It’s normally one of the most well-attended events in Alberta’s capital, but this year, the Edmonton Pride Festival won’t take place at all, according to an email sent out by organizers Wednesday afternoon.
Global News has obtained a copy of an email sent out by the Edmonton Pride Festival Society explaining why the 2019 edition of the annual event, which aims to educate people and create a spirit of unity by celebrating gender and sexual diversity, has been called off.
“It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that the board of directors has voted to cancel the 2019 Edmonton Pride Festival,” the email reads.
“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 goes on to remind its recipients that Pride is a non-profit run almost entirely by volunteers and that the organizers have concerns they would not be able to host a “safe and enjoyable event” this year.
A member on the society’s board of directors, whose name Global News has agreed to keep anonymous, said a funding and volunteer deficit, as well as a belief the organization could not fulfill its mission to unify the community, led to the decision to cancel the event.
“We felt it was best to step back now at a point where we could do that now without causing harm to the society structure,” the member said.
In a separate email from the Pride Society that Global News obtained, festival organizers address a meeting they held with members of the group on April 4. Global News has learned members of Shades of Color, an Edmonton group that advocates for “queer and trans Black folks, Indigenous folks and people of colour,” attended the meeting.
“The festival has been provided demands, involving a complete restructuring of our festival and our commitments to sponsors, which we needed to bring to our membership,” the Pride Society said in an email dated April 6. “A special meeting was called as per our bylaws.
“We invited four representatives of the groups requesting the demands to speak to the membership. Due to these demands being non-negotiable, we needed our membership to discuss them and put them to a vote.”
The society was presented with a list of seven demands including ending the Pride Parade and providing annual funding for Shades of Color and RaricaNow.
“So no floats, no corporate, just community groups and it would be a protest march instead, and then they asked for each group to receive $20,000 a year in funding from us.”
The society’s email said the other groups attending were told they could only have four people attend because of limited capacity in the meeting room but the groups told them “it was all of them or no one.”
“We had been informed there would be protests,” the email reads. “We believe in the right to protest. When the protesters entered the meeting area, we were fearful for our safety and the safety of others and we moved our meeting to another location.
“Indeed, several of our board members and staff were pushed and shoved. One board member was cornered and yelled at and told they were not allowed to leave.”
“Even those of us with privilege, we are still a marginalized community,” the board member said.
“We’ve suffered assault, we’ve suffered intimidation, we’ve suffered verbal assault as well, so having a loud, screaming group of people coming into quite a small building and to be pushed was triggering for us.”
The email went on to say that “until we are able to hold a membership meeting and receive direction from our membership on how we are to proceed with these demands, we will be conducting the 2019 Edmonton Pride Festival as planned.”
It is not clear what role, if any, the April 4 meeting played in the event’s cancellation.
On Wednesday night, Shades of Color issued a statement about Pride’s cancellation on its Facebook page.
“It is with profound disappointment that we express our appallment at the actions carried out by the Edmonton Pride Festival Society, which culminated in their decision to cancel the 2019 Pride Festival,” the statement reads.
“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 towards alternatives on how this organization carries out its activities.
“Time and again, EPFS has taken advantage of some of the most vulnerable members in its community — as we may remember on April 4th 2019, EPFS was uncaringly willing to deploy the very policing institution that they are still under fire for defending at the expense of racialized and colonized members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.”
You can read the entire statement below.
The Pride Society’s decision not to act on a call to ban police and military officers from taking part in the festival boiled over during the Pride Parade last summer.
The parade was stalled for about a half-hour when demonstrators blocked the route to demand that police, RCMP and military members be banned from marching in future parades.
Watch below: Some videos from Global News’ coverage of Edmonton Pride Festival.
Festival organizers agreed to the demands and said the ban would stay in effect for future festivals until all community members feel safe.
“We have committed to moving forward with working with community members willing and able to meet with us to have these difficult conversations,” the society said in a statement at the time. “Pride was born from protest against police oppression, and to ignore that is to ignore an important part of our history.
“Some community members stood up and made sure their voices were heard. They did so respectfully and peacefully despite the effort and emotional labour that it required of them. Should we have a similar situation in the future, we hope that we are able to come to a positive resolution as we were able to this Pride Festival.”
The demonstrators at last year’s event described themselves as “queer and trans people of colour and their allies.”
Chevi Rabbit, a community advocate who speaks out about LGBTQ issues in Alberta, spoke to Global News about the cancellation on Wednesday night.
“I was a little bit caught off guard,” she said when asked how she felt when she first heard the news. “Really, it’s sad for the whole community.
“The mainstream society, locally and in Alberta — of all places — is really accepting and I think so many people from the past and present have worked up to this point for our celebrations to take place… and so many of us who are doing community work, advocating for the gay-straight alliances, going out to speak for two-spirit societies, going out there to speak for a lot of different organizations, we do this ground work — this outreach work — and then we come to this celebration. And now, for it to be cancelled, it seems like there’s no focal point now.”
Rabbit said she doesn’t know the full story behind what prompted the event’s cancellation, but she is concerned by what she sees as divisions in the LGBTQ community.
“I think there’s a lot of emotions going on right now between the left and the right within the LGBT community,” she said. “I think it’s unfair that the hate on one side and then the extremism on the other side is now ripping apart the whole group’s celebration, which is really unfair.
“I just think it’s unfair for the whole community, I think it’s unfair for Alberta and I think it’s unfair for Edmonton because it’s one of the largest events of the year.”
Rabbit said she believes last year’s interruption of the parade and the ongoing dispute over whether to let police march in uniform may have played a role in the decision to call off the event.
“I advocate that the police should be in our parade,” she said. “I don’t think we should be exclusive. I’ve really had a good relationship with the Edmonton police and with the army. I think we’ve built so many bridges and so many advocates have fostered healthy relationships with these stakeholders and organizations, and I think for us to exclude parts of our society that actually serve and protect us is actually going backwards. I think it’s wrong.
“I’m only speculating here… I think that’s where the tension’s coming from but I don’t think cancelling the Pride Parade will be effective and I think it’s really shortsighted.”
Rabbit also suggested the cancellation came at a time when many in the LGBTQ community may need it most.
“This year’s Pride would have sent a big message out there because I think there’s so much going on in the political climate,” she said. “A few weeks ago, I was out there rallying for gay-straight alliances. There were so many people that came out.
“With the amount of hate and homophobia going on, I think we can’t go run and hide right now. We need to be up front. We need to have a bigger Pride, we need to have a bigger parade, we need to come together during times of social unrest within the community and also just outside of the community… we have to come together as a group and stand united, and I don’t think this is sending that message. I think it’s showing a divided community and in-house fighting and it’s weak.”
Earlier this year, the Pride Festival’s organizers said the 2019 event would be themed “Building Bridges from Stonewalls,” in tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York that saw the gay community there take part in violent demonstrations to vent their anger over police raids on gay bars.
Edmonton’s first Pride celebration was held 38 years ago and saw about 75 people take part in a baseball game and have a bonfire — the event has grown steadily ever since.
“We greatly appreciate all the support you have given to the Edmonton Pride Festival Society and we sincerely apologize for any upset and inconvenience this causes,” the Pride Society’s email says of the cancealltion. “We would like to use this opportunity to remind you that there are many other excellent LGBTQ2S+ organizations that will be putting on Pride events during the month of June.
“Thank you for your patience and understanding during this difficult time.”
The email also asks recipients to keep the cancellation confidential until an official announcement is made.
–With files from Global News Radio’s Taylor Braat and The Canadian Press’ Bill Graveland