British Columbia·They & Us

Police and Pride: Why activists say celebrations need to stay political

The decision to bar police from Vancouver's Pride parade aligns with the celebration's roots in political protest, activists say.

Trans, Black voices often excluded as Pride becomes more mainstream

Thousands gathered for a Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn on June 15 that was partially organized by the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. Johnson, a Black trans woman, was a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969 that helped launch the modern LGBTQ movement. (Serichai Traipoom/Marsha P. Johnson Institute)

This story is part of They & Us, a CBC British Columbia original podcast that explores gender identity beyond the binary. Subscribe at cbc.ca/theyandus

The recent decision to bar police from Vancouver's Pride parade aligns with the celebration's roots in political protest, activists say.

It's also a long-awaited decision for members of the LGBTQ community who don't feel comfortable around uniformed officers.

"Police do not make people of colour, brown and Black bodies feel safe," said Denise Fraser of QueerFM, a long-running community radio program in Vancouver. "I don't have the privileges of thinking the police make me safe, so it's a welcome move."

Fraser pointed out Pride's roots are in the Stonewall Riots of 1969, which were sparked by New York police raiding well-known gathering spots for members of the gay and trans community. The Stonewall Riots invigorated the modern gay rights movement, which was often led by trans and gender non-conforming people of colour, including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Stormé DeLarverie.

But, she said, those origins have often been overlooked as Pride events have become more mainstream.

"It's the blatant [corporatization] that's made the history of Pride just totally lost," she said.

'They always put the trans people at the back'

Aaron Devor, curator of the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria, said people with diverse gender identities were excluded from the gay rights movement as leaders in the 1980s and '90s tried to appeal to the dominant culture.

"It was moving more and more in the direction of 'We're just like white, straight, middle class people, except for who we love,'" he told CBC They & Us host Wil Fundal. "Those people who were the most gender divergent were considered an embarrassment by a lot of the organizers." 

The gay rights movement in North America can trace its roots to an historic protest at a New York tavern 1:39

Linda Slater, who came out as transgender in the early 1990s, said she often felt left out of the Pride movement's push for equal rights.

"They always put the trans people at the back and said, 'Well, let us solve our problem and then we'll help you,'" she said. "They didn't think that the community would accept the LGBT [beyond] the gays and lesbians."

That became particularly frustrating, she said, when same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005 but a bill enacting federal protections for transgender and non-binary people wasn't passed until 2017 — more than a decade later. 

  • Learn the difference between sex, gender and orientation in the video below: 

'The fight is long from over'

Slater said she worried young people might not realize how long it took to win protections, and how easy it could be for them to be taken away.

"I've gone to a Transgender Day of Remembrance ... and they all were kind of looking at me like, 'What was all the fuss about?'" she said. "'Everything's fine, I don't need to be political, I don't need to be involved.'"

Slater pointed to recent attempts to roll back gay and transgender rights in the United States as an example of how quickly things can change.

Likewise, Denise Fraser said there's much more to be done before non-white members of the LGBTQ community have the same level of safety as other members of society.

"We're losing a lot of Black trans people to murder and violence, at the moment, and those voices are not being amplified," she said. "The fight is long from over."


You can hear more about this story on episode three of They & Us, a CBC British Columbia original podcast that explores gender identity beyond the binary, hosted by Wil Fundal.

 Learn more at cbc.ca/theyandus and subscribe on CBC Listen, AppleGoogleSpotify or your favourite podcast app

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