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Vancouver Pride Parade overshadowed by debate about Black Lives Matter and police

People carry an oversized rainbow flag down Robson Street during the Vancouver Pride Parade in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday August 3, 2014.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

This weekend's Vancouver Pride festivities, which for the first time will feature a sitting prime minister, follow two significant victories for the local transgender community: city council's unanimous adoption of an inclusive trans policy and the province's decision to update its human-rights law to protect "gender identity or expression" from discrimination.

But Sunday's event has also been overshadowed by concerns about who should and should not march in the parade, in particular a request by the local chapter of Black Lives Matter that the Vancouver Police Department sit out this year's event – echoing similar concerns that disrupted Toronto's Pride parade on July 3.

Earlier this month, the Vancouver chapter of Black Lives Matter penned an open letter to the city's police department and its Pride organization, announcing that the group would not attend Pride – not as participants or as protesters. The group asked that the police force voluntarily remove its float from the parade because it "perpetuates an unsafe atmosphere for the very same indigenous, [People of Colour] and black communities the Vancouver Pride Society has committed to intentionally include."

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Vancouver police confirmed on Tuesday that officers would be walking "with pride" in the parade.

But police said that after discussions with Black Lives Matter, the department has opted not to bring an armoured truck to the event this year. The police force, Black Lives Matter and the Vancouver Pride Society met last week.

"We just want kind of a recognition that the whole point of Pride was to protest against institutions like the police. So now to include them, we can't just do that without having a conversation," said Cicely-Belle Blain, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Vancouver.

Ms. Blain said the group won't attend the parade, but she's very happy that the police will not be bringing an armoured vehicle this year.

"For us, that is really symbolic, that people are listening," said Ms. Blain, who is a youth worker.

In Toronto, the city's Black Lives Matter organization, which was formally part of the parade, staged a sit-in that brought the event to a standstill until Pride organizers signed a list of demands, including that there would no longer be police floats at future events.

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Ms. Blain said although she has received online criticism for the Vancouver group's open letter, she is pleased with the response. "I think we really did connect with the people we needed to listen to us," she said, referring to the groups that have since come out in support of Black Lives Matter.

When asked about the groups that have opted out of the parade, Vancouver Pride Society president Alan Jernigan noted that there are other ways to celebrate Pride – such as the Trans March and the Dyke March.

"The act of creating an inclusive space is a process, it is something that comes as a result of open communication and creating dialogue with community members," he said. "I think the result of all these conversations has been really positive, because it has been in the spirit of giving people the opportunity to be heard."

Vancouver's Dyke March is slated to take place on Saturday. The event has asked Black Lives Matter-Vancouver to be the grand marshal of the event.

"I think this year we've been seeing lots of discussion surrounding how queer spaces often marginalize queer folks of colour," said Christine Osgood, a board member and spokeswoman for the Dyke March. "And Black Lives Matter in Toronto and in the States have been bringing that to the forefront of Pride this year."

She said the whole point of the march is to create openness for marginalized groups within queer communities. "That means listening when folks like Black Lives Matter say they are not feeling welcome," she said.

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Ms. Osgood said the march is inherently a bit more political than the parade.

"What BLM-Vancouver and BLM chapters across North America have done is reminded us that Pride is still needed as a protest," said C.J. Rowe, executive director of Qmunity, an organization that advocates for the rights of queer and trans people.

"I see it as an invitation to deeply consider what a more inclusive Pride parade might look like," said Rowe, whose preference is to not use gender-specific pronouns or honorifics. "[BLM] are doing the difficult work that will benefit and educate all of us."

Qmunity will be present at both the Pride Parade and the Dyke March. "I would like to urge people – if this feels contentious or uncomfortable – I'd like to invite people to think about why that is," said Rowe.

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