Organizers have cancelled this year’s Edmonton Pride festival, citing the “current political and social environment,” according to an internal email that leaked late Wednesday.
“In light of the current political and social environment, it has been determined that any attempt to host a festival will not be successful,” the email states. It says the board of directors voted to cancel the festival, which was scheduled to start June 7.
The Edmonton Pride Festival Society, which organizes Pride and sent the email, hasn’t explained what that means, and hasn’t answered a request for comment from VICE. But for a group representing Black, Indigenous, people of colour within Edmonton’s LGBTQS+ community, it’s pretty clear.
In response to the leaked email, the Shades of Colour Community released a statement expressing “profound disappointment” in the actions of the Edmonton Pride Festival Society, culminating in their decision to cancel Pride.
“We are calling this decision for what it is: namely, a disavowal of deep systematic problems in the framework of EPFS as well as an attempt to dismiss, target, and put out of play the efforts put on the part of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour in the LGBTQ2S+ to point toward alternatives on how this organization carries out its activities.”
At last year’s Pride parade, BIPOC members of the LGBTQS+ community and their allies briefly stopped the parade to demand that police and the military be uninvited to Pride. After the protest, the groups appeared to be working together to resolve the issues.
Two weeks ago, the Shades of Colour Community and refugee-advocacy group RaricaNow published a list of demands sent to the EPFS. They said the society had already agreed to two of their demands, including removing police and military from Pride, and encouraged people to come to a community meeting on April 4. The demands focused on funding and making space for QTBIPOC at Pride.
The meeting didn’t go so well. According to CBC, four representatives of the groups were invited to speak at the meeting, but when 30 people arrived to show support, they were told they had to be a member of the organization to attend. Clayton Hitchcock, co-chair of the EPFS, told CBC the group entered the meeting without permission, prompting board members to call police on them. In comments on the EPFS Facebook page, people who attended the protest said it was peaceful and they were simply standing in the hallway.
In a Facebook post, EPFS said “due to safety concerns, the meeting was moved to another location.”
The decision to cancel Pride also comes only days after the Pride Centre of Edmonton fired Shay Lewis, a transgender person of colour, without giving a reason. Although the centre hired an Indigenous, transgender, two-spirit person to replace Lewis, critics contend the organization is mostly white, with few BIPOC board members, according to CBC.
“What the pride centre has traditionally said and continues to say is well we have one person here so you don’t get to complain,” Lewis told CTV. “And it’s frustrating because it prevents progress but on top of that it’s frustrating because it just shows that lack of faith.”
“Edmonton Pride Festival Society has repeatedly taken multiple steps backwards in reassessing and resserting its commitments to the community—whatever was called progress last year is but an empty statement when they are willing to put communities into further vulnerable positions time and time again,” the Shades of Colour Community statement reads.
Although the festival is cancelled, several other organizations say they will still hold Pride events.
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