Push to bar police from pride march divides LGBTQ
Calgary has joined a growing list of Canadian cities where pride parade organizers are telling police officers who want to march that they are not welcome in uniform.
The new policy is an acknowledgement of “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,” Calgary Pride said in a statement Wednesday.
Responding to a demand that began last year in Toronto with Black Lives Matter, pride organizers in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and Halifax have this year sought to assuage those who see the police as oppressors.
But the move is proving divisive within the LGBTQ community, where many members fear excluding officers will undermine years of work building bridges with police forces.
“For those of us who are older and were part of that first generation to come out, at some cost, we grew up in an era where people were barred, lost their homes, jobs, were subjected fairly regularly to beatings, and where the police were not our friends,” Sean Bickerton, a Vancouver gay activist, said in an interview Thursday.
“So a lot of people worked very hard to build relationships, and to build trust with the law enforcement and the justice community.… To see that thrown away is for us who come from that generation a tragic error in strategy, and it flies in the face of the way that we gained acceptance in society.”
The cold shoulder has offended straight officers, who thought marching in the parades signalled their enlightenment, and LGBTQ officers proud to be able to parade their identity.
“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,” Police Chief Roger Chaffin said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”
(The asterisk makes special note in an effort to include all transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming identities.)
In Ottawa, the police chief has not been so conciliatory. Last month, Ottawa’s Capital Pride requested that offduty police officers not wear their uniforms at the Aug. 27 parade. Organizers said they support the presence of LGBTQ officers “and their allies” in the parade. “However it is of prime importance to us that everyone feels safe at Pride,” they said, in particular youth, racial minorities and Indigenous community members.
Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau responded by announcing that the force would not have a float or a vehicle in the parade and that off-duty officers would have the choice to wear their uniforms as they marched.
“We are proud of our uniform, and it is part of our identity — it’s who we are and how we serve the community,” he said. He later confirmed on Twitter that he intends to march in his uniform.
Alex Lewis, a gay police constable who lives in Ottawa and works in northern Ontario, wrote on Facebook of his disappointment that he was not welcome to participate in uniform.
“The irony in this, of course, is that while Capital Pride expects police officers to stand on the sidelines providing security for their event, the officers who choose to march with them, and are in fact their strongest allies, are not welcome to celebrate this year,” he wrote.
He said he pictured marching with his husband and their daughter, without anyone batting an eye. “I could tell her how much the world has changed. But alas, Capital Pride, you just proved that it hasn’t,” he wrote.
The move to exclude uniformed officers began in Toronto after Black Lives Matters protesters blocked last year’s pride parade and demanded an end to the presence of police floats and uniformed marchers.
The Vancouver Pride Society announced in May that it was following suit, restricting police officers to a city of Vancouver entry and specifying that only 20 per cent of participating offices can be in uniform. In Halifax, the police force decided in May to bow out of the parade, which was held last weekend.
In St. John’s, the Pride committee reversed a decision to exclude uniformed police officers from its parade. “The parade is to be open for all to express their identity in whatever means they deem representative,” the committee wrote. “This includes the possibility that uniforms, in any capacity, represent an identity important to an individual.”
In Vancouver, Bickerton has chosen not to march in a parade that excludes police. He is hopeful the current trend to shun police will be short-lived.
The Calgary Police Service participates in the Pride Parade in downtown Calgary in 2014. LYLE ASPINALL / POSTMEDIA NEWS FILES