Mid-parade protest was necessary to be heard, Pride demonstrator says
Pride organizers 'were unwilling to talk with us without us having any type of leverage'
Protesters at Edmonton's Pride parade expected mixed reaction when they stopped the parade in its tracks and issued a list of demands, including uninviting all Edmonton police, RCMP and military personnel from the parade.
But Shay Lewis, who was part of the protest, said stopping the parade was necessary for the conversation to move forward.
"The protest happened because they were unwilling to talk with us without us having any type of leverage," Lewis, who is gender-fluid and uses pronouns they/them, told CBC's Edmonton AM Monday.
Lewis said a group met with the Edmonton Pride Festival Society to discuss the participation of police and military in the parade, but it wasn't until they stopped the parade that the Pride committee agreed with its demands.
One of those demands was to uninvite Edmonton police, RCMP and the military from future parades.
- Edmonton police, RCMP, military banned from future Pride parades
- Members of RCMP, military call for 'more dialogue' after being banned from Edmonton's Pride parade
"One of the biggest issues is that there's a lot of individuals within the queer and trans community, within the people of colour community, that just don't feel comfortable around the police because of their personal experiences of trauma," Lewis said. "When police are there, they don't come."
The goal of Pride, Lewis said, is to be an inclusive space for all.
But the participation of police can be triggering, with many still keenly remembering the 1981 police raid on the Pisces Health Spa where 56 men were arrested for "acts of indecency."
As well, the fact that street checks still disproportionately affect black and Indigenous people makes the police presence challenging for some people at Pride.
- 'Queer History' app documents Edmonton's LGBTQ history
- Queer History Project chronicles struggle of Edmonton's LGBTQ community
- Indigenous women nearly 10 times more likely to be street checked by Edmonton police, new data shows
"The way they represent, possibly, their profession or their career impacts everyone around them," they said.
Shea (won’t give last name) helped organize the protestors. He says they the protesters are part of a group who didn’t want Edmonton Police in the parade. He says they plan to block the parade until they reach a resolution with Pride organizers. <a href="https://t.co/tOOpDH52Qe">pic.twitter.com/tOOpDH52Qe</a>—@TravisMcEwanCBC
Police disappointed but accepting
All levels of police have expressed disappointment over the decision. The Edmonton Police Service called it "difficult to understand and disappointing," but they accept it.
Mike Elliott, president of the Edmonton Police Association (EPA), was volunteering in the beer gardens at the parade over the weekend.
While disappointed, he said he is willing to pursue difficult conversations about the relationship between the community and its police.
"I don't want people to be fearful or feel like they can't be comfortable around a police officer," Elliott said Monday. "If they feel that way, we need to hear about what those issues are."
Elliott acknowledged past wrongs of the bathhouse raids and said levels of police and government are looking into how to ensure people of colour are not disproportionately targeted by street checks.
But he said it's important police continue to show their support to the community. If they can't do that through the parade, Elliott said his door is open.
"I'm more than willing to sit down at the table and find out what can be done, if we can change, what needs to be changed, what doors need to be opened to address their concerns," he said.
Listening, he said, will help police learn how to do their jobs better. "I may think I know the issues, but maybe I don't know them all or I don't understand them from their perspective," he said. "But I want to learn from their perspective."
Lewis said communication between the two groups would be a great start. They acknowledged the strides police have made in recent years but said it's not good enough yet.
In an ideal situation, Lewis said they want to march in a city free of marginalization of every minority, regardless of how they identify — and Edmonton is far from it.
"Until then, we can't just say that it's enough or that we're content that things have happened," Lewis said.
"We recognize that they've been changing and we just want them to keep going forward."