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No one is free until everybody’s free

Director’s Corner: July is Pride month, and we shouldn’t forget its history of protest

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July is Pride Month in Victoria and Vancouver, and with annual parades approaching, the question of police participation in the LGBTQ2S festivities is hotly debated.

The history of Pride is a protest, with its roots in 1969’s Stonewall riots and led by trans women of colour like Marsha P. Johnson. Indeed, the history of Pride in Vancouver is a challenging one too—advocates have long placed themselves at great personal risk to stand up in the face of hate and bigotry.

And so it is with an eye to that history that I’ve looked at the discussion around police participation in Pride events. This spring at a Black Lives Matter workshop, longtime members of Vancouver’s LGBTQ2S community shared their harrowing experiences of police harassment and violence from the ’70s and ’80s.

They also talked about the immense pride they now feel walking alongside police in the parade and the progress police participation represents. This shift from violence to celebration is a huge accomplishment and a testament to how far our society has come thanks to the work of the LGBTQ2S community. The memories of police violence in the ’80s were offered as a reason to support today’s police participation in the parade.

But how far we’ve come is no indication of how far we’ve yet to go.

“Just because some members of the queer community feel comfortable doesn't mean everybody does,” said Black Lives Matter Vancouver organizer Daniella Barreto in an interview with the Georgia Straight earlier this year. “Black Lives Matter would like people to think about not just how they feel in relation to the police but why certain members of the queer community may not feel that comfort yet."

Despite huge progress in recent decades, we know that LGBTQ2S people still experience discrimination, violence, and hate, and are vastly overrepresented among people experiencing homelessness and poverty. But identity is complex, and our experiences of the world are not just based on our gender or sexual orientation, but also on our ethnicity, ability, income, and more.

We also know that Black people Indigenous people, and other people of colour experience higher rates of violence, police violence, and incarceration than those whose race or ethnicity does not make them a target.

And Canada is—despite our dearly held belief that we are an exception—no safe haven for people of colour. From a 16-year-old Black girl allegedly tackled by police in Surrey this April in a case of mistaken identity, to Nigerian-Canadian Solomon Akintoye allegedly beaten by Vancouver Police on his way to a job interview in 2011, we need not look far for reasons why Black people and people of colour may feel unsafe around police.

Though it is not my experience, I can understand this reality by listening to the experiences of others. And it is my responsibility to act once I have heard.

You may have grown up knowing you can call on the police for safety when you need help, or you may have come of age learning the police may actually make you less safe.

Our experiences are not the same—and if we find ourselves feeling safe, the best we can do is to look around us to ask, “Who does not feel safe? Why are they not safe?“ And next, “What can I do to make them more safe?”

Halifax Police voluntarily withdrew from Halifax Pride Parade. Ottawa’s Capital Pride has similarly welcomed the participation of individual officers, but asked them to leave their uniforms at home. The Vancouver Police Department and the forces that make up the Greater Victoria Police could show real insight and leadership by stepping back, and voluntarily removing uniformed police officers from Pride parades.

Any movement for justice, inclusion, and equality is right to celebrate its success and feel proud of accomplishments. But celebrating how far we’ve come ought not stop us from seeing how far we still have to go.

Jessica Hannon is the Executive Director of Megaphone Magazine.

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