The End of Pride?
To celebrate Pride Month, we have developed a blog series with weekly posts, designed to allow UTP authors the opportunity to share with us what Pride means to them, and to discuss a whole manner of Pride-related topics.
Our first contribution to the series comes from author André P. Grace, who alongside Kristopher Wells wrote Growing Into Resilience, (University of Toronto Press, 2015). In this post entitled The End of Pride?, Grace summarizes what has happened since Growing Into Resilience was published, and discusses his own experiences of Pride, the role of police within Pride, his opinion on Pride as it stands today, and what the future of Pride might look like.
Growing into Resilience: Sexual and Gender Minority Youth in Canada focuses on the comprehensive health, educational, and cultural concerns of sexual and gender minority (SGM or LGBTTIQQ2SA) youth and young adults in our country. The book accentuates the importance of having a team of caring professionals to provide wraparound services to SGM youth and young adults, especially those experiencing persistent adversity and trauma. In 2014, to serve this population, I initiated the Chew – community ~ hope ~ empowerment ~ wellness – Project in Edmonton. When I think about holistic intervention and outreach to recognize and accommodate the young people we serve, I focus on how educators, social workers, cousellors, nurses, and police officers can work collaboratively to meet their needs, especially when they are homeless and street-involved.
From the beginning, the Chew Project has partnered with Edmonton Police Service in our work to solve social problems, address survival crimes, and support SGM young people as one of Edmonton’s most vulnerable and targeted populations. Units assisting the Chew Project include the Hate Crimes Unit, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Unit, the Edmonton Drug and Gangs Unit, Beats, the SRO (School Resource Officer) Program, and Victim Services. When I think about what Pride means to me, and what my book says about the collective efforts of caring professionals including police officers to assist SGM youth and young adults presenting multiple needs, I cannot help but think about the exclusion of police officers from Pride parades at a time when I rely on this key caring professional constituency to help the Chew Project make life better now for the SGM young people we serve.
I attended my first gay Pride parade in Toronto in 1993. As a gay man who had grown up in a fishing village in Newfoundland where homophobia was a dark shadow that started following me in junior high school, the experience of being in a sea of queers was exhilarating. Clearly, I wasn’t the only queer in the village. Indeed, on that Pride parade day, Toronto’s gay village provided me with the community I had desired from the moment I self-affirmed my gayness as a young boy. That Pride experience happened five years before the 1998 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Vriend v. Alberta, which granted equality rights to lesbian and gay Canadians. In the spirit of the Charter as a living document, all sexual and gender minorities in Canada are now protected against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in Section 15, which guarantees equality rights.
Since 1993 I have attended many Pride parades in cities across Canada. For me, these parades have signified the importance of deliberately coming together to recognize and celebrate sexual and gender diversity. They have also marked a space and time to politicize the importance of accommodating sexual and gender minorities in law and legislation (as a matter of protection) and in social institutions and communities (as a matter of inclusion in everyday life). Indeed, such signification undergirds what has long been termed the gay agenda, which is about presence, place, and protection of all sexual and gender minorities in intersections with culture and geography as well as with relational differences including race, class, ethnicity, age, and ability.
In recent years, there has been erosion of the gay agenda and what Pride is all about. Sadly, much of that erosion has emanated from what used to be the gay or queer community itself. Indeed, such a community is now a fiction, and it appears the enemy lies within. Our former community is presently marked by dissention, segregation, fear, and exclusion. There are those with particular motives and intentions that often sideline core sexual and gender minority issues and concerns, which homo/bi/transphobes in culture and society still position in conservative moral and political terms in their efforts to defile and erase us. As we cannibalize our own, we place ourselves at risk of erosion from within. This gives ground to rightist erosion of all things queer, gay, or however one chooses to name sexual and gender differences.
In a watershed moment for sexual and gender minorities as a diverse population in Canada, Black Lives Matter constituents temporarily disrupted the 2016 Toronto Pride parade to contest issues including police presence in the parade. What happened at Pride in Toronto that year has had sustained repercussions for Pride parades across Canada. For example, 2017 was marked by restrictions or bans affecting many police services, with division characterizing deliberations regarding Pride. In that year, members of Toronto Police Service were absent from Toronto’s parade. In Edmonton, at a time when the police service was actively recruiting sexual and gender minorities to become police officers, members of Edmonton Police Service did march in uniform, despite controversy. Calgary Police Service decided to participate in Calgary’s parade, but respected the Calgary Pride committee’s request for police officers to march out of uniform. Prior to this, Calgary police officers had always made the personal decision to march in uniform, with the backing of the police service. This right to choose would have been particularly poignant for sexually and gender diverse police officers and other service staff who wanted to intersect the personal and the professional. Sadly, such professional erasure ignored long-term relationship building between law enforcement and Calgary’s sexual and gender minority constituencies, which was part of efforts to transgress a history of harm at the hands of police officers. It also ignored a police-service emphasis on training new recruits to provide policing inclusive of sexual and gender minorities and other minorities across racial, cultural, and other differences. At the time, Calgary Police Service had ongoing and open dialogue with two advisory boards. One board was composed of sexual and gender minority citizens while the other was made up of the police service’s sexual and gender minority employees.
I once interviewed a young gay male who was a beginning teacher working in a primary classroom. He had placed a picture of his partner on his desk, an act that courageously intersected the personal and the professional. This is something I could never have done as a teacher working in schools in the 1980s. As Dr. Blye Frank, Dean, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, reminds us, sexual minority teachers have had to work to hide and hide to work. Importantly, Vriend paved the way for greater sexual and gender minority inclusion in law, legislation, and institutional policymaking in our nation. Yet, while teachers like me used to hide the personal to be professional, in a twist in recent years, Pride committees have directed police officers across sexual and gender identities to hide the professional. This assaults the notion of Pride, which must be about being visible as whole human beings who can freely intersect the personal and the professional. In post-Charter Canada, sexual and gender minority police officers have every right to march openly as complete persons in parades.
Kathleen A. Lahey, Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University, spoke about the historical exclusion of sexual and gender minorities from police services, the teaching profession, and other civil appointments in her influential book entitled Are We ‘Persons’ Yet? As Lahey recounts, sexual and gender minorities have been historically excluded from all kinds of public positions. Now, with Edmonton Police Service, among other police services, transgressing this history of exclusion, we have to ask what damage is being done to inclusivity by those wanting to ban sexual and gender minority police officers from marching in uniform.
In his groundbreaking book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire asks us to consider a key question: When do those who are oppressed become oppressors? This question demands reflection by Pride organizers in any Canadian city where sexual and gender minority and allied police officers are excluded from marching in uniform in Pride parades. To move the gay or queer civil rights movement to a more inclusive stage, Pride organizers might remember that marching in uniform is a visible reminder that these police officers are out and proud, transgressing a history of defilement and exclusion.
I truly hope Pride is not dead. And I hope it is not reduced to a historical moment, or to a stressor or trigger for sexual and gender minorities navigating the present moment. However, I am conflicted. Sexual and gender minorities have long lived with a history of fear. If that history now includes the emergence of new fears propagated by angry sexual and gender minority constituencies targeting others in a dissolving community, maybe Pride should die. But maybe some new form of Pride can arise like a phoenix from the ashes of Pride wildfires that started in 2016. I hope so for the sakes of older queers who took part in the struggle for gay liberation and younger queers still struggling for presence and place in their families, schools, and communities.
André P. Grace is Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Studies and a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta.
Academic website with contact info: https://www.andrepgrace.com
Community website: https://chewprojectyeg.org/