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The Changing Face Of Pride

Both participants and organizers across Canada are trying fresh approaches to Pride parade participation…
 
By Colin Druhan
 
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, demonstrations in New York City that many acknowledge were the catalyst for the modern fight for queer and trans rights. One year later, in 1970, early versions of what we now call Pride parades started cropping up across North America. Today these parades are a global phenomenon that take place in every part of the globe. They are largely celebratory affairs marking the progress the community has made in the fight for equality.
 
In 2016, the Manhattan area of the Stonewall riots was designated a National Monument by US President Barack Obama, who said America’s national parks “should reflect the full story of our country: the richness and diversity.” This is illustrative of the Pride parade’s journey from rebellious demonstration to broadly accepted, state-sponsored community event that often involves sophisticated brand activations from companies seeking a piece of the global LGBTQ2+ community’s spending power of $7 trillion.
 
While many welcome the enthusiastic support for Pride parades, others lament that parades and associated celebrations have lost the defiant spirit that once defined them. This tension has led many to openly question the authenticity with which some organizations get involved in parades. Simply put, it’s no longer sufficient to simply wave a Rainbow Flag in June. With this in mind, both participants and organizers across Canada are trying fresh approaches to Pride parade participation, to ensure that what happens on the parade route is reflective of a broader strategy.
 
Up until 2017, the Vancouver Pride Society (the organization accountable for who is in the city’s Pride Parade) required organizations participating in the parade to sign the Trans Equality Now pledge, a campaign to add gender expression and gender identity as personal characteristics protected by the BC Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Andrea Arnot, executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society, says it was really about making sure there was an alignment of values among parade marchers. “It was very important to make sure companies had policies that were inclusive of trans people, so they had to sign the pledge to be part of our parade,” explains Arnot.
 
In 2016, because requests to march in the Vancouver Pride Parade outweighed the number of spots that could be offered, the Parade Working Group, comprised of local community members, developed a matrix to score each application to ensure a values alignment. Applicants now fill out a form that includes questions such as “Does your organization have an active policy to promote diversity based on sexual orientation/gender identity?” to make sure they are inclusive of the queer and trans community year-round, not just during Pride season. The form also asks if the organization has a history of homophobia, transphobia or conflicting values. Arnot says they don’t just take a company’s word for it, either. “We actually have super-sleuth volunteers who will do Google searches for news articles” or other details that might indicate that the organization’s involvement isn’t genuine.
 
There is a minimum score that organizations must reach on the evaluation matrix, but Arnot says applicants aren’t just left out in the cold if they don’t make the cut. If an organization doesn’t meet the threshold, Arnot says, she connects with them directly because in most cases they want to be inclusive, but simply don’t know where to start. “The Pride Parade is usually the first thing they think of, but we give them advice on supporting employees, creating policy, and engaging with community groups through fundraising before applying again,” she explains, adding, “Whether they take that advice is up to them.”
 
Stantec, a design and consulting company, participates in the Vancouver Pride Parade as well as several other Canadian Pride parades because that reflects the work the company does year-round to promote diversity and inclusion, says the company’s public relations manager,Ashley Warnock. “Our company values state that we put people first,” says Warnock, adding that “nothing demonstrates this better than participating in Pride.”
 
The company has many employee-led initiatives that serve the needs of workers from equity-seeking groups. Its group for LGBTQ2+ employees, Pride@Stantec, promotes internal awareness of specific issues facing queer and trans people through educational activities and an enterprise-wide allyship campaign. One of the group’s initiatives encourages employees to place tent cards saying “I support Pride@Stantec” on their desks year-round, not just during Pride season, which leads to increased engagement when it’s time to celebrate. “Pride is one of the rare events where employees bring their families, friends – even pets,” says Warnock.
 
At the other end of the country, Jazz Aviation is an airline based in Nova Scotia that will celebrate its seventh year of participating in the Halifax Pride Parade this July. Erica Fuhr, Jazz’s diversity and inclusion manager, has been part of the group organizing the company’s parade entries since 2010 in Halifax and other cities across Canada. She says marching in Pride parades celebrates the work the company does all year to promote an inclusive environment. “We don’t go back into the closet after the parade is over,” she explains.
 
Jazz has a group for LGBTQ2+ and ally workers, offers ongoing training across a number of topics related to diversity and inclusion, and includes training on LGBTQ2+ issues as part of the on-boarding process for new employees. Fuhr is especially proud of the company’s guidelines to support employees who transition on the job, which were put in place before any employees even stepped forward asking for support.
 
According to Fuhr, because of the consistent engagement with Jazz’s workforce about how important it is to support the needs of queer and trans workers, it’s easy to get a lot of help when Pride season rolls around. “It’s always so impressive to see how many people take time out of their evenings and weekends to put the float together,” she says about the effort in Halifax. “It really is a big team effort. We’re very fortunate to have such a group of passionate and creative people at Jazz.”
 
Also marching in the Halifax Pride Parade is the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, which regulates the province’s legal industry. The Society uses Pride season to celebrate, but “it’s really about making sure that the space is provided for people to learn,” says Angela Simmonds, the Society’s manager of equity and access, who adds that the organization presents a series of educational sessions to take place during Pride season so members of the legal community are learning as much as they are celebrating.
 
When it comes to the Halifax Pride Parade, some law firms choose to have their own branded float but Simmonds says the Barristers’ Society’s entry, which is organized with the Canadian Bar Association’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community Section, is about bringing together the entire legal community in a show of support for queer and trans community members. “A lot of people don’t actually know what the Society does,” she explains, “so we continue to go out to the community so there will be more of an understanding of how important it is to promote inclusiveness within the profession.”
 
Pride activities need to be indicative of the work that’s being done to advance inclusion year-round, Simmonds says. “Some people see it as a box to check, but that’s not how we’re going to advance inclusion and increase access to justice, equity and diversity.”
 

 
COLIN DRUHAN is the executive director of Pride at Work Canada, a not-for-profit organization that empowers employees to foster workplace cultures that recognize LGBT employees. For more information, visit prideatwork.ca.
 

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