from corporate sponsorship.“We don’t accept any corporate sponsorships whatsoever, that’s something that kind of differentiates us from the larger Pride Society, we’re sticking to our grassroots,” said Vancouver Dyke March president Claire Ens.The Dyke March, which has never allowed uniformed police officers to march, was also critical of the Vancouver Library and UBC for hosting the speakers in question, Ens said.Many community members have opinions — and criticisms — about the way the larger Vancouver Pride Society has grown and evolved over the decades, Ens said, “but I’ve certainly seen, in the past few years, a lot of progress being made by the organizers of the Pride Society to come back to some of that grassroots stuff themselves.”“Pride has started to make use of their platform to be a little more political. They are making political decisions, and they are being more bold,” Ens said. “We could certainly use them to continue on that way, because we can’t do it by ourselves.”Related
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