The Calgary LGBTQ+ community is divided after an announcement by Calgary Pride in late July that law enforcement agencies will not be participating in uniform in this year’s pride celebration.
Calgary Pride announced July 26 that Calgary Police Services (CPS), and subsequently RCMP, Correctional Services and other law enforcement agencies will be participating without uniforms, weapons, or any form of institutional representation such as floats and vehicles in the parade set for Sept. 3.
The decision, according to Calgary Pride’s press release, is a result of consultation with CPS and Voices, a local coalition of Two-Spirit and racialized LGBTQIA+ community members.
While police and other law enforcement agencies are able to participate in the pride celebration, they are being asked to do so without institutional representation (uniforms, for example), something Calgary Pride says is harmful to some members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“We acknowledge the historical oppression and institutionalized racism faced by queer/trans people of colour and Indigenous persons, and the potentially negative association with weapons, uniforms, and other symbols of law enforcement.”
However, Calgary Pride, in its press release, acknowledges that an outright ban would be detrimental: “The aim of this announcement is to communicate that as an organization, we believe banning Calgary Police Services, and other law enforcement agencies from participating in Calgary’s Pride activities deters from engaging in meaningful discussions on how law enforcement agencies can best support Calgary’s gender and sexually diverse community.”
Many community members stand behind the decision, but still have concerns about the way the announcement is being interpreted or misunderstood by the public.
“Essentially what we are saying as people of colour and as a part of the queer community, because I’m Two-Spirit, right, I get carded and I get harassed by police when I walk downtown. You don’t have to go far and ask an Indigenous person, you know, ‘What is your relationship with CPS?’ and they can tell you that it’s not that of a great one,” says Evans Yellow Old Woman, a member of Voices and a vocal member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Although he is a member of Voices, he chose to speak on behalf of himself and does not represent Voices as an organization.
For Yellow Old Woman, it comes down to people not believing what LGBTQ+ people of colour have to say about the issue.
“If you are an officer, and you identify with the community, then join the community but recognize that the institution that you represent is still oppressive to our community,” he says.
People who say these institutions represent oppression “need to recognize that their experience isn’t the only experience, right? That just because they have had a good experience with CPS doesn’t mean everybody else from the community has had a good experience with CPS,” said Yellow Old Woman.
Pride began with the Stonewall riots, the backlash against police raids at the Stonewall Inn in New York City on June 28, 1969. While this happened in the United States, it is still considered one of the most important events leading to the gay liberation movement.
The history of Pride has been a talking point to both defend and argue Calgary Pride’s announcement, some saying there is still reason to protest against police and others saying society has moved past that point and should include uniformed police to strengthen the community’s relationship with them.
Yellow Old Woman, however, says people of colour in the community still face abuse and oppression from police.
“I’m sitting here as a queer Indigenous person and telling you that it is still happening.”
Kevin Allen, research lead of the Calgary Gay History Project, documented the complicated history of the relationship between the general LGBTQ+ community and police in a blog post following Calgary Pride’s announcement.
Most of the events happened within a person’s lifetime, including Allen’s. This includes LGBTQ+ individuals being surveilled and incarcerated between the Second World War and 1969, police tracking gay student activists in the 1970s, harassing and incarcerating gay men in Central Memorial Park between 1970 and 1980, raiding a gay bathhouse in 2002, and even Allen being targeted in 1996 for his sexuality, identified by “the funny way he walked.”
While Allen said if he “had to decide whether Calgary Police could march in the Pride Parade in full uniform this year, [he] would not know what to do,” he recognized that some people’s responses to the situation were too superficial.
One of these responses was Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who told Metro News, “Blaming current people for historical oppression would be like saying: ‘Previous mayors of Calgary have refused to proclaim Pride Week, therefore the current mayor of Calgary isn’t invited to the parade.’ I have a challenge with that.”
Allen recognizes that CPS has changed their culture since the previous events took place, but it isn’t as easy to forgive and forget as Nenshi claims.
“I do absolutely believe they’ve changed their culture, but that’s an ongoing process, that takes time, and the consequence is, I mean we lived through this, in my case as a gay man, and it makes you distrustful,” Allen says.
Calgary Pride communicated in their press release that they seek to “foster collaborative solutions regarding police participation,” and that CPS was part of the decision to exclude uniforms and institutional representation.
That doesn’t necessarily mean CPS is happy with the decision.
While CPS declined an interview with the Calgary Journal, in their press release, Chief Const. Roger Chaffin spoke about the issue. “I’m sitting here as a queer Indigenous person and telling you that it is still happening.” – Evans Yellow Old Woman
“We are obviously disappointed with the decision that police will not be allowed to march in uniform, but we are not going to allow it to undo decades of progress between law enforcement and the LGBTQ+ community in Calgary,” says Chaffin. “We have a far better relationship with the LGBTQ+ community now than we did even 10 years ago and we want to keep that forward momentum.”
