After a mostly-white Edmonton Pride board voted to cancel this year’s Pride festival citing the “current political and social environment,” a group representing Indigenous, Black and people of colour in the LGBTQ community has moved ahead with their own events.
Shades of Colour (SOC) hosted a free-of-charge sober dance party on June 8, official Pride day in Edmonton. They also held an informal discussion with Toronto-based artist and author Vivek Shraya on May 31. And they’re planning a Stonewall vigil later this month to commemorate the police raids that led to the first Pride protest on June 28, 1969.
“It’s important for me to organize these events so people have a safe space during Pride to go to where they can celebrate their multitudes of identities and experiences,” SOC organizer Rohan Dave said.
Pride in Edmonton this year was subdued. Businesses and organizations hosted events, but for the first time in 39 years, official festival events were cancelled, including the parade. Instead, a small group organized an unofficial Pride march to city hall.
In April, the Edmonton Pride Festival Society (EPFS) board voted to cancel the festival, scheduled to start June 7.
During Edmonton’s 2018 Pride parade, BIPOC members of the LGBTQ community stopped the parade to demand that police and military be banned from Pride. After, EPFS launched a community engagement process.
In March 2019, SOC and refugee-advocacy group RaricaNow sent a list of demands to EPFS. Dave said EPFS agreed to some of their demands, including uninviting police from Pride. On April 4, Dave said SOC and RaricaNow were invited to a EPFS meeting to speak about their demands. They brought 30 supporters. But Dave said a board member called police on them. He said it was a dangerous situation; refugees in the group were afraid of being deported. “For some folks, this was life or death.”
Citing “safety concerns,” the board moved the meeting. Dave said SOC and RaricaNow were locked out.
On April 10, the board officially cancelled Pride. EPFS said they would provide further information to “select media sources” in the coming weeks. VICE reached out for comment at the time but didn’t hear back. We reached out again for this story, but a board member said they couldn’t meet our deadline.
Weeks later, AltView Foundation, a LGBTQ nonprofit, held a meeting to find a resolution. Dave said EPFS agreed at the meeting to release an accountability statement, but they have yet to do so.
In May, Edmonton Police apologized to the LGBTQ+ community, saying, “our actions caused pain.”
After EPFS cancelled Pride, Dave said SOC received hundreds of hateful messages online, calling them terrorists and extortionists. Dave was scared to leave his apartment.
“This advocacy is not coming from a vindictive place, it’s coming from a place of desperation,” he said. “Members of our community are dying. We’re losing racialized and Indigenous members of our community.”
Dave said SOC was working with EPFS for months to advocate for the festival to include a Stonewall vigil, “but [we] ended up being shut down in many different ways.”
“Leading a vigil was born from a place that people are not doing OK. People are transient, or street involved, or suicidal. People want their experiences heard and honoured because we want the city to hear us and help.”
With no resolution in sight, SOC decided to organize their own Pride events.
This past weekend, they held a sober dance party with a queer, trans POC DJ from Calgary. It was an all ages event, and some people brought their kids. There was homemade food, colouring tables and a voguing dance workshop. “It was beautiful,” Dave said.
On May 31, SOC also held an informal event with Vivek Shraya, a Toronto-based artist and author. Shraya, a trans artist of colour, reached out after she saw SOC receiving hate online, and asked how she could help. “I have so much admiration for the work they’re doing as someone who grew up in Edmonton,” she said.
Shraya joined about 30 people in a cafe in Edmonton for a discussion about their struggles and the fallout after Pride was cancelled. “For me, as someone who has admiration for their work, I felt fortunate to be around people who alongside feeling angry and exhausted are highly mobilized and passionate and doing really important work,” Shraya said.
It’s not clear what Edmonton Pride will look like next year. Dave said SOC will continue to host events. He said at least Edmonton is now aware of the issues.
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