They aren’t the only people who expressed disappointment with the situation.
Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart, a former police commissioner and a past Pride parade marshal, did not respond to requests from the Calgary Journal for an interview, but according to a Calgary Herald report on July 26, she too was unhappy with the decision.
“I really need to understand to a far greater extent the leadership and the decisions they’re making, and the implications this has on a go-forward basis. I just can’t support the decision and I can’t be walking in the Pride parade this year,” said Colley-Urquhart, adding she has always supported Pride but believes banning uniforms is a setback in the relationship with police.
While much of the media coverage and response to Calgary Pride’s announcement makes it seem like the uniform ban was a sudden decision, this discussion has been happening since last year’s Pride celebration.
The ban on uniforms, weapons, and other forms of institutional representation isn’t the end of what Voices was seeking to do, but rather believes it opens up a discussion.
“Voices will continuously advocate that clear policies with consequences and accountability for law enforcement agencies in order to truly feel that correct steps are being taken into account,” the group said in a press release on July 26. “What we have here is a symbolic step which does not eliminate police violence and misconduct, but rather opens up a discussion and first steps towards creating a community that is safe for all and the one that truly honours the history of what Pride marches are meant to be.”
It’s this part of the situation that most feel has been miscommunicated. Last year, the Calgary/Treaty 7 Dyke and Trans March, an event that happens during the same time as Calgary Pride, chose to not pursue being officially involved with Calgary Pride and decided to back Voices when their demands were not met.
The Dyke and Trans March is also disappointed by the decision, but for a different reason.
“The problem that we have is that it doesn’t really have any reparative value, it doesn’t bring the communities closer together, it doesn’t resolve any serious issues, but it puts a good PR face on both ends, and that’s quite frankly not enough as far as the Dyke and Trans March board is concerned,” says Vivian Vincent Veidt, the March’s media and operations co-ordinator.
The Dyke and Trans March still stands behind Voices, but the media coverage surrounding this delicate issue raises concerns with Veidt, who believes it might distract from other progress that is being made.
“My personal concern is that this step and the publicity surrounding it will erase the concrete steps that have been made and distract from the attempts to, for example, commute and extinguish the criminal records of people who were charged and convicted of crimes like buggery before 1969, when Bill C-150, Trudeau’s ‘There’s no place for the government in the bedrooms of our nation’ took hold,” she said, referring to Pierre Trudeau when he was the Liberal justice minister.
Veidt considers the ban on institutional representation a valid decision on the part of Voices and Calgary Pride, but expresses how it might harm other efforts being made, especially due to media coverage.
“It also overshadows, for instance, the CPS now has contributed a lot of resources towards sensitivity training for officers, and toward creating an outreach branch within CPS for the LGBTQ+ community,” said Veidt, adding, “the pure fact that this is overshadowing those efforts in media is cause for concern in my opinion.”
While Veidt hopes it doesn’t overshadow efforts already underway, another community member hopes more concrete action comes out of the entire incident.
“I think the biggest win from all of this is that we actually are highlighting the institutional gaps when it comes to diversity education through the Calgary Police, through the City of Calgary, and through all of the people who are so staunchly opposed to this,” says Michelle Robinson, a member of Voices who is also running for Ward 10 councillor in this fall’s civic election.
Robinson also chose to speak on behalf of herself and not Voices.
“It’s actually a win, it’s absolutely highlighting the racism we experience in this city that people like to pretend doesn’t exist, it’s 100 per cent highlighting it. So it’s actually a win for us in a lot of ways to expose it.”
Robinson is also frustrated with the way the announcement has been portrayed in the media and communicated between people.
“We are always educating people as they take on these new roles and continually trying to build those relationships and that’s the irony, the media makes it sound like we’re tearing down relationships when we’ve been working for over a year on creating relationships. So we do need that out there that we’ve been working hard on that.”
This year’s Calgary Pride celebration will go forward as planned, taking place between Aug. 25 and Sept. 4, despite divided opinion on the uniform issue.
The Calgary Pride Parade route will run along Sixth Avenue from Third Street S.E. to Sixth Street S.W., where it will turn north along Sixth Street S.W. to Third Avenue S.W.
It ends at Prince’s Island Park, where the Pride in the Park celebration occurs. The 2016 parade attracted 60,000 spectators and 150 entries last year, and applications for this year’s parade are currently full.
Editor’s Note: Between the time the Calgary Journal interviewed spokeswoman Vivian Vincent Veidt and publication, Veidt left the Treaty 7 Dyke and Trans March organization. In addition, the Treaty 7 Dyke and Trans March/Picnic in the Park will take place 1-4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 2, at Rouleauville Square, 197 17th Ave., S.W. The Calgary Pride parade takes place Sunday, Sept. 3.
Editor: Ian Tennant | firstname.lastname@example.